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12 Step Planet: Panama
The crossroads of the Americas, there’s more to Panama than the canal! A fantastic party atmosphere, paradise islands and stunning scenery for a start...
Eamonn Seoige, 02 Nov 2012
What are the touristy things to do?
A trip to the paradise islands of Archipiélago de las Perlas is a must! If lazy beach life is to your liking you’ve certainly come to the right place. The ‘crossroads of the Americas’ has some of the most spectacular mountain scenery and rainforests populated by indigenous peoples. Coiba National Marine Park is simply teeming with sea life and regarded as one of the world’s best locations for snorkelling or diving. The mountainous region of Boquete is the place to go for some hot-spring therapy or an adrenaline filled white-water rafting trip! Check out the spectacular views from atop Panama’s highest point, the dormant Volcán Barú. Afterwards, you can rest your weary bones in a volcanic thermal spa. Of course, few travel to Panama without paying a visit to one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering. The Panama Canal is over 50 miles long, connects the world’s two largest oceans and, when opened in 1914, revolutionised global trade. There are numerous operators offering full and partial tours of this epic construction marvel.
There are so many unspoilt coastal and mountainous regions in Panama that it’s hard to pick where to go. What better way to appreciate the spectacular landscape and wildlife than in the company of one of the country’s indigenous tribes? How about traversing the tropical Chagres River in a dugout canoe with native Embera fishermen and joining them for a hearty feast followed by traditional music and dance? There are numerous opportunities to sample ancient indigenous culture throughout the country.
Anything to avoid?
Avoid straying too far off the beaten track in downtown Panama City. Muggings are commonplace, especially targeting gormless tourists. The Darién province, close to the Colombian border, is well known for kidnapping and extortion. This area is a hotbed of drug trafficking and unsurprisingly is over-subscribed with shady characters.
What should I bring home?
Why, a handmade Panama hat of course! Indigenous handicraft markets are widespread and of excellent quality. Tapestry is extremely popular, especially decorative clothing made from ‘molas’, a form of intricate design created by the Kuna Indians. Handmade, hardwood carvings from the mountainous regions also make great souvenirs.