Many destinations around the world offer a variety of options for visitors, but Panama is a country that provides more than that. Panama gives visitors authentic experiences and adventures. Many people choose to stay in Panama for only a short amount of time on their way to Colombia or Costa Rica and miss out on much of what the country has to show. Panama is a country that is full of history, culture, exotic wildlife, unique cuisine, and soul.
Though it may seem to be a bit of a cliche, there is no reason to visit Panama and then skip one of the world’s most historically significant sites. The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel that cut off almost 9,000 miles of travel for ships, transforming the face of global trade. Just 20 minutes outside of Panama City sits the Miraflores Visitor Center. This four-story interactive museum shows a short film and has a viewing deck for visitors to look out over the gigantic Miraflores locks. Individuals who wish to travel along the Panama Canal can purchase tickets for a guided tour.
As any coffee connoisseur will tell you, there are very few coffees in the world like the legendary Kopi Luwak from Indonesia or the Blue Mountain beans from Jamaica. Panama is home to one of the few coffees that can hold its own against other the other legends. Panama’s Gesha coffee is uniquely aromatic and floral. Though the bean isn’t native to Panama, traders brought it to the mountainous region of Boquete and made history. Now, Panamanian plantations produce some of the best coffee beans in the world. Many people call it “Geisha coffee,” though this is technically inaccurate. Its name comes from a village in Ethiopia where the been supposedly originates, and historians struggle to pinpoint exactly when people started adding the “i.”
If you’re a fan of seeing nature in all its glory, it’s hard to pass up visiting Boquete and its stunning jungle trails. Some of the best experiences Panama has are its trails, most notably the Lost Waterfall Trail Hike. With a short hike through the mountainous jungle, you will arrive at staggeringly beautiful waterfalls surrounded with lush trees and wildflowers. If that isn’t enough for you, Boquete also has many other trails that can take you deep into the heart of the jungle. The best local tour guides will be able to take you along and allow you to trek to areas that few others have been able to see.
Those who wish to experience the history of Panama should visit the old colonial town of Casco Viejo in Panama City. This town dates back to 1673 and showcases the gorgeous Spanish architecture of the period. Recently, many businesses have taken to cleaning up and refurbishing the old buildings, turning them into modern bars, restaurants, and hotels while embracing the buildings’ histories. Additionally, just outside of Casco Viejo sits the oldest cafe in Panama City. The Coca-Cola Cafe has been around since 1875 and is still in business. Take the time to visit a cafe so historic and famous that even Che Guevara took the time to see it.
One of the things that Panama City holds closest to its heart is jazz. Many restaurants in the city, even those further away from the city center, play live jazz music every night. If you’re a fan of watching incredible musicians play their hearts out, visit any of the many local jazz clubs or bars. The city is such a fan of jazz that it hosts many jazz festivals every year, some lasting for up to a week. There is nothing like relaxing on a beach while a jazz ensemble serenades you.
Many visitors choose to spend time in Bocas Del Toro, and it’s hard to blame them. The city is one of the world’s foremost tropical locations, full of blue waters, cute sloths, and perfect beaches. Visitors can choose to spend their time in the overwater bungalows, or they can practice water sports such as kayaking, surfing, or snorkeling. If you’d like to visit a less-busy area while still experiencing tropical wonders, you may choose to visit Guna Yala. Formerly known as San Blas, this strip of land has undergone less development than Bocas Del Toro but offers a more authentic experience.
When it comes to visiting a new area, some of the best parts are enjoying whole new worlds of food. Panama City is home to some truly incredible street food stalls that offer everything from small sweet snacks to full meals. Many stalls offer fresh fruit juices along with sliced fruit for you to enjoy while you walk around the metropolis. If you’re looking for a more substantial meal, try a savory empanada full of beef, pork, peppers, onions, wrapped in a delicious pastry shell. Plus, thanks to its location, Panama has some of the best seafood available.
Many people associate Captain Morgan with a specific brand of rum, but he was actually one of the most infamous pirates across all of the Spanish Main. In 1670, Morgan raided Panama City and took much of its treasure for himself. Visitors can purchase a guided tour that takes them through the city and fills them with historical knowledge, local cuisine, and great rum. One of the stops on most tours is the Iglesia de San Jose, a church with some unique lore. It features a magnificent gold altar that priests once painted entirely black in order to hide it from Morgan.
There isn’t really a correct time to visit Panama as it remains a beautiful place year-round. However, one of its most dazzling experiences occurs only once a year, around August. If you arrive at the Gulf of Chiriqui, you may be able to watch pods of whales as they migrate for the year. Some companies offer boat tours that allow you to get up close and marvel at the majesty of the whales. Because the sight is only available during a specific part of the year, many visitors tend to miss this sight, making it truly unique for those who do see it.
The world is full of talented artists who place their work on a variety of canvases. Panama City has no shortage of striking pieces of street art. Just walking through Casco Viejo, you’ll see hundreds of pieces decorating the old city walls. With no set rules or limits, each wall is distinct from the last as the styles change and evolve on every street. The city has been trying to clean up the area and has begun to remove many of the street art pieces, making the experience fleeting and memorable. You could be one of the last people to set eyes on a work of art.