01 Panama Header
Tommy G / Getty Images
Tommy G / Getty Images

Unforgettable road trip

Incomparable Panama

Panama has everything that Costa Rica has – minus the crowds. In large areas of the country, tourism is minimal to non-existent, and you often have lush jungle trails, idyllic beaches and sleepy villages all to yourself. Take a journey to a colourful country where natural beauty awaits.

Let’s go!
Panama Map

Panama is a land with many facets. It forms the border between North and South America and has a cultural cocktail of Spanish, Caribbean, West Indian and indigenous influences. Its cheerful people, friendly villages and versatile cuisine are reason enough for a roaring road trip, but its nature is also well worth a visit to this country. In Panama, heat, overgrown jungles, dormant volcanos and stunning beaches are the real stars of the show. Bus transport is well developed, but a rental car is also an excellent way to get around.

02 Panama Intro Bus Stop
Westend61 / Getty Images

Diverse capital

Travelers often avoid major Central American cities because of their rough edges. Panama City is the exception that proves that even a metropolis with a population of 1.2 million can have an inviting and pleasant atmosphere. The modernity of the city is hard to miss, with a row of skyscrapers dominating the cityscape. In the south, however, the tall buildings have made way for the most interesting neighbourhood in the city: Casco Viejo. Ten years ago, this was still a slum that was not recommended for tourists. But after a complete renewal of the area, its cast iron balconies and colonial churches shine like never before. Make sure to enjoy a bite at the ancient Café Coca Cola that, with its unpolished atmosphere and no-nonsense cuisine, has been welcoming hungry guests since 1875.

02 Panama Street
Bildagentur-online/Schickert / Alamy Stock Photo
02 Panama Coca Cola Cafe
Mabelin Santos / Alamy Stock Photo
  • 03 Panama City Skyline
    David Shvartsman / Getty Images

    Fifty shades of green

    From Panama City, it is a two-hour drive to El Valle de Antón. Although small in size, this town is big on impressive nature. El Valle de Antón is located in the heart of an extinct volcanic crater and is surrounded by a high-pile tropical carpet of soaking wet cloud forests. The village can easily be explored by bike, but the surrounding jungle is best visited by foot. The most popular route is the India Dormida Trail, which takes you over a mountain ridge that, with a bit of imagination, has the contour of a sleeping girl. Those in relatively good shape can hike to the 960-metre top in an hour and a half. Once you get there, you will be rewarded with amazing views of the valley and village.

    04 Panama Boy River
    Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
    04 Panama Street Seller
    Nitram Airo / Alamy Stock Photo
    • 05 Panama Highlights
      Greg Newington / Getty Images

      Far from civilisation

      We chug along to Santa Catalina, a sleepy fishing village on Panama’s undulating Pacific coast, where life lived at a comfortable snail’s pace. There is no supermarket, no ATM and no petrol station. What you will find here are inviting bars, fantastic waves for surfing and rugged, heavenly beaches. It is tempting to laze away the day in the warm sand, but make sure to take a boat trip to Isla de Coiba. This island paradise is home to so many species of flora and fauna that the entire island has been designated a national park. In the surrounding water, you can dive or snorkel amidst humpbacks, sperm whales, hammerheads, sea turtles, stingrays and even the occasional stray orca.

      06 Panama Blue Bg
      06 Panama Beach Van De Bewoonde Wereld 1
      wildfiles / Alamy Stock Photo
      • 07 Panama Beach 2
        Daniel Lamborn / Alamy Stock Photo

        Rumble in the jungle

        The next step of our journey is from the Pacific coast to Panama’s most popular jungle village: Boquete. The village itself is nothing to write home about, but it is the perfect base for endlessly exploring the surrounding cloud forests. Not only can you hike along lush jungle trails like the 10 kilometre-long Quetzal Trail, but also climb, raft, ride horses and go rappelling. The fertile, volcanic soil – Boquete is situated under the smoke of the impressive Baru Volcano – means you can also visit numerous coffee plantations. Boquete is home to large numbers of American expats and, after visiting the remote Santa Catalina, it’s nice to relax and enjoy the many beer gardens, bistros and inviting restaurants. Our tip? The fish tacos at Big Daddy’s Grill are delectable.

        08 Panama Horses
        Brad Thompson / Getty Images
        08 Panama Harvesting
        Michael Hanson / Getty Images
        • 09 Panama River
          Rebecca E Marvil / Getty Images

          Colourful archipelago

          We make our way to the Caribbean coast via the bright green Hornito Valley. In Almirante, we take a water taxi to Isla Colón, the main island of the Bocas del Toro. Bocas Town has a typical rasta atmosphere and here you will find bars, shops and nightlife. But if you are looking to enjoy fantastic beaches without the crowds, go to the golden Bluff Beach. There are a handful of small hotels here, but you’ll have the beach more or less to yourself.

          10 Panama Beach
          Jorge Tutor / Alamy Stock Photo
          10 Panama Starfish
          10 Panama Surf Shop
          TravelMuse / Alamy Stock Photo

          A trip by local bus to Playa Estrella (‘star beach’) is also highly recommended. The waters of this tropical paradise full of swaying palm trees are filled with starfish. Tip: Don’t go on the weekend when all the locals head to the beach, and the starfish move to quieter areas.

          • 11 Panama Sea Cabin
            Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

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