Panama Travel Tips
Panama is increasingly showing up on the radars of in-the-know travelers. Less touristy and more cultural than its neighbor Costa Rica, Panama is blessed with both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, a strong tourist infrastructure and economy, and distinct regions with much to offer the adventurous, curious and patient traveler.
Panama is increasingly showing up on the radars of in-the-know travelers. Less touristy and more cultural than its neighbor Costa Rica, Panama is blessed with both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, a strong tourist infrastructure and economy, and distinct regions with much to offer the adventurous, curious and patient traveler. From the mountains, rivers and coffee estates of Boquete to the crystal-clear Caribbean waters of Bocas del Toro, Panama is the ideal destination for families, couples and small groups of friends. Below are some tips Latin Excursions have for planning your trip to Panama:
- Look beyond the crowds: If you want to avoid the crowds, you are better off visiting the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal, rather than the touristy Miraflores Locks. The Gatun Locks does not have a visitor's center and museum, but it does has two viewpoints where you can watch huge vessels passing through the canal at eye level or from above, and you can get closer to the vessels here than at Miraflores. Additionally, a visit to the Gatun Locks combines easily (and complements) the historic train ride through the jungle and along the Panama Canal, a visit to an Embera indigenous community, an ecological boat tour on Gatun Lake, or tour of historical Portobelo.
- Get a dose of culture: Panama is a rich cultural destination, and visiting one of its still-thriving indigenous groups is an experience not to be missed. Indigenous groups still make up between 5% and 8% of Panama's total population and are well-protected by the government. Whether you visit an Embera community from Panama City, a Ngöbe-Buglé community in the province of Chiriqui, or a Kuna community in the San Blas Islands, these experiences are bound to be authentic and enriching. You will have the opportunity to interact with members of the community, who are usually open to answer questions about their lifestyle, and will get to see how they live, dress and dance. Even if you don't get to visit one of these communities, you will see their influence and artwork throughout the country.
- Escape to the rainforest for a few hours: There are few places in the world where you can be in a thriving metropolis one moment and in the middle of a bio-diverse rainforest an hour later. Panama City is one of them. Day trips from Panama City include a visit to the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center which borders Soberania National Park to take a guided nature walk and discover the area's great variety of birds from its 40-meter observation tower, or an ecological boat tour on Gatun Lake, bordered by lush tropical forest, with opportunities to see lots of monkeys, sloths, iguanas, crocodiles, exotic birds and more.
- Embrace the old versus new: Panama City is an extraordinary display of old versus new, with the Casco Viejo's bohemian vibe and crumbling centuries-old buildings sitting right across the water from its modern, skyscraper-studded financial district. Take your camera to Casco Viejo and get lost in its inviting alleyways, and you will quickly be rewarded with images that showcase its struggling past and its undeniable thriving future ahead.