Bocas del Toro
Located on the Caribbean Sea, 300 miles northwest of Panama City, the Bocas del Toro archipelago is a snorkeling and diving haven featuring coral reefs, large extensions of mangroves, white sandy beaches, and crystal-clear waters. This sleepy archipelago is also noted for its Georgian architecture, sea turtle nesting sites, and excellent seafood. There are daily scheduled flights from Panama City (about 55 minutes). A good option for divers and people looking for a different vacation.
Boquete / Chiriqui
The most southwestern province of Panama is located 275 miles from Panama City, a six-hour drive and a mere one-hour flight. Chiriqui is an area with a rich bio-diversity. Highlights include La Amistad National Park, jointly managed by Panama and Costa Rica, and the Baru Volcano from where, in a clear day, you can see both oceans. Tourists can benefit from mountain hotels, which offer a wide array of activities including trekking, hiking, rafting, volcano expeditions, and horseback riding. The area might be somehow compared to Monteverde in Costa Rica.
The Panama Canal is 50 miles long from deep water in the Atlantic to deep water in the Pacific. It requires about nine hours for an average ship to transit the Canal. Its principal physical features are the two terminal ports (Colon and Panama City), the three sets of twin locks (Gatun, Pedro Miguel, and Miraflores), Gatun Lake, and Gaillard Cut. At Miraflores Locks visitors attend a state-of-the-art audiovisual presentation; then, from an open-air balcony that provides a bird’s-eye view of the action, they watch a ship being towed into position for descent to the Pacific Ocean. Tourist facilities are also available at Gatun Locks. Partial canal transits operate every Saturday. Full day canal transits operate on selected Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Panama City is the gateway for tours going anywhere in the country. There are two airports: Tocumen international airport and the domestic airport. The city is divided into three main areas: Modern Panama, Old Panama, and Colonial Panama. Modern Panama, where the financial and commercial districts are located, offers a breathtaking skyline and an immense infrastructure of hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs. Old Panama, located two miles from the center of Panama City, contains the ruins of the original Spanish capital. Colonial Panama is the historic center of today’s capital. Narrow cobblestone streets, plazas, churches, public buildings and private houses display a mixture of French and Spanish influences, which add a unique touch to this bustling and colorful neighborhood. The three areas and the tourist center known as “Mi Pueblito” (a reproduction of a typical Panamanian village) are included in any city tour.
Comprised of approximately 350 islands and islets, 60 of which are inhabited and 30 of which are coralligenous, the San Blas Island or Mulatas Archipelago is located along the northeastern coast of Panama in the Caribbean Sea. Turquoise waters surround white-sand beaches dotted with palm trees and thatched-roof Kuna villages. Inhabited by the Kuna Indians, they are so determined to protect their culture and the environment that the Panamanian Government gave them the authority to form the “Comarca” (Autonomous Territory) of San Blas, where an indigenous congress still rules. Kuna women spend countless hours stitching the colorful reverse-applique cotton “molas” which are the bases for their dress. Essentially, the Kuna are fishermen; however, they also cultivate coconut, corn, rice, cocoa, and yuca. Average stay is one to two nights.
Amistad National Park
The Amistad National Park is located in the western part of Panama, in the border with Costa Rica, 312 miles from Panama City. With an area of some 207,000 hectares, it is Panama's second largest park after Darien. La Amistad includes the oldest and largest tract of primary forest in the country, much of it untouched since Man first arrived more than 20,000 years ago. With 10 ecosystems ranging from tropical subalpine, the park has hundreds of species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else and a total bird population of more than 600 varieties.
Barro Colorado Island
Located in Gatun Lake along the Panama Canal, Barro Colorado is a research station operated by the Smithsonian institute and used by scientist to study tropical flora and fauna. It is open to a few visitors at a time on certain days. A visit, including the boat trip to the island, is a full day excursion from Panama City.
Bastimentos Island National Marine Park
Located on Panama's Northwestern Caribbean coast, this is the country's first marine park. Located on several points of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, it is not only home to a large variety of sea turtles, who come to the beaches to lay eggs, but also a refuge for abundant sea life, birds, manatees, reptiles and other animals. The park offers excellent scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities with its crystal waters and unspoiled coral reefs attracting more than 200 species of marine fish.
Chagres National Park
The main function of this park is the conservation of the hydrographic basin of the Panama Canal. Approximately 80% of the water necessary for the operation of the canal and all the drinking water for Panama City come from this watershed. The park encompasses approximately 129,000 hectares in two provinces: Panama and Colon. The park is home to some communities of Embera Indians. Tourist activities include white water rafting trips and hiking the Las Cruces Trail, which traverses the park. Resident fauna includes the white tail deer, the spider monkey and the toucan.
Darien National Park
This 579,000-hectare park is the largest in Panama, with large areas still unexplored, has more than 300 species of birds, including the world's most powerful eagle, the Harpie. Three Amerindian ethnic groups live within the park: Embera, Waunana and Kuna. With its network of beaches, rocky coasts, mangroves, freshwater marshes, palm forest swamps, mountain ranges, dense tropical jungles and wild streams and rivers, it covers the most diverse territory of any national park in tropical America. Without roads, access to the park is by river or air. Because of its isolation and inherent dangers, this park is best explored with a guide by the well-prepared nature enthusiast rather than the casual visitor. UNESCO listed this area as a World Heritage Site in 1981 and as a Biosphere Reserve in 1983.
Las Cruces Trail National Park
The gold of the Incan Empire crossed Panama on its way to Spain along the cobblestones paths of the Las Cruces Trail. Las Cruces Trail National Park, located just 10 miles from Panama City, is a corridor of 4,000 hectares that links the forested zones of the Metropolitan Nature Park and the Soberania National Park. A great variety of flora and fauna is found between the two major cities of the Republic, including the Panamanian tamarin, two-toed and three-toed sloth, howler monkey, armadillo, green iguana, and the roe deer.
Metropolitan Nature Park
Fifteen minutes from downtown Panama is the 265 hectare Metropolitan Nature Park, one of the few urban parks in the world. The park is an excellent opportunity for environmental education, having meeting rooms (the Panama Audubon Society meets here), a small museum, a library, and a shop that sells conservation items. The interpretive trail is enjoyed by visitors and school groups. The view from the top of Cerro Mono Titi is spectacular, offering a panoramic view of the city, the Port of Balboa, and the adjacent Las Cruces Trail National Park. Birding is especially good here and the orchid garden is also worth a visit.
Portobelo National Park
Located on the Caribbean Coast, this World Heritage Site protects 44 miles of coastal areas with rich coral reefs and coastal forest, and the ruins of the historic Spanish forts and settlements at Portobelo. The park offers excellent sites for scuba diving including Drake's Island, Salmedena Reef, the Three Sisters, and Playa Blanca.
Soberania National Park
Located 15 miles from Panama City, Soberania National Park offers two outstanding features: Pipeline Road and El Charco interpretative trail. Pipeline Road, long known to tropical biologists, is one for the record books. According to the Panama Audubon Society, 525 species were recorded during the annual Christmas bird count between December1992 and January 1993. Pipeline Road is a wonderful hike any time of the year, if only to observe howler monkeys, trogons, toucans and Morpho butterflies, all regulars here. Sendero El Charco (the interpretive trail) is excellent for beginners: it is short (less than 2 kilometers), a closed circuit, offers good birding opportunities, and you can go swimming.
Volcan Baru National Park
About a seven hour drive from the capital or a one hour flight, this 14,000-hectare park situated on the imposing 3,475-meter Volcan Baru, is one of Panama's most scenic regions, often called the Switzerland of Central America. On a clear day, both the Pacific and the Caribbean may be seen from the top of the volcano.