10 Bucket List-Worthy Things to do in Panama

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Panama is so much more than the canal. In fact, it’s not only a bucket-list worthy destination, it’s also one of the hottest vacation destinations according to The New York Times. Despite this high-brow shout out, a Panama vacation is actually affordable. Most exotic vacation spots of this caliber come with a hefty price tag so you’re in luck. The breath-stealing turquoise water and sugar-white beaches set against lush verdant vistas is spectacular. Better still, it has the perfect weather–it’s between 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. Panama is rich in culture and folklore (it’s soaking in it, actually) and boasts beautiful mountains and highlands. There are numerous historical sites from a rich past as an international crossroads that, if you’re into that, you can dig into. Panama also has seven living native cultures and a chic, Miami-esque cosmopolitan capital city, Panama City, with non-stop nightlife. If you’re thinking about going on a Panama vacation, here are some things you’ll definitely want to consider. Truly, this amazing country is a tropical gem that will imprint on your heart and soul long after you’ve come home. It’s definitely a place to visit while you’re still living and breathing here on planet earth.

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(Playa Bonita, photo by: instagram.com/@marcelloiaconetti.)

1. Honeymoon in Playa Bonita. When it comes to making lifetime memories, saying “I do” in Playa Bonita is everything you’ve ever dreamed of: it’s an idyllic, tropical paradise. If tying the knot is on your radar, the Westin Playa Bonita is where you’ll want to look. Imagine your ceremony on the beach set against a backdrop of teal waves, snow white sand and majestic mountains with full access to a luscious spa, tons of water sports, tantalizing gourmet cuisine–and oceans more. Sweet, huh? (It’s like movie star cool.) It’s just 40 minutes from Tocumen International Airport and 20 minutes from the Panama Canal. So if you’re thinking nuptials, it’s a gorgeous destination. Plus your friends and family will love having the excuse to take a Panama vacation.

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(Kayaks on Playa Bonita, photo by: instagram.com/shooterbynature.)

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(San Blas Islands, photo by: instagram.com/ulianux.)

2. Explore the San Blas Islands.Explore the San Blas Islands. Located in the Northwest of Panama facing the Caribbean, the San Blas Islands are a group of islands in the archipelago de San Blas. There are 378 islands with pure white sand and waving palms in this area that span about 100 square miles. It’s one of the best places to immerse yourself in the rich culture of the Kuna, or Guna–the indigenous people of Panama. On the larger, more inhabited islands, there are tribe members stationed who are warm and welcoming and they’ll let you use the island for a nominal fee for the day. You can also rent boats to sail around these waters. January to May is the dry season; however, all this means is that the days toggle between cloudy sunny. Nevertheless, most of these islands are scantily inhabited so you can enjoy some quality unplugging time. When you’re putting together your itinerary for your Panama vacation, you’ll want to include the San Blas Islands. Think of it kind of like Lost, except without the drama and no airplane debris clogging up the beach. It’ll be a blast.

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(San Blas Islands, photo by: instagram.com/francescaquerzoli.)

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(San Blas Islands, photo by: instragram.com/g_quake.)

3. Play in Playa Blanca. Like Playa Bonita, this spot is rockin’ with great stuff to do. When planning your Panama getaway, make sure to stop by Playa Dorada Beach, where you can dip into the water and work on your tan. The beach is pure ivory sand and delicious. Nearby you can also take an aerial tram ride in Gamboa, where you might spot birds, monkey and sloths. Not too far away you can go bird watching on Pipeline Road in Soberania National Park. You can get great deals at the Riu Playa Blanca (it’s an all-inclusive resort so you get everything you want, too).  When you’re reveling in paradise during your Panama escape, you don’t want to miss Playa Blanca.

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(Gamboa Rainforest Rescue Center, photo by: instagram.com/leaspiljak.)

4. Hit the Azuero Peninsula. This area is where you’ll get a true taste of Panamanian culture. It’s four hours from Panama City, but well worth the travel time. The eastern shore, bordered by the Golfo de Panama, is the most developed. However, the whole area has a rich history that dates back to pre-Columbian indigenous groups. In fact, the towns still reflect Spanish charm with red-tile roofs and ornate ironwork that graces the Spanish-colonial houses. The towns to check out are Chitre, Las Tablas and Pedasi, where you’ll find churches, plazas and much more that are snap-worthy. Just outside of Pedasi is Isla Iguana, where you’ll see gorgeous white sand beaches. It’s a magical place where you can swim and tan, as well as get your scuba and snorkel on.

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(Bocas del Toro in Changuinola, photo by: instagram.com/simplelifeshotss.)

5. Go All Outdoors at Bocas del Toro. An unspoiled archipelago on Panama’s North Eastern Caribbean coast that Columbus discovered in 1502 A.D., Bocas del Toro is buzzing with aahsome fun stuff to do al fresco. The island, comprised of nine main islands and 52 cays, boasts coral reefs, waterfalls, rainforests and five beaches–of these, Starfish, Red Frog Beach and Zapatillas Key are the most beautiful. Speaking of pretty things, there’s excellent snorkeling (lots of colorful fish), surf access and lush mangrove trees all around. You can also take zip line canopy tours, plus a cave tour where you’ll see stalactites, stalagmites, bats and other cave-dwelling animals. After all of this outdoorsy stuff, take a water taxi to the Aqua Lounge for a cocktail, kick back and chill. These are the kinds of super fun days that only a vacation in Panama can deliver.

6. Plant Yourself in Portobelo. Now a laid back fishing village, Portobelo was once the greatest Spanish port in Central America. You have to access the beaches by boat, but they’re great for diving and snorkeling. Grab a bite at El Palenque and relax at this beautiful spot by the luscious blue water.

7. Party During Carnival de Panama. So you want to do Carnival, but don’t want to trek all the way down to Brazil? No problem. Just book a Panama vacation. In this happy country, it’s celebrated with the same revelry and abandon as in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro. Celebrated in Panama since the early 1990s, the party begins four days before Ash Wednesday. The colors, costumes, food and music are scintillating and the people are down for partying. But be prepared to get sprayed by water cannons, a carnival tradition. The best city in Panama to experience all this revelry is Las Tablas, a town about 130 miles west of Panama City. The atmosphere is more folkloric-you can see traditional rivalry between “high street” and “low street” costumes and floats. Time to partay, True Beach Lovers. Start planning your very festive trip to Panama now.

8. Dive into Coiba National Marine Parks. Situated in the Gulf of Chirique off Panama’s Pacific Coast, Coiba is comprised of 38 islands (including Coiba Island). It’s a world-class dive site where you’ll descend into blue, pristine waters that is teeming with fish–more than 800 species of marine life, in fact. Think of it this way: take the number and size of the fish you might have seen elsewhere and double that. This is how magnificent the fish-ogling here is. Suit up. Take the plunge. It’s something that will make your Panama vacation, and memories, more than magical.

9. Cruise Around Gatun Lake. This body of water was damned to create, yes, the Panama Canal.  Even though it’s man-made, it’s flourishing with all kinds of wildlife. Fishing is big here and catching Peacock bass is what you’ll want to go for. Monkey Island is well worth the visit where you can feed the human-like mammals-howler monkeys-grapes. Take a boat ride from Panama City and you can see three-toed sloths, otters, birds and crocodiles. It’s crazy wild and fun–something no Panama vacation should be without.

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(Gatun Locks Panama, photo by: instagram.com/enriqgonzalez.)

10. Peruse the Panama Canal. But of course, right? The Eighth Wonder of the World. The most famous thing probably ever that has come out of Panama. So, think about it: if you’re traveling all the way down here for your vacation, why not give this historic, engineering marvel a look-see? The best place to check this out is in Panama City at the Miraflores Locks. Here, you can see vessels travel the last section of the canal and its locks that fill with water to lift and lower huge ships until they reach the Pacific. (Pretty cool, huh?) There’s a visitor center with more goodies, too: a theater, three observation terraces, snack bars, a restaurant with a view of the canal, gift shop and four exhibition halls. This is an once-in-a-lifetime excursion that every Panama vacation should include.

So, does your bucket list now include Panama? Thought so. Just call 1-800-915-3162 and one of our Beachologists can set you up with a more-than-perfect Panama vacation pronto. If you want to browse our wallet-friendly vacation packages to the Caribbean and Mexico on your own, we’ve got oceans for you to explore right here. Remember, life is short.  Put a Panama vacation (or any of our vacation packages) on your bucket list.

Lisa Mitchell

I am a blogger for CheapCaribbean.com who is a travel junkie and addicted to the beach.

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