Best known for its Canal, this small country is attracting attention as a ‘new’ holiday destination
Dividing the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, this narrow isthmus was originally part of Colombia before being occupied by the French and the Americans. Now, with well-developed infrastructure and a stable government, the country is moving forward rapidly. Whilst still regarded as somewhere off-the-beaten-path for international visitors we expect that to change soon.
Panama City’s once dilapidated historic quarter, the Casco Viejo, is currently in the midst of a major restoration. Its tangle of narrow streets, centuries’ old houses and neo-colonial government buildings is now a hip district with galleries, bars, coffee houses, craft markets and some of the city’s most stylish restaurants and boutique hotels.
Across the bay, the modern city is growing ever taller with hundreds of impressive high-rise towers. The bright lights announce a lively nightlife scene with bars, restaurants, casinos and clubs doing a brisk trade. Notable projects here include the Trump Ocean Club (currently the tallest building in the city) and the striking Revolution Tower, which twists in a spiral all the way up.
The most highly anticipated new visitor attraction is the BioMuseo – or Museum of Biodiversity – which is finally opened in 2014. This is set in a key location on the Amador Causeway – a six-kilometre-long causeway joining up four islands that was originally built as a breakwater to protect the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. The Causeway is already an entertainment hotspot with restaurants, bars and a marina, plus magnificent views across to the modern city skyline.
Some 15,000 ships pass through the Panama Canal each year and, a century after it was completed; a second channel with new larger locks is being built. This will enable the new generation of massive container ships and oil tankers to pass between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. There are several ways to see the canal in action: a visit to the Miraflores Locks is easy, but it can be more interesting to take a full day cruise through the canal including nature exploration on Lake Gatun. Or we can arrange a visit the much less well-known locks near Colon and show you the engineering work in progress on the new canal.
But Panama is not just about steel and concrete. Most of the country is delightfully natural. One third of the total land area is set aside as Protected Areas and National Parks, and indigenous people have their rights respected to continue living in their traditional lands.
Birdwatchers flock to Soberania National Park (which is extremely easy to get to) and this offers spectacular bird watching opportunities. Many of the country’s beaches and islands are also pristine and the crystal clear water and corals are popular with divers and snorkelers. On the Pacific side the Pearl Islands are earmarked for development, but things are much more chilled out on the Caribbean coast, where Bocas del Toro and the San Blas Islands in the Comarca de Kuna-Yala offer thousands of unspoiled islands and beaches.
Landlubbers should head to the hills and the charming little town of Boquete, where temperatures are cooler and there is delightful countryside for hiking, cycling or – for those seeking an adrenalin rush – white water rafting. It is a long slog up to the top of the Volcan Baru, Panama’s only volcano and tallest peak, but it is possible to make it to the top and back in a day (if you start very early)! Again, birdwatchers will have a great time here, with excellent bird life in the forests around the volcano. And there are delightful coffee fincas above the town, some of which can be visited.
Panama has enough to do to fill a full holiday and it is ideal for couples, families and those seeking specific nature and diving interests. It can also be conveniently combined with a trip to either Colombia, Costa Rica or Nicaragua.
To discover more about Panama and the best time of year to visit, give us a call or send us a message.
Places we love to stay
American Trade Hotel
Forgive the commercial sounding name, the American Trade Hotel is the top boutique hotel in Panama City.View details about American Trade Hotel
Bocas del Mar
Bocas del Mar is a relaxing boutique hotel set overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Boca Chica in northern Panama.View details about Bocas del Mar
Our favourite property in Panama’s Casco Viejo features enormous suites and harks back to the elegance of the 1930s.View details about Las Clementinas
Panamonte Inn & Spa
This small and characterful family-run hotel has delightful gardens and one of the best restaurants in Panama.View details about Panamonte Inn & Spa
El Otro Lado
El Otro Lado is a real hide-away retreat, offering a matchless experience of harmony, relaxation, personal style and cultural understanding.View details about El Otro Lado
Finca Lerida is set in the hills near Boquete and is a delightful country retreat to escape the heat of the lowlands.View details about Finca Lerida
The Waldorf Astoria in downtown Panama City is a stylish modern property with great service.View details about Waldorf Astoria
The Bristol is a haven of understated elegance in the heart of hi-rise Panama City.View details about The Bristol
Trump Ocean Club
Big, brash and bold, but with high standards, the Trump will appeal to those that like the larger American style full-service hotel.View details about Trump Ocean Club