Panama Canal, Panama City

Exploring Panama

A narrow frontier that divides oceans and continents, Panama has long been one of the world's greatest crossroads - even since before the construction of its famous canal. Though its historical ties to the US have led to an exaggerated perception of the country as a de facto American colony, Spanish, African, West Indian, Chinese, Indian, European, and some of the least assimilated indigenous communities in the region have all played a role in the creation of the most sophisticated, open-minded and outward-looking society in Central America.

The comparatively high level of economic development and use of the US dollar also make it one of the more expensive countries in the region, but the wildlife-viewing and adventure travel options are excellent, and the still relatively undiscovered nightlife of Panama City is a diamond in the rough. The S-shaped isthmus remains a vital thoroughfare of international commerce as well as a growing destination for international tourism and investment.

Cosmopolitan and contradictory, Panama City is the most exciting capital city in Central America, its multiple personalities reflected in the frenzied energy of its international banking centre, the laid-back street life of it sold colonial quarter and the anti septic order of the US-built Canal Zone. Located in the centre of the country, it is also a natural base from which to explore many of Panama's most popular destinations, including its best-known attraction, the monumental Panama Canal. The colonial ruins and Caribbean coastline of Colon province are also within reach of the capital.

East of Panama City stretches Darien, the wild, rainforest-covered frontier between Central and South America, while to the north, along the Caribbean coastline, Kuna Yala is the autonomous home land of the Kuna, who live in beautiful isolation on the coral atolls of the San Blas Archipelago. West of Panama City, the Carretera Inter American a runs through the Pacific coastal plain, Panama's agricultural heart land. This region lures travellers intrigued by the folkloric traditions and nature reserves of the Azuero Peninsula and the protected cloud forests of the Chiriqui Highlands on the Costa Rican border. The mostly uninhabited Caribbean coast west of the Canal meets Costa Rica near the remote archipelago of Bocas del Toro, a popular vacation destination thanks to its largely unspoiled rainforests, beaches, coral reefs, surfing hotspots and easygoing vibe.