Top 12 Sights in Panama
Panama is a country located on a narrow isthmus washed by the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is a country that attracts visitors with its pristine nature, impenetrable jungle, tropical beaches with year-round summer, towering volcanoes, “lost worlds” inhabited by Indians who adhere to their cultural values and a cosmopolitan city of skyscrapers and financial centers.
A trip to Panama is like a journey through time. In a week tour of Panama you can go back in time to the settlement of the American continent thousands of years ago, see with your own eyes how the native Indian tribes lived 1,000 years ago, wander the streets of the colonial era, visit the largest engineering structure of the early 20th century and have fun in Panama City with modern skyscrapers of the 21st century surrounded by a tropical paradise.
Panama offers a thousand possibilities for your journey but the most important thing is to plan your tour very carefully so you will not miss the main sights.
1. Volcano Baru
Volcan Baru is the highest point in Panama. Its altitude is 3,474 meters above sea level. Baru is classified as a dormant volcano as its last eruption was 500 years ago.
Baru volcano is unique in that if you climb to the top of it in clear weather you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. To the top of the volcano you can climb along the tourist route Quetzales, which goes through the jungle and if you are lucky, you can see the most beautiful bird of the Western Hemisphere – Quetzal. Its long tail feathers were used by the Indians to make their headdresses.
In the foothills of the Baru Volcano you can visit coffee plantations and the ruins of an ancient town, destroyed during the last eruption of the volcano Baru in 1550.
Boquete, the City of Eternal Spring
Boquete, located on the foothills of the Baru Volcano, is as much a destination for adventurers and mountaineers as it is a center for expatriate life in Panama. It has become fashionable after the American Association of Retired Persons declared it one of the best places in the world for those who have retired.
Boquete, being 1,200 meters above sea level, is primarily attracted by its mild mountain climate. This place in Panama is also called the City of eternal spring with average daytime temperatures around 22-25 degrees.
Boquete is attractive to lovers of wildlife. Walking around its surroundings you can see up to 500 species of birds out of the 978 species that live in Panama, including the rare quetzal bird. There are plenty of mountain trails for sanderings among the jungle. You can also go rafting on mountain rivers here.
Boquete is home to some of the best coffee producers in the world, including the most expensive Geisha coffee, which costs $1,600 a kilo. Boquete is also a great place in Panama where you can fully trace all the stages of coffee production, from growing, to getting the aromatic beverage into your cup.
3. Portobelo – City of Pirates
Portobelo is located about 50 km from the town of Colón and was the center of world trade from the 16th to the 18th century, where all the treasures looted in the New World flocked, before being shipped to Europe, attracting pirates to the area.
A visit to the old military strongholds of Portobelo and San Lorenzo will immerse you in the dark times of impunity of pirates and you will learn many interesting stories from local guides about Panama.
In 1980, the Forts of Portobelo and San Lorenzo were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Read the history and more information about Portobelo here: “Portobelo – City of Pirates, Panama”.
4. Guna Yala – life among the water
Guna Yala, also known as San Blas, is an autonomous region in northeastern Panama. It is an archipelago of 365 islands, 65 of which are inhabited. San Blas is a great place to enjoy the seclusion of a beach vacation and the culture of local Indian tribes and their traditional crafts, as well as to feel like Robinson Crusoe on a deserted island.
5. Bocas del Toro Archipelago
The Bocas del Toro Archipelago, which was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502, has long been a favorite beach vacation destination for island lovers from many countries around the world.
Foreigners are so charmed by this place in Panama that they come here to rest for 2-3 months, especially when their countries experience cold winters. After all, it’s summer in Panama all year round!
Read my photo essay and a short story about the archipelago here “Bocas del Toro Archipelago in Panama”.
6. el Valle de Antón
Only two hours drive from Panama City is the small town of El Valle de Antón, located in the crater of an extinct volcano. This is a very quiet and peaceful place where the inhabitants of the metropolis come on weekends to enjoy their vacation at the hot springs.
Don’t forget to visit the famous “Sleeping Indian Mountain” and learn the legends associated with the place from local guides.
7. Santa Catalina Beach
Santa Catalina is known as one of the best surfing beaches in Central America. It is located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. It is also popular with diving enthusiasts for its crystal clear waters and incredible variety of underwater life. Part of the beach has a rocky bottom, but most of the beach is black sand of volcanic origin. The beach itself is very flat and the ocean is not deep in this area.
If you don’t like the surfers’ hangout, you can walk a little to the side, cross the river and enjoy the silence under the shade of palm trees. Opposite the beach in the ocean is Santa Catalina Island, which diversifies the picture of the ocean.
Santa Catalina is one of the starting points to visit the islands of Sebaco and Coiba.
8. Paradise of the sea – Coyba Island
Coiba is Panama’s largest island and is located on the Pacific coast. If you are planning your tour in Panama, you must visit this place.
Coiba Island and the waters around it are one of the largest marine parks in the world with great biodiversity which made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you’re a diving enthusiast, think of the largest number of fish you’ve ever seen on your dives. Now double that and you get the picture that you can see when diving in the waters of Coiba Island in Panama.
9. The Colonial Charm of Asuero
The Azuero Peninsula is the soul of Panamanian culture, the land of ranches and farms, the region that has preserved the greatest heritage of the Spanish colonial era. The stunning scenery of hills and valleys, the charm of pristine nature, the beaches and the sound of the sea make it a haven for those seeking solitude and serenity.
The Spanish colonial heritage is evident here in the charming cottages and their hospitable hosts. It’s a place where the famous pauleras (women’s suits) are sewn, influenced by the Spanish fashion of yesteryear.
Venao beach is popular with surfers and those who like to watch the stunning sunsets and migrating sea turtles.
10. Jungle Adventures
Much of Panama is covered with tropical forests. Some of these forests are pristine with impenetrable jungle. But a lot has been done so that tourists can safely immerse themselves in this wonderful jungle world, get to know it from the inside and take care of the environment at the same time.
For this purpose 15 National Parks and 1 Natural Park are organized in Panama, the most interesting of which you can visit on my Author’s Tours in Panama.
For a complete overview of all National Parks in Panama see my detailed article “National Parks of Panama”.
11. Indian Villages of Panama
More than 12% of Panama’s population is indigenous, organized into 7 ethnic groups living all over the Isthmus of Panama.
Despite globalization and the fact that it is the 21st century, the Indians of Panama have preserved their ancient traditions, living in villages on their ancestral lands with little change in their way of life. Some of the Amerindian villages may be visited with local (Indian) guides.
For complete information about the indigenous peoples of Panama, see my review article “Indians of Panama.
12. Gastronomy of Panama
Panama, like any country, is a must-taste. Modern gastronomy in Panama has been shaped over the centuries. The traditional cuisine of the Amerindian tribes mixed with the cuisines of Spain and African slaves during the colonization period. The second half of the XIX century was marked by the presence in the country of a large number of migrants from France and other European countries. Almost the entire twentieth century Panama was linked by very close economic and friendly relations with the United States, which built and later maintained the Panama Canal. In the XXI century Panama attracts emigrants from different countries due to its climate and security. All these factors combine to make Panama’s cuisine so extraordinary and very diverse.
These historical factors, plus the privileged location of Panama between two oceans and its tropical climate that allows to grow tropical fruits and vegetables all year round, have created a very tasty and varied cuisine that you will be able to enjoy if you book a tour to Panama.
When planning your tour to Panama you should also take at least 2 days to visit Panama City. To find out what to see in the country’s capital not to miss the most interesting things, read my article “What to see in Panama City”.
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Panama Canal National Theater Lake Gatun Islands San Blas Indian Tribe Embera Chocó Ancient “Way of the Cross” Plaza Bolivar Las Bovedas in Plaza de France
The site contains the sights of Panama – photos, descriptions and tips for travelers. The list is based on popular travel guides and presented by type, name and rating. Here you can find answers to questions: what to see in Panama, where to go and where are the popular and interesting places in Panama.
Some people mention the Panama Canal in the list of wonders of the world and it is totally deserved. The construction of the Panama Canal is one of the largest and most complex projects in the history of mankind. Its importance to the shipping and economy of the western hemisphere and all over the world is enormous.
The Panama Canal is an S-shaped canal, two artificial lakes Gatun and Alajuela, and two sets of locks. Both lock systems are double-threaded, allowing vessels to pass simultaneously in both directions. The width of the Panama Canal has become the benchmark for shipbuilding: the maximum size when building tankers or cargo carriers is so called – Panamax.
The history of the construction of the canal has a rich and tragic history. They will certainly tell you about it on a tour of the observation platforms at the locks. From there you have a great view of the passing ships that impress you with their size and the ocean. The Pacific Ocean passage to the Panama Canal is crossed by the Bridge of the Americas. It is the only undivided bridge connecting the two continents.
Coordinates : 9.08000000,-79.68000000
The National Theater opened in 1908 on the site of an 18th century monastery. In the first years after its opening it was popular with the local glamorous elite of the city, from whose funds it actually existed. At one time it fell into disrepair and was long used as a movie theater. But after the restoration in 2000 it was once again used for theatrical shows. Today its visitors can admire the classical style of the outer facade and the Baroque interior.
The ceiling decoration, designed by Robert Lewis, is particularly noteworthy. The famous Panamanian artist exquisitely painted the vaults with frescoes and paintings. From the ceiling hangs a richly decorated heavy chandelier. The whole interior of the theater is made with incredible luxury – exquisite carving of the bar and buffet, gilded railings and balcony arches, expensive scarlet velvet draperies and curtains.
Verdi’s “Aida” was the theater’s premiere, and today the opera is constantly played on the luxurious stage. The amphitheater, the auditorium and several levels of balconies can accommodate a total of 850 spectators.
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From the shore, Lake Gatun looks endless. On its surface here and there you can see small islands densely overgrown with trees. Traveling by boat you can admire the steep red cliffs, which have been washed out by the waves over the years and the trees overhanging directly over the water. White-winged herons and slow-moving pelicans are found here. Flocks of kites can often be seen in the sky.
Gatun Lake will delight anglers – tuna here jump out of the water by themselves. You can try to catch the sergeant fish, so nicknamed in memory of the U.S. military. The lake attracts not only lovers of measured rest and ecotourists, but also divers. Panama has several possible dive sites in Lake Gatun and Alajuela. At the bottom of them you can see the remains of the railroad that ran all the way to the Isthmus of Panama, and a lot of construction equipment that was used to lay the tracks and build the Panama Canal.
Another interesting place is the partially restored old pier. From there is a path to the ruined military base that was used during World War II by the Americans for classified radio communications.
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San Blas Islands
Latin America… So far away, so interesting, how much you can discover, learn, and see here… Kuna Yala, also called San Blas, is the territory of the Kuna Indians, one of the three main tribes of Panama.
The archipelago consists of about 370 coral islands, about 50 of which are inhabited.
Getting to know the customs and culture of the people of this island is a most interesting activity for inquisitive travelers, and the uninquisitive are unlikely to go this far just to lie on the beach.
And indeed, this is the very real Indian tribe. They live in cane huts. The men go out to sea in a canoe to catch fish, weave baskets, and the women sew clothes, which they willingly sell to tourists who come here. Their traditional blouses are “mola,” a brightly colored garment with colorful appliques sewn on top. Kuna women wear a nose ring. According to legend, a tribal leader once caught his wife kissing another man, and then ordered to pierce her and all women’s nasal septum and put a ring in it.
Of course, in addition to experiencing the interesting culture of the local people, you can enjoy the island’s nature: white songs, clear water, coconut palms and that alluring Latin American sun.
Embera Chocó Indian Tribe
Chagres National Park is a stretch of untouched rainforest. Here you can admire not only rare species of plants, animals and birds, but also get to know the local people. The national park is home to several communities of the Chocó Indian tribe. Despite the fact that civilization prevails around the reserve, they prefer to live according to the traditions and way of life of their ancestors who inhabited Panama several hundred years ago.
This Indian tribe was very militant at the time of colonization and feuded with several other tribes against increasing Spanish domination. But their armament could not stand up to the Spanish military and over time the Chocos were pushed into the interior. The reservation area eventually became a national park where no one disturbed anyone.
Today you can visit an Indian village as part of your journey through Chagres National Park and learn about their way of life and beliefs. The Chocos speak many now forgotten dialects and languages, speak a little Spanish, and are friendly to tourists. White people are more of a distraction to them than the other way around. Women here are engaged in weaving, wicker and pottery, the men make for sale crafts from wood. All these can be purchased from them as souvenirs or participate in the process of creation.
Coordinates : 9.42600000,-79.51700000
The Ancient “Way of the Cross”
In 1519 the Spaniards established a regular transit of gold and silver from Peru to Spain. The valuables were exported in huge quantities and were constantly attacked by Indians. Therefore it was decided to build a road that would take the shortest route and allow the safe export of the metals. Thus the Road of the Cross came into being.
It is a narrow stone-paved tract stretching for about 10 kilometers. Despite several centuries of active use, it has not lost its appearance and has fully preserved the stonework. The tract was abandoned in 1855 when Panama’s first railroad was built and started.
Today the Cross Road is in the Camino de Cruces National Park and is a major hiking route. The 5 to 6 hour walk through the jungle in the footsteps of the conquistadors ends at the Rio Chagres River where the water journey begins.
In the old part of Panama City there are many landmarks. It will take you hours to walk around them all. The best place to take a break and admire your surroundings is Plaza Bolivar.
The best place to stop is at Café Segafredo and take a quiet look around. Next to the square is the magnificent St. Francis Cathedral and the building of the former Hotel Colombia. To the right of the hotel is another small church of St. Felipe Neri. Near the Cathedral of St. Francis is the Bolivar Palace, which used to be a monastery. In the center of the square on a granite pedestal is the Monument of Simon Bolivar, after whom the square is named.
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Las Bovedas in Plaza de France
Plaza de France is one of the main landmarks of Panama’s historic center. Vaulted vaults with arched entrances are built around the perimeter of the plaza and have been used for a variety of purposes over the centuries.
The original construction of the seven interconnected arches served the city as one of its defensive fortifications. In the 18th century it housed storehouses, and in the 19th century a boulevard was laid out to connect the two pedestrian parts of the city. At one time the thick walls were adapted as barracks and even a prison.
Today, the arches of Las Bovedas are an integral part of the overall architecture of the square. There are plaques on their walls commemorating major events in the life of the country and the city and the people who participated in the construction of the Panama Canal and Panama City.
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