Panama’s Mild Wild Side
Some are drawn to Panama’s rich wildlife but would rather see it from a safe, comfortable distance. It’s quite possible for travelers to get a taste of nature without the worry that nature will try to get a taste of them. This itinerary is suitable for families, including those with small children.
Arrive at Tocumen International Airport and transfer to a hotel in Panama City or in the less-hectic former Canal Zone. The Gamboa Rainforest Resort and InterContinental Playa Bonita Resort and Spa are particularly promising possibilities for families.
Spend the morning visiting Casco Viejo and the ruins of Panamá la Vieja. After lunch, head over to the breezy Amador Causeway, with its great views of the canal entrance and Panama City skyline, and explore the aquariums at the Smithsonian’s Centro de Exhibiciones Marinas. Have dinner in one of the causeway’s open-air restaurants.
Take a tour of Miraflores Locks and its museum, then head to Gamboa for a ride up the Gamboa Rainforest Resort’s aerial tram through tropical forest. Visit the flora and fauna exhibits: Be sure not to miss the serpentarium and the butterfly pavilion.
Another option is a boat trip on Lago Gatún to visit the islands of a primate sanctuary that is home to five species of monkeys. Keep an eye out for caimans and the occasional crocodile.
Have lunch at the resort’s lakeside Restaurante Los Lagartos, where there’s an excellent chance of spotting freshwater turtles as well as caimans. Stop by Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo on the way back to Panama City. The highlight will probably be the harpy eagle exhibit.
Book a tour that includes an early-morning train across the isthmus and a car trip to explore the Spanish ruins of Portobelo and Fuerte San Lorenzo. Stop by the mile-long Gatún Locks and, if possible, take a jungle boat trip down the lower Río Chagres, which ends right below the fort at San Lorenzo. Take the train back to Panama City.
Transfer to one of the resorts or smaller hotels at Coronado, Farallón, or Santa Clara. Spend a couple of days playing in the surf and splashing in the pool. It’s generally easy to arrange other activities, from horseback rides on the beach to banana-boat rides in the ocean.
Transfer to El Valle de Antón for cooler weather and a taste of the highland forests of Panama. Those feeling brave can consider the Canopy Adventure zipline tour. Other possibilities include horseback riding, a visit to a spooky serpentarium, a walk through a small zoo with golden frogs and other exotic creatures, easy bike rides, walks to petroglyphs and waterfalls, and shopping at a bustling crafts market.
Return to Panama City for shopping and additional sightseeing.
Transfer to Tocumen International Airport for the trip home.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition