Panama is a crossroads between the Americas and is served by major airlines with direct flights from countries including the United States, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom. It is only two and a half hours from Miami and four from Houston. An increasing number of flights to Panama mean they're getting less expensive, too. Most people don't need a visa, just a $5 tourist card that you can buy at the airport for single-entry tourist visits (note U.S. citizens now require a passport valid for up to 90 days). You can also travel by bus to Panama from Costa Rica and fly or take a boat from Colombia. With Spain, France, the U.S., and many other countries influencing the history of this country, you will find a lot of people speak more than one language. The currency is the U.S. dollar, officially known as the balboa though locals also colloquially use the term dólar.
Panama was once under water, separating the Americas. Today it's a land bridge connecting North and South America, but it was also a metaphorical bridge for Spanish conquistadors transporting gold from Peru to Spain. See the ruins of the first city (Panama Viejo) and walk the streets of Casco Viejo, which was built in the 1600s. Learn about famous pirates like Henry Morgan and see the forts they attacked. For a century, one-third of the world's gold passed through Panama. And of course, there's also the historic Panama Canal, which was officially completed in 1914. Visit through the famous Miraflores Locks and museum or experience the canal on a day cruise.
Panama's climate is temperate year-round, though it does experience a rainy season—the "green" season to locals—from mid-April to mid-December; Panama's Caribbean side typically stays wetter throughout the year than the Pacific side. Yet while it rains more, it's usually no more than an hour per day and never gets cold. Can't take the heat in the more humid lowlands? Head up into the hills. The climate certainly cools off when you reach El Valle, Boquete, and the country's highest town, Cerro Punta, which sits at an altitude of 6,500 feet amidst jagged mountain peaks and verdant forests. Enjoy temps in the low 80s during the day and high 60s at night.
Seven Indian tribes still remain throughout Panama. Visit the Wounaan tribe, who are located within an hour's drive from Panama City. Go upriver for a night with the Embera. Throughout the country you will see Guaymis' influence. Deep in the jungle/national park shared with Costa Rica, you will find the Bribri and friendly Teribe (Naso) tribes. And perhaps the ultimate cultural experience is a trip to Kuna Yala, a dramatic coastal strip of land on Panama's northern coastline inhabited by the indigenous Kuna people. Here you'll find the pristine San Blas Islands, a pristine archipelago of 365 islands (36 of which are inhabited by Kuna communities) with great snorkeling, sailing, and fishing opportunities.
Panama is an adventure-seeker's paradise. Snorkel or dive some of the Caribbean's and Pacific's best reefs, such as those at Santa Catalina's Isla Coiba National Park. Catch a wave on the breaks at famous and lesser-known surf hot spots on either coastline. Sail, sea-kayak, or just swim off the country's 2,000 miles of coastline and more than 2,000 islands. Hike jungle trails along a volcanic crater or to the top of a 10,000-foot mountain to catch the sunrise and a view of both oceans. Depending on experience, raft or kayak Class I-IV whitewater rivers in the mountainous Chiriquí Province. Try one of the three zipline and canopy tours. And let's not forget the nightlife out on Panama City's Calle Uruguay, a wild adventure if ever there was one.
This guest post comes courtesy of Kevin O'Brien of Barefoot Panama, an adventure-tour specialist and all-around Panama expert based out of Panama City.
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