Surely you’ve heard of the Panama Canal before. And all of the maritime activity surrounding the canal is reason enough to visit the beautiful, tropical country of Panama. But did you know that there are many other fabulous sites to visit and things to do within the country? It’s true! Here are the top five things to do and see while you’re in Panama (minus the famous canal).
(1) Darien National Park– Darien National Park is the largest of all of the national parks in Central America, which really says a lot in and of itself, because in Panama alone there are a total of 14 national parks. As much as 30% of the country’s land has been designated for nature and wildlife conservation purposes. Darien National Park extends through Panama and along almost the entire border of Columbia. The park was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list in 1981, and has also been designated a Biosphere Reserve. Its vast terrain varies from peaceful beaches, to mangrove swamps (where trees and shrubs grow in salt water), to rugged mountain forests. The highest peak in the park is Cerro Tacarcuna, which rises 6,000 feet above sea level in the Darien River Mountain Range. Darien National Park is the home to a huge variety of plants and animals, including the giant pocket gopher, which is found only here in this region. The park provides a safe home to a 56 different species of animals that are found on either the threatened or endangered species list.
(2) The Amador Causeway– The Amador Causeway is a walking path and vehicle roadway that stretches from the mainland of Panama to four little islands in the Panama Bay: Flamenco, Culebra, Naos, and Perico Islands. This is a beautiful place to take a walk or a bike ride. It overlooks the Panama Canal, so you can watch the ships entering and leaving, as well as take photos of the Panama skyline. From the Amador Causeway you can explore the 4 islands, the Bridge of the Americas, the Balboa Yacht Club, and the Panama Bay.
(3) Metropolitan National Park– The Metropolitan National Park is one of the only parks that is located within the metropolitan area. It is only a 10 minute drive from Panama City. Because its location and climate differ from Darien National Park, it is home to different wildlife as well. The Metropolitan National Park is considered to be a Pacific dry forest, so it is an ideal place to spot many different species of butterflies and reptiles. You’ll find many types of mammals and birds within the lush forest as well. If you like well-marked paths, then this is definitely an excellent park to visit. It is very visitor and hiker friendly, and even has a library, museum, and gift shop.
(4) Punta Chame Beach– If you’re enamored with the thought of long stretches of quiet, undisturbed white sands beaches (and really, who isn’t?) then you will love Punta Chame Beach. It is one of the few beaches in the world that today remains relatively undisturbed by towering beach resort hotels and flocks of visitors. Punta Chame Beach is located on the Pacific side of Panama, and is about a 1 and ½ hour drive from Panama City. One of the things that makes Punta Chame unique is that it is a finger-shaped peninsula, so it really does make you feel like you are surrounded only by peaceful, blue waters. The 22 miles of sand are pristine and relatively deserted, especially during the week.
(5) Isla Bastimentos– Isla Bastimentos is located in Bocas Del Toro Province, near the Zapatilla Cay. It is one of the ten largest islands in Panama. Here there are no roads, cars, or airstrips. Instead you will find indigenous villages, and gorgeous beaches, including a four-mile long strip called Playa Larga, which is a significant sea turtle nesting ground. While hiking the island, you have the opportunity to spot hundreds of different mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, hardwoods, forest palms, vines, bryophytes, ferns, bromeliads, and orchids. At Red Frog Beach, you may spot one of the red poison dart frogs for which this area is named. At the rugged and wind-swept spots where the forest meets the beach, and the trees stretch out nearly to the shoreline, you may spot a slow-moving sloth or sun-bathing iguana. Isla Bastimentos is a place that will make you feel like you have completely escaped every day life and retreated to a tropical sanctuary.