Panama map

Region by Region

Panama City: Founded in 1513 by the Spanish explorer Balboa, Panama City is both colonial and ultra-modern. In 1538 Panama City became the third Audencia Real of New Spain and rose in importance above Lima. Panama City retained its prominence as a center of trade and administration until 1671 when the city was sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan.

Two years later the the city was rebuilt in what is now its present location. Today popular excursions from Panama City include a visit to the ruins of the Old City, the Spanish fortifications at Portobelo, short launch rides to the flower island of Taboga, longer trips to the Chiriqui highlands for hunting and fishing, and a ride beside the canal on the historic Panama Railroad. Also popular are performances of the outstanding Folkloric Ballet at the National Theater.

The Panama Canal: Panama's number one attraction is the famed Panama Canal. In operation since 1914, the canal is 50 mi. long bisecting the country north by northwest. Ships are lifted from sea level to 85 ft. via a series of unique, gravity powered locks. From beginning to end it takes a ship eight hours to transit the canal. Visitors are welcome to inspect the operation from the locks at Miraflores and GatĂșn.

Day launches offer canal transits for local visitors (lunch served aboard). Also recommended is a visit to the Canal Museum on Av. Balboa in Panama City.

Barro Colorado: Popular day trip from Panama City, Barro Colorado offers an easy look at Panama's rain forest plus gives the visitor a chance to cruise the Canal. Small launch tours sail the canal to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. From offshore visitors may observe flora and fauna usually including howler monkeys, toucans, and slaty-tailed trogons. Next a landing is made at the Gigante Research station for an hour's trek in the rain forest.

San Blas Islands: A 25 minutes prop hop from Panama City takes one to the exotic San Blas Islands, home of the remarkable Cuna Indians. The Cuna are unique for many reasons, most notably they are an autonomous, self-governing group of people who live independently within the Republic of Panama. The attractions here include tiny island hotels, fascinating shopping, water sports, and remarkable native villages. The sheer tropical beauty of the environment make the San Blas an unforgettable travel experience.

Portobelo: Here is where the Spanish stored and shipped the gold they looted from the Incas. From Portobelo's natural harbor Spanish Main galleons trans-shipped the treasure across the Atlantic. The old counting house, and a remarkable series of garrisons survive. The Black Christ of Portobelo, the origin of a most intriguing legend, is also a major visitor attraction.

Contadora: This is the best known of several Panamanian islands. Contadora's newly refurbished resort and sports facility includes golf, casino gambling, 13 beaches and deep sea fishing (40 world records). Twenty minutes from Panama City by small aircraft, Contadora is the perfect offshore windup to a business meeting or convention in Panama.

Bocas del Toro: On the Caribbean just below the Costa Rican border, Bocas del Toro is a fast developing dive and sun/fun destination. Here, within a large national park, one may enjoy all water sports, sail to a different small island every day, and enjoy fresh lobster dinner in town in authentic Italian restaurants. Good small hotels, and the place is still bargain priced. The Darien: The true wilderness of southernmost Panama, known as the Darien (or Darien Gap for there are no roads) is largely a protected habitat for rare and endangered species including jaguar, ocelot, and tapir. Indigenous tribes have been recruited to patrol the region for poachers. There are guest house facilities within a national park at Cana that give bird watchers a chance to spot many of the rarest species in the world.

For the hard-adventure traveler regularly scheduled trans-Darien treks from the Caribbean to Pacific are a true challenge.

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