The increasing expat community says it all – now is the time to be in Panama. The Central American country is enjoying a sweet-spot in time with cosmopolitan cities booming while lush forests, indigenous groups, unique wildlife and glistening islands manage to remain perfectly intact. The resulting disparity makes Panama a haven for travellers, with truly off-the-beaten track pursuits and luxury accommodation easily found.
Plus where else in the world can you swim in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean in the same day? Such contrasts prove a winning formula in terms of embracing life in Central America. Ditto the opportunity to take on as much, or as little, as you want. No matter what your travel style, Panama truly is a country for all. Just be sure to make it there before the sweet-spot sours.
Few attractions in Panama enjoy the same PR as the famed Panama Canal. Since it was built in 1914, its reputation as an engineering marvel has refused to fade, making a cruise along the canal a common entry on many bucket lists. Cutting the country in two in order to link the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific, each year around 14,000 vessels make their way down the iconic canal – many of which a cruise ships hosting a once in a lifetime holiday.
If you don’t make it to Panama by cruise, chances are you’ll begin your holiday in Panama City, Central America’s answer to Miami. Vibrant, energetic and often chaotic, Panama City rewards travellers who are willing to go with the flow (and can keep their cool in a crowd). Away from the city, Panama’s other attractions tend to be of the more natural kind; the tropical islands of Bocas del Toro and the incredible mountain town of Boquete which is beloved for its hiking, rock climbing and exotic birds.
Eat and Drink
Traditional food in Panama is an eclectic mix of Spanish, Afro-Caribbean and indigenous cuisine. Meals usually consist of coconut rice, beans, fried plantains and meat – usually fried. Much of Panama’s food tends to be deep fried, from tortillas to empanadas and Hojaldras – a local version of a doughnut.
If you tire of fried foods though, Panama is home to a multitude of other options, especially in Panama City where you can dine out on French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and American cuisine.
Seafood is also common, especially along the coastlines, best served raw as Ceviche. For a fresh meal, visit the seafood markets and nearby restaurants in Panama City Beach where you can try the catch of the day.
Where to Stay
Whether you want a lavish stay or just somewhere to lay your head – Panama has you covered. You’ll find the most choice of course in Panama City, where big name hotels such as the Waldorf Astoria and Intercontinental Miramar offer a luxurious home away from home.
Other popular places to stay in Panama include the mountain town of Boquete, and for those wanting a beach holiday, the islands of Kunayala where accommodation styles usually consist of eco-lodges and traditional huts.
Cruising Panama Canal
To experience the Panama Canal at its fullest, you have to see it by cruise. Few travel experiences can compare to sitting in a stateroom as you observe the man-made marvel of the canal and the natural wonders of Panama’s emerald green forests; a veritable front-row seat to one of the world’s most fascinating regions.
In addition to spying various ships, from tiny tug boats to huge shipping containers, keep an eye out for passing wildlife in the surrounds (sightings of toucans, macaws and even sloths are common) and Panama City skyscrapers in the distance.
Panama Like a Local
If you spend a night in Panama City, you’ll want to spend it outside of your hotel room. The city is renowned for putting on a great party. Salsa and reggae music is the typical soundtrack for a night out while the national drink of Seco Herraran, a sugar can based spirit, is the drink to order at the bar. As to which bar to go to, much of the city’s nightlife typically takes place in three main areas; Casco Viejo, the Amador Causeway and the business district.