Panama Travel Guide
Best known throughout the world for being a major transshipment point for ships traveling from one end of the Earth to the other, Panama contains many other attractions that make it a viable destination for avid world travelers.
From the mountain village of Boquete, to the incredible biodiversity of the island of Coiba, to the party hearty island archipelago of Bocas del Toro, there is much more to this country than the Panama City metropolitan area.
Currency: Panamanian Balboas (coins), US Dollar (bills)
Languages: Spanish, English
What To Do
Whether you come by bus or by air, chances are you will begin your holiday in Panama in Panama City. Start your time here by paying a visit to Casco Viejo, which is the old part of town.
Standing in stark contrast to the ultra-modern downtown core of the Panama City that exists presently, this charming Spanish colonial neighborhood is home to many government officials and countless tourist accommodations, ranging from backpacker hostels to luxury bed and breakfasts.
This compact but beautiful sector of the city was not the original place where settlers planted their flag over 500 years ago though, as the notorious pirate known as Henry Morgan had set fire to the original townsite.
Here, a variety of restaurants, bars, museums, and palaces can be found as you walk the streets; just be aware that one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Panama City (El Chorrillo) borders Casco Viejo to the west, so be sure to ask locals about where you shouldn’t venture past when you arrive on the ground.
Next, cross off an iconic civil engineering project off your bucket list by visiting the Panama Canal. Located within a 15 minute cab ride from the old and newer parts of Panama City, this passageway through the narrowest part of the Panamanian isthmus has turned this portion of Central America into one of the wealthiest nations in the entire region.
Everyday, countless thousands of tons of cargo pass through the locks of this vital trade corridor, and tourists are welcome to watch the very slow parade of super sized tanker ships from a visitor center & museum that is located at Miraflores lock.
While it may not be as exciting as some tourists might suspect, those that are fascinated by the minutiae of global economic exchange will find this site very fascinating.
Diving and wildlife enthusiasts will want to make a side trip to Coiba on their way west toward Boquete and Bocas del Toro. Serving for 85 years as a prison for political dissidents, it was repackaged as a national wildlife and marine park after its closure in 2004.
Being separated from the mainland for 18,000 years following a rise in sea level in the wake of the end of the last ice age has made the diversity of species in this place markedly different. As such, the untouched nature of the ecosystems found on the island make it an especially attractive place for enthusiasts of marine life and their counterparts on land.
While accommodations on the island are limited at best, ferries that link Coiba to the mainland are located within one hour each way, making it feasible to stay in towns such as Santa Catalina, and visit the island on a day trip.
Next, taking a bus by the Western Panamanian city of David, head to the highland town of Boquete. Known traditionally for its many coffee plantations, it has also become well known for its many opportunities to practice adrenaline sports, and for being a cool respite from the relentless heat and humidity that Panama is notorious for.
From tours of the aforementioned java farms, to excursions that take travelers zip-lining or white water rafting, there is much to do in this relaxing time when you aren’t laid up in a hammock chilling out.
If you’d rather hit the beach than hang out in the mountains, Panama’s best known destination for those that crave the ocean is none other than Bocas Del Toro.
Carrying a well-known reputation for being a party destination, not only will you have plenty of opportunities to bliss out on pristine beaches and catch waves on legendary surf breaks, but your evenings will be filled with many chances for revelry as well.
What To Eat
While Panama does not have a cuisine that really stands out compared to other nations in the region, there are dishes that are more or less unique to the country. At breakfast time, one of the more unusual (at least to us as outsiders) offerings is Carne o salchicha guisada, which is a stew containing beef strips, sliced hot dog, onions, all of which are simmered in tomato sauce.
Served on the side with Patacones (fried green plantain discs), Bollos (Corn dough that is wrapped in a banana leaf, and then boiled) and Hojaldras (fried dough), it is a uniquely Panamanian way to begin your day.
When it comes to the matter of Panama’s national dish, local experts agree that the soup known as Sancocho is the best candidate upon which to bestow this honor.
While the predecessor of this dish originated from the Canary Islands in Europe, the Panamanian version traces its roots to the Azuero Peninsula. Containing chicken, yuca, onions, and other flavoring agents such as garlic, salt and pepper, It is a favorite dish at lunch time at many local restaurants in the country.
When it comes to main dishes though, the one go to for Panamanians tends to be Plato Tipico. While its very name suggests generality, Plato Tipico usually contains rice, beans, sweet plantains, and the diner’s choice of meat, which can range from chicken to fish. Filling and nutritious, it is a great way to end a long day spent experiencing Panama’s attractions and sights.