Located in the heart of Central America, Panama is best known for the Panama Canal, a vital trade route dating back more than 100 years. However, there’s more to Panama than just the canal. Panama is equally famous for its natural beauty, verdant rainforests and vibrant culture. The locals are welcoming, and Panama’s culinary options are varied but always fresh. Here are some of the reasons why Panama should be your next great adventure.
The food.A combination of Spanish, African and Native American cuisines, Panamanian food shares many common ingredients with the rest of Central America and places an emphasis on corn, rice, flour, yucca and plantains. Staples of the Panamanian diet – such as the classic street snacks tamales and empanadas – are also typical of Central America. While you’re in Panama, you’ll want to sample the country’s national dish, Sancocho, which is a chicken soup enriched with root vegetables and cilantro. As in neighboring Costa Rica, fresh vegetables and seafood (try the ceviche!) are plentiful in Panama, and visitors are advised to wander through street markets, where unique tropical fruits are abundant. This is also a great way to try new and exciting flavors.
International cuisine has a strong presence in the country, and Panama City is a great place to experience a variety of Italian, Chinese, Greek or Caribbean dishes.
Visitors who have a sweet tooth can observe (and indulge in) every aspect of bean-to-bar chocolate making at La Loma Chocolate Farm, which is on the island of Bastimentos. Likewise, Panama and Costa Rica are both known for their coffee, and the Boquete region is renowned for its intensely flavored beans. Geisha coffee, which is grown in the highlands of Boquete, is considered one of the finest and most expensive coffees in the world.
Adventure.Although Boquete is best known for its coffee, it’s also a lush playground that is perfect for hiking, rafting, birdwatching and rock climbing. Some of the best beach spots in Panama are located on the northern coasts, with Bocas del Toro in the northwest offering unmatched surfing and scuba diving. In the northeast part of the country, Granito de Oro offers a wide array of aquatic life for beginner and seasoned snorkelers alike.
Panama is also home to many indigenous groups, offering travellers the opportunity to engage with Panama’s diverse cultural history. Travel up the Chagres River to the home of the Embera Indians, where you can observe performances of traditional music and dance. Or you can discover the beaches of the San Blas Islands, where the Kuna Indians reside.
Nightlife.If you want to experience Panama’s nightlife, Panama City is the place to go. Casco Viejo, the city’s historic district, is home to many boutique hotels, bars and nightclubs. On weekends, live music is easy to find. Many popular clubs are open late and the music is sure to get you dancing. Likewise, Calle Uruguay is a short, bustling street that is packed with bars and restaurants, including hip establishments like the La Rana Dorada microbrewery. For those who are feeling lucky, Hotel El Panama and El Veneto offer casino gaming in the El Cangrejo district.
The famous canal.Last but not least, visiting the Panama Canal is a must. It is known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and stretches 48 miles between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The canal is your conduit to some of Panama’s most beautiful parks, beaches, forests and jungles.
If you’re looking for spectacular views on either side of the canal, the Miraflores Visitor Center near Panama City and the Canal Expansion Observation Center in Colon offer the perfect vantage points to witness the canal’s lock operation, in which vessels of all sizes are raised or lowered to continue their passage. In addition to offering unparalleled views, both centres educate visitors about the canal with informational films and museum attractions.