10 of the best things to do in Panama

By Maelle Denoule

For the past 10 years, tourism in Panama has grown considerably, attracting more and more visitors around the world for its canal, but also for its marvelous environment. Located in Central America between Costa Rica and Colombia, and bordered on the north by the Caribbean Sea and on the south by the Pacific Ocean, the isthmus is a land bridge for an important number of mammals and bird’s species.

Nevertheless, the number of travelers to Panama is still relatively small compared with Costa Rica. But contrary to his neighbor, Panama still have plenty of treasures under-explored to discover. In fact, due to its unique geographical position, Panama provides paradisiac places, a variety of landscapes and an incredible biodiversity which offer travelers, an access to incredible adventures and sustainable experiences.

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Home of an amazing ecosystem, Panama gives you the opportunity to discover a rich culture and unique nature.   Our 10 best things to do in Panama:

Encounters with an indigenous community

With 7 indigenous communities around the country, Panama offers you the unique opportunity to share a cultural experience.  Their traditional lifestyle and their close relationship with nature will impact your life forever.

This authentic experience that everyone should live once in Panama, contributes at the same time to the conservation of these communities and their culture.

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See the pygmy three-toed sloth in Escudo Island 

Another reason why Panama should be your next destination is to see the pygmy three-toed sloth, also known as the monk sloth or dwarf sloth. This sloth can only be found in only one place in the world: National park Escudo Island, a small island off the coast of Panama, situated in the province of Veraguas.

With no official permanent residents on the island, you can have the incredible chance to see lots of them, but it remains very important to not feed them. Indeed, wild animals who depend on people for food can cause injuries or spread disease, but also increase the chances of fighting and injury among animals.

Snorkel or scuba dive in Gulf of Chiriqui

Humpback whales, sea turtles, dolphins, manta rays, orcas, whale sharks, tiger sharks, and many more marine mammals and animals can be seen while swimming there. With around 760 species of fish, the Gulf of Chiriqui is becoming one of the favorite places for scuba divers and snorkelers in Panama.

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White Tips sharks

Panama Canal Transit

Impossible to miss one of the world’s greatest human-made marvels, the Panama Canal. To learn about this fantastic engineering, nothing better than experience a transit. During the transit aboard the Pacific Queen, enjoy the splendorous Bay of Panama and pass by the Miraflores Locks where you can watch the locks operate. Discover at the same time its history while following the most enormous cargos and cruise ships of the world!

Panama Canal Transit
Panama Canal

Volcan Baru’s summit

Located in the highlands of Chiriquí, the impressive Baru Volcano’s worth the detour. Down from its 3 474 meters, this dormant volcano is the highest mountain of Panama and one of the only places in the world from where you can see at the same time, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Apart from the breath-taking panoramic views at the top of the volcano, this one is also surrounded by lush jungle, offering the chance, during your summit, to see different birds of Central America, and if you’re lucky, the resplendent quetzal. Adrenaline guaranteed for this extremely challenging trail.

Visit a coffee plantation in Boquete

Did you know the country is world famous for the Geisha Coffee? Actually, one of the rarest and most expensive coffees in the world comes from Panama. So, if you love coffee, Boquete must be one of the stops of your itinerary. Thanks to the volcanic ash situated in the soil of the region, local farms have found the best place for the coffee to grow up and make it so special. Visit one of the coffee plantations and learn about its process. There, you will maybe have the privilege to taste one of the most exquisite coffee in the world!

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Surf in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean

Although, if the Caribbean Sea or Pacific Coast is famed for its relaxing long white sand beaches with palm trees, it’s also the best place to surf and have fun with the waves. Unlike Costa Rica, Panama is still virgin and only a few people know about Panama’s surfing potential. El Palmar, Santa Catalina, Playa Vaneo, and many other beaches can provide you the best surfing spots of Central America. Surfers? You will love it!

Try on traditional Panamanian clothing: the Pollera

Panama is also the land of a rich culture. To not lose a crumb of Panama, we invite you to discover in Pedasi, the traditional Panamanian clothing: the Pollera. National dress of Panama worn by women for festivals or celebrations is also one of the most admired national costumes of the Americas. Handmade and very colorful, this traditional dress with Spanish colonial influences is the pride of all Panamanians. Men are well, have their own traditional costume they wear during festivities. Why not try it on to make you feel, for a moment, like a real Panamanian?!

Panamanian Pollera
a girl with Pollera in Pedasi, Azuero Peninsula, Panama

Whale watching while migration season

Have you always dreamt to see whales? It is possible in Panama! In fact, humpback whales come to Panama every year, between July and October, to migrate and give birth, making the isthmus, one of the few places in the planet where you can see these majestic mammals. Many species of whales and dolphins can be found in Panama’s water during that period of the year, especially in the archipelago of the Pearl Islands, on the Pacific Coast.

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Taste 5 typical dishes of Panama

Even if Panama is not known internationally for its cuisine, the food is however very tasty and diverse. Made with local and fresh ingredients, Panamanian cuisine is a mix of traditional cooking methods from diverse regions of Panama. Consequently, it’s very common to find dishes made from coconut, seafood, root vegetables, and tropical fruits along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, but also root vegetables, starchy fruits, livestock, chicken, beans and rice, eaten everywhere in the country. Enough ingredients to make a variety of delicious typical Panamanian dishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Study Abroad in Panama

Despite its small size, Panama is one of the most biodiverse places in the world with more plant species than in all of Europe. Our academic tours gives you in-depth insights of the natural history and biodiversity of Panama by visiting tropical rainforests, cloud forests, wetlands, mangrove forests and volcanic mountain ranges.

EcoCircuitos Panama  is an qualified, in-country partner for high schoolsmiddle schools, and academic travel groups that want to provide a unique and authentic worldwide travel experience for their students.  Our office team and naturalist and history guides will work side-by-side with teachers, student leaders, high schools and universities to plan, organize, and lead student adventure programs through Panama.

EcoCircuitos Panama has been running Academic and Adventure travel since 2003 and we have the the experience, valuable relationships with the best partners in town.  We offer local knowledge and expertise on how to discover the Isthmus that changed the world.

Our Motto:  Adventure, Conservation and Education!

Video by Hannover College Indiana students on their trip to Panama with us in May, 2018

5 Reasons to Visit Panama during Green Season

Everybody wants to travel during the dry season but you will be missing the most amazing lush colors and unique experiences that only happens during the rainy season (May to December).  I want to share with you some reasons to escape to Panama during the wet season, my favourite time of the year.

1. Amazing Hotel discounts all over

Hotels lower the rates during the green season, which runs from May to mid-November in Panama.  Some offer discounts of more than 25% less than during the high season.   During September there are amazing offers of 4 nights paying only 3.   You can stay at the amazing Isla Palenque Resort , a beautiful island of  160 hectares of lush jungle, framed by 7 untouched beaches, house a number of wilderness trails and hidden spaces to be explored by guests of the barefoot-luxury Beach Suites, for $499.00 per night (versus $900.00 in high season).   Or stay at the renowned Canopy Lodge in the core of the Soberania National Park for 30% off.

Isla Palenque

2. No crowds in Casco, Canal, Biomuseo or SkyWalk

While summer vacationers flood the City Arqueological sites Panama La Vieja, Casco Viejo, during high season, the off months or green season are less crowded and great to explore attractions such as the unique Biodiversity MuseumThe Rainforest Discovery Center in Soberania National  Park at less than an hour from the City, where you could admire the tree canopy from an observation tower of 30 meters from the ground.  Also in the highlands of Chiriqui, you can experience the Skyline and Zip lining during the wet months.  Amazing experiences without the crowds.

Biomuseo, evento Los Humedales.©Victoria Murillo /istmophoto.com
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3. The Rain brings us more life and colors!

The surrounded forest around the Panama Canal Watershed is more lush and green during this time of year.  You can see more life and with the rain more flowers, birds, mammals and beautiful butterflies are easy to spot.   On a jungle boat tour, you will be amazed by the amount of wildlife that you will encounter in one day.

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4. Whale Watching tours!

During the months of July–October, you have 99% chances to encounter Humpback whales around the Pacific waters. They come to have their calves in Panama.   The most popular spots to see the whales here are Contadora, The Gulf of Chiriqui, Isla Iguana and even Taboga.   Though you can see dolphins and bottlenoses.  You can take a whale watching tour the Pearl Archipelago.

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My first wildlife experience in Soberania National Park with Ecocircuitos

By Maelle Denoual

True nature lover, I was chosen to work as an intern for 5 months in Ecocircuitos’ tour operator and it’s the first time for me in Panama. I’m French and I’ve never been further than Morocco. You can imagine how excited I was to know that I will discover a new land and such amazing country like Panama. And here I am!

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A week ago, during my first week of internship, I had the opportunity to experience, with two other clients, the hiking tour at Soberania National Park in the company of the very competent and smiley naturalist guides of the company named Fabio.

It was once again my first exploration of a rainforest and it was amazing! This tour offers an incredible opportunity for wildlife observation and birdwatching. In fact, while we were walking just at the park’s entrance, it didn’t take long before we could hear birdsongs and feel the absolutely unique atmosphere of wilderness. I felt in another world for 2 hours. Beautiful and colorful birds but also huge butterflies were flying from time to time above our head. Every time we saw an animal or a bird, Fabio was there to tell us what kind of specimen it was and inform us more about it. We have even seen a baby anteater on the side of the trail. Actually, we were very lucky because it’s not common to see one so close. I have learned so much during this hiking tour and it wasn’t exhausting but mostly enjoyable.

After the exploration of the lush forest, Fabio explained that our adventure is not finished.  We were heading to a jungle-adventure expedition across the Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal. Once aboard, we started the tour searching for more wildlife around the rainforest-covered islands. And we were lucky again because we could see monkeys having a nap on trees, many water birds, 2 big green iguanas, a sloth and a crocodile! Also, it was so impressive to see giant cargos on the canal transiting the waterway few meters away from us…I couldn’t believe that I was on the renowned Panama Canal that everybody talks about. I was thrilled!

That day was a very enriching experience thanks to these 2 different ways to discover nature and I felt very amazed by the considerable diversity of fauna and flora which offers Panama. I strongly recommend EcoCircuitos’ tours to everyone who loves ecotourism and want to visit Panama.

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EcoCircuitos practices responsible tourism and follow the standards of leave no trace and Travelers Against Plastics.  We encourage all our clients to bring their own bottle and change the way you travel.  For more information on this tours and others, please contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com

New Hotel in Panama: Santa Maria Luxury Collection

A new and contemporary hotel just open doors in Panama City this month.  The beautiful Santa Maria Golf & Country Club.

The Santa María Hotel is a luxury hotel by the Starwood brand, as part of their Luxury Collection.  Located within the Santa María Country Club near the international Tocumen airport.

The hotel’s 182 accommodations allow the stunning city and golf course views, many from balconies. Feel at home with a coffeemaker, wireless High-Speed Internet Access, and a flat-screen TV with cable channels. Restful sleep is ensured by one king-size or two double Luxury Collection beds. Bathrooms clad in Italian marble offer refined amenities and bathrobes.   Suitable for both business and leisure, each Executive Suite includes a separate living area for meetings or casual gatherings. Two exclusive Deluxe Suites are distinguished by the best views of the golf course from outdoor terraces.

Balance and wellness are the goals of our world-class spa, whose 600 square meters include five treatment cabins, a Turkish bath, a steam room, a beauty salon, a relaxation area, and locker rooms. Yoga and Reiki sessions are held outside.

For more information on rates, special discounts and Events, contact our office at info@ecocircuitos.com  or for incentives info@discoversublime.com

5 Top EcoLodges in Panama

Panama is the best keep secret in Latin America.  My country is one of the best adventure travel destinations with amazing ecolodges surrounded by nature.   Panama is part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and is known as one of the most biologically diverse countries in Central America.   There are more ecolodges in Panama and below you will see a list of my favorites.

Mount Totumas Cloudforest Ecolodge

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Just 2 hours from David in Volcan is located this wonderful cloudforest Eco lodge a truly unique experience in Panama.  At Mount Totumas Cloud Forest there is a variety of accommodations and depending on guests preferences and budget.   I love the Cabin where I stayed with my partner and loved the amazing views of the National Park.   The ecolodge is located in the buffer zone directly bordering La Amistad National Park.  Guests can enjoy 8 marked trails through the reserve with access into the adjacent national park, which is Central America’s largest protected mountain wilderness area. Hot springs are also located nearby. In the Mount Totumas Cloud Forest Reserve there are keystone species presented such as Resplendent Quetzal, Three Wattled Bellbirds, Mantled Howler Monkey, Black and Crested Guan, White-Faced Capuchin, spider monkeys, mountain lions amongst many others.   The hotel has a sustainable practice and most of the employees and guides are locals who work as integral players in the operation of the hotel.  The owner brings her expertise in Asian and European cuisine to Mount Totumas and creates dishes drawing from their gardens  and the local produce vendors in Volcan.

Canopy Camp Darien

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This is the best birding ecolodge to experience the Darien specialties.  The Canopy Camp Darien features eight large, safari-style tents that are designed specifically for use in environmentally sensitive areas; they are very eco-friendly. The tents are on raised platforms, to keep you up off the ground and dry in the lowland rainforest of Darien.  Each the tents occupies an area of 173 square feet and offer plenty of space to store your luggage, clothing, and gear. Large windows on all sides with flaps allow natural light and breeze to enter the tent during the daylight hours.  Each has two single beds or one queen bed, two tables, a floor fan and overhead light, and a solid plantation teak wood floor.  Each tent has a full private bathroom located directly outside of the tent on the platform.  Each bathroom has all the essentials – flush toilets and a shower that offers serene, private views of the surrounding rainforest.   Just a step outside of the tent, the platform offers covered space to relax in lounge chairs in the shade during the hot mid-day sun or an afternoon rain, with exquisite views of the jungle surrounding the camp from your own observation deck.

Tranquilo Bay EcoLodge

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Discover the ecosystem of Bocas del Toro Archipelago through snorkeling, kayaking or hiking with one of the lodge’s biologist guides. Encounter uncounted birds, different monkey species, iguanas and much more during your stay, relax and refresh in a unique natural environment.The interior of each of the cabanas is tastefully and comfortably appointed with air-conditioning, local hardwoods, tile floors, fine linens and a calming color palette to welcome you at the end of your adventure each day.
 The Tranquilo Bay EcoLodge offers 6 individual cabanas, 4 with ocean view and 2 with rainforest view, and all equipped with either queen-size or double bed equipped with orthopedic mattresses. Additional beds for children are available upon request. The furniture is carefully handcrafted from local hardwoods, and every bedroom is equipped with a small seating area, reading lights and a small supply of books for leisurely hours. And if you prefer relaxing outdoors, there’s a covered porch with hammock and Adirondack chairs waiting for you. All cabanas have air conditioning and hot water, as well as coffee makers and hair dryers.  A covered porch with a hammock and Adirondack chairs awaits to help you escape the “every day” that you left behind when you enter the grounds at Tranquilo Bay.

 

Villa Tavida Ecolodge

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 Located in a private reserve that has been protected for 25 years, Villa Tavida offers its guests the opportunity to escape from the modern day world. Surrounded in nature, guests have breathtaking views of a nearby waterfall and can easily be accessed by a hike down a nature trail to get a closer look. Villa Tavida is just 35 km from Penonome and approximately 50 km from Playa Blanca.  This exclusive guest house offers 5 comfortable rooms, all overlooking the waterfall Tavida.  Some units include a balcony and/or patio. Every unit has a private bathroom with free toiletries.  The lodge offers free parking on-site. Guests can enjoy a meal at the on-site restaurant. The services are aimed at promoting environmental, cultural and economic welfare.

 

Isla Palenque EcoResort

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A beautiful island of  160 hectares of lush jungle, framed by 7 untouched beaches, house a number of wilderness trails and hidden spaces to be explored by guests of the barefoot-luxury Beach Suites (mid-2018) and Villa Estate.  The ecolodge is at just minutes walk from the beach and it offers an outdoor pool and a restaurant.  The accommodation will provide you with iPad. Featuring a shower, the private bathrooms also come with a hairdryer and free toiletries. Some rooms offer views of the sea and the pool area. Extras include a safety deposit box, linen, and a fan.  At The Resort at Isla Palenque, you will find a private beach area. Other facilities offered at the property include a tour desk and luggage storage. Daily guided tours are offered and the property has a large area with hiking trails.  An additional package must be purchased directly to the Hotel to include additional services : 3 daily meals at the on-site restaurant, as well as on-site guided tours and one round trip boat transfer per party between Boca Chica and Isla Palenque.We encourage you to travel different in Panama.  Explore the real and authentic destination and stay in unique properties that will make your vacation memorable.For more information on this ecolodges and other options in Panama, please contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com

 

The Arqueological Compound of Panama La Vieja

Approximately two miles from the Panama City center are found the archeological compound of the first city of Panama known as “Panama La Vieja” or Old Panama, founded in 1519 by Pedrarias Davila.  Fragments of walls and arches stand in an open park, recalling the splendor of the Spaniard’s first settlement on the Pacific Ocean.  From here, expeditions were mounted to conquer the Inca Empire of South America.  All of the wealth from Peru and Chile flowed to Spain through Old Panama.  Not surprisingly, the enormous quantities of gold attracted pirates like sharks to Panama’s water.  When Henry Morgan looted the city in 1671, Panama’s governor ordered the powder magazine burned, and the whole city went up in flames.  the capital was moved two miles to the west, and present-day Panama city was founded in 1673.  The most impressive structures remaining are the cathedral, that you can climb and have an amazing view of the City and market.   This is one of the spots not to missed if you visit our City.