The Best of Panama
To truly touch on every part of Panama worth visiting, including the Caribbean forts, the Darién, and the Azuero Peninsula, requires at least three weeks, and even then only if one has the cash and inclination to do a fair amount of flying. Four weeks is a more reasonable estimate.
Arrive at Tocumen International Airport and transfer to a hotel in Panama City.
Tour Miraflores Locks, perhaps stopping for lunch on the balcony of the visitors center, where one can watch ships transit while dining. Be sure to pass by the impressive Gaillard Cut, where canal builders cleaved the mountains of the Continental Divide in two.
Make at least a brief stop to see the wildlife at Gamboa and Parque Nacional Soberanía, a true tropical rainforest just a short drive from downtown Panama City. End the day with a ramble along the Amador Causeway, a good place to stop for a drink as the Panama City skyline lights up across the bay.
Fly off for a few days of Caribbean sun and sea. Choose between one of two stunning tropical archipelagos: the booming bohemia of Bocas del Toro or the more rustic but culturally fascinating attractions of Kuna Yala; those with a few more days can visit both.
The best way to explore Kuna Yala is from the deck of a hired yacht; those on a limited budget can stay in simple Kuna hotels and get around by motorboat. This is a place for snorkeling off remote cays, walks through traditional island villages, and forest hikes to powerful waterfalls and sacred cemeteries on the mainland.
Head for the highlands of western Panama. Visit the garden town of Boquete, famous throughout Panama for its flowers, oranges, and rainbows. Go on a hike up Panama’s tallest peak, Volcan Barú, or just admire it from a distance.
To see how the Pacific side of the isthmus compares with the Caribbean, head back down the mountain to the Golfo de Chiriquí. The area around the fishing village of Boca Brava is a gateway to the islands of two national parks, Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriquí and Parque Nacional Coiba, which offer world-class diving. Cool little hotels for every budget are springing up around Boca Brava.
Head back to Panama City by land or air for last-minute shopping, sightseeing, and a farewell dinner.
Transfer to Tocumen International Airport for the flight home.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition