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The country of Panama is more than its namesake canal. Formerly a Spanish colony, the nation that connects South and Central America has a mixed population of Mestizos, Creoles, Africans, and European immigrants. It’s this cultural blend that makes the country a unique melting pot.
Aside from the capital, island getaways and mountainous hideaways beckon. Whether you’re a beach bum or culture buff, these are the best places to visit in Panama.
San Blas Islands (best place to visit in Panama for solitude)
What to do in Panama for a week? How about visiting an archipelago with 365 islands that dot blue waters like clouds in the sky?
Sitting smack-bang in the middle of turquoise waters, the San Blas Islands offer a Robinson Crusoe feeling far from the tourist masses. Also known as Guna Yala, these palm-fringed islands have white sand beaches and crystal waters, every bit as paradisiacal as you’d expect from the Caribbean.
The catch? They’re isolated, which prevents these remote tropical islands from falling prey to selfie-stick crowds. It’s not easy to get there, but a thrilling 4×4 ride through the untamed jungle takes you from Panama City to these paradise islands, with a stop at Puerto de Carti. There, you can hop on a tiny boat that takes you to the islands from the mainland.
Undoubtedly the most beautiful place in Panama, this multi-day adventure is well worth the trip. Imagine staying in a thatched hut without heated water, lounging in a hammock as you lap up the sun. No one else will be around, and all you have to do to cool down is jump in the water.
Walk the Amador Causeway
Are you up for less adventurous things to do in Panama now that you’ve been a castaway on the San Blas Islands?
Swap the beach for a casual amble along the six-kilometer Amador Causeway. It links the islands of Flamenco, Naos, and Perico and offers mesmerizing views of Taboguilla and Taboga.
Walking the Amador Causeway, feeling the wind in your hair, you can admire the point where the Panama Canal’s southern entrance meets the Pacific. This is an ideal place to see massive container ships enter and exit the world-famous canal and one of the best places to visit in Panama.
Other things to do at the Amador Causeway include visiting the Biumuseo, a museum with eight exhibition halls dedicated to the country’s natural heritage and diverse cultures.
Explore Coiba National Park
Coiba National Park is a marine reserve in the Gulf of Chiriqui. The 430,825-acre national park comprises 38 islands and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Coiba Island is rich in natural resources and because it used to be a penal colony, access was restricted, leaving 80 percent untouched.
Today, you can join ecotours or go fishing and scuba diving. However, you must have a permit issued by the National Authority for the Environment. Don’t fret; several tour operators in Panama City can help you get it. The tour companies leave from locations along the coast, but Santa Catalina is the closest. It’s only one hour, and 15 minutes by boat.
Want to stay overnight and listen to pheasant cuckoos singing in the mangroves? There’s one ranger station on Isla Coiba, the only overnight facility in the Coiba National Park.
Hit Beaches and Dance on a Shipwreck in Bocas del Toro
Keen to see more of the best beaches in Panama? Travel to Bocas del Toro, and you’ll get what you’re looking for!
Red Frog Beach has shallow, jacuzzi-warm water rolling gently up the sand, and the appeal of Starfish Beach is in its red and orange starfish resting on the seabed, to name just two.
Bocas del Toro, where time stands still, is an archipelago off the Caribbean coast. The old-world charm is palpable in the simple overwater bungalows and the eye-catching buildings painted in art deco colors. Many shops stay open late, and bakeries and ice cream shops cater to your sweet tooth.
Whether you surf, recharge your battery on a beach or roam the islands looking for frogs or breadfruit, Bocas del Toro is on the list of places to visit in Panama.
When the skies turn orange, a new world opens up at Barco Hundido, an open-air bar and disco on a sunken ship. Affectionately called Wreck Deck, the club sits on the coast of Colon, a Bocas island.
Want to gaze at the stars sipping an ice-cold beer? Use the bar’s boardwalk extending to an island seating area with swings and marvel at the cosmic glory. Given the unusual setting, this is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Panama.
Casco Viejo (best place to visit in Panama for history buffs)
If you’re looking for historical places to visit in Panama City, check out Casco Viejo, or Old Quarter, also known as Casco Antiguo (Ancient Quarter). Only four avenues wide, this Unesco World Heritage Site is the city’s smallest neighborhood.
Founded in 1519 by the conquistador Pedraras Dávila, it’s the oldest European settlement on America’s Pacific coast, laid out in a grid pattern. Abandoned in the mid-17th century and since rebuilt, Casco Viejo still embodies the European concept of a planned town with its architecture and odd blend of Spanish, French, and early American styles.
Popular with locals and tourists alike, this wacky cobblestoned town exudes quirky charm, from small brick-paved alleys with colonial buildings to crumbling pastels and hints of art deco. One of the must-see places to visit in Panama City, Casco Viejo’s colorful setting offers some of the best photo ops, plus tropical vibes in rum bars with rattan ceiling fans and vintage salsa records.
Whether you prefer plazas replete with cafes and bougainvillea or island idyl—problems melt away in Panama.
The driest period lasts from January to mid-April. If a bit of rain doesn’t bother you, you’ll still have a blast during the rest of the year.
While Panama is a tropical country, the cool thing is that its location and climate are not part of the hurricane belt.
There is no internet connectivity, and you can’t pay with credit cards, only with US dollars in cash.