Western Panama offers some of Panama ’s most spectacular, and diverse, attractions.
On the one hand, there are the verdant highlands, home to the country’s tallest mountain and the picturesque town of Boquete , which now rivals Bocas del Toro  as Panama’s hottest destination for foreign tourists and retirees.
On the other, there are the remote Pacific islands and beaches of the Golfo de Chiriquí , which is so large and species-rich some consider it a small sea, as well as those of the Golfo de Montijo further east.
The region also includes Panama’s second-largest city, David , near the coast not far from the Costa Rican border. Most visitors simply pass through David on the way to somewhere else, usually the highlands, but it has all the services you would expect of a busy, modern provincial capital.
There are a few large beaches within a couple hours’ drive of David, the most popular of which are Playa Barqueta  and Playa Las Lajas . The coastline and islands around the fishing village of Boca Chica  are beautiful and beginning to take off as a tourist destination, though getting to them can be a bit of an adventure.
Farther east, remote Playa Santa Catalina  is internationally famous as one of the best surfing spots in Latin America.
Those who visit the western highlands after a trip to the beaches and islands may feel they have entered a different world, a world filled with powerful rivers, gigantic waterfalls, imposing mountains, secluded hot springs, and green forests bursting with life.
The highlands are also home to Volcán Barú , a dormant volcano that, at 3,475 meters, is Panama’s biggest and most dramatic mountain.
There’s plenty to keep outdoorsy types busy, including hiking, horseback riding, biking, the country’s best white-water rafting, kayaking, even rock climbing and rappelling. The western highlands are popular with bird-watchers, since the forests attract hundreds of species, including many spectacular ones.
Most of the highland sights are clustered on the west and east sides of Volcán Barú. While the west side of Barú is a bit cooler and more dramatic looking, the east side has both great beauty and something its western neighbor lacks: a charming little town called Boquete.
Boquete  is booming. As a result, there are more options for lodging, food, outfitters, and guided tours on this side of the mountain. The west side of Barú is quieter, less densely populated, and more rugged. It also has easily accessible trails through the enormous Parque Internacional La Amistad.