Three million years ago a narrow landmass emerged from the sea. This country connects Central & South America; two oceans, the Caribbean and the Pacific, with Costa Rica to the west, and Colombia to the east, define its borders. Along this narrow isthmus bridging the Americas, the wildlife and terrain of two continents meld to form the striking contrasts of this country. Oceans (two), mountains, forests, and jungles provide amazing exploration opportunities. Panama is for Explorers, not for Tourists. Today, Panama City, the financial hub of Latin America, is a modern business epicenter. The competing skyscrapers dominate the horizon where one could easily mistake the capital’s skyline for a large, major city somewhere else in the world. So much to see, and so much to do.
Stroll through Casco Viejo, the historic district and cultural gem of Panama City. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997, Casco Viejo was established around 1673 by the Spanish colonialists, the Catholic Church, and other settlers. Historically one of the richest and most densely populated neighborhoods in the Americas, many of the structures in Casco have been painstakingly restored and now house museums, gourmet restaurants, quaint shops and upscale residences. It is a quiet, charming district of narrow streets overlooked by the flower bedecked balconies of two and three-story houses.
The fish market, or Mercado de Mariscos, as the Panamanians call it is positioned along the waterfront at the entrance to Casco Viejo. This colorful seafood market is one of the best attractions in Panama's capital. It's full of interesting characters, both human and marine. Even Anthony Bourdain was a fan. Walking through the market you will find just about anything that comes from the ocean. The selection is truly amazing … oysters, lobster, shrimp, and fish so fresh that their eyes are still clear. We’ll mingle with the locals as we sample some of the best ceviche to be found anywhere.
Marvel at the engineering feat that is the Panama Canal where at the Mira Flores Locks you can watch ships passing through the locks, enjoy an informative film about the Canal, the environment and its history, and visit the Canal’s museum. Considered the Eighth Wonder of the World, the canal allows vessels to transit from one ocean to the other. Enjoy watching the enormous ships rise skyward as the locks fill with lake water and the 7-foot-thick gates open and close. Sometimes while they wait, the ships’ crews and passengers will wave to everyone, and the platform full of people will wave back.
In Chagres National Park, travel by dugout canoe up the Chagres River into the jungle to the village of the gentle indigenous people called the Embera. Along the way you will explore the jungle, before arriving at a jungle village where you will delve into this indigenous culture. Meet the Embera tribe and learn of their cultures past and present. The Embera belong to the Carib culture. Their territory of origin is the Choco region in Colombia and the Darien Rain Forest in Panama.
Bocas Del Toro on the Caribbean
On the Caribbean side of Panama are the islands of Bocas Del Toro, an island paradise with virgin rainforests, home to sloths and monkeys, offshore coral gardens, and mangrove islands perfect for snorkeling, and stunning beaches.
Set high on the eastern slopes of Volcan Baru is the charming mountain village known as the center of production for Panama’s sweetest oranges and best coffee. The hillsides are cloaked in picturesque plantations that are worked by local people. The sustainable farming practices mean the region is rich in exotic birdlife.
Finca Lerida is nestled within a historic coffee farm and surrounded by a private nature reserve with spectacular mountain views. Ideal for romance, the beautifully decorated and deluxe rooms include honeymoon suites with a jacuzzi and hammocks from which to enjoy the tranquility. The grounds are filled with colorful flower beds and are ideal for bird-watching. A cozy library and bar is the perfect place to warm up by the fireplace before dining on the terrace in the gourmet restaurant. At this coffee plantation you will learn about the entire coffee production process, with gourmet tastings included.
Pearl Island of San Jose in the Pacific Ocean
Take a short flight flying low over the Pearl Islands of the archipelago to San Jose Island. After arriving on a small runway your private van will transport you to hotel Hacienda del Mar through the island’s thick jungle. The entire island of San Jose belongs to a wealthy Panamanian family and is uninhabited apart from the hotel personnel and guests… and Hacienda del Mar must be the only hotel in the world with 50 private beaches! Several couples of blue and yellow macaws nest on the island. From June to October hundreds of humpback whales come from Antarctica and gather in the warmer equatorial waters for mating and breeding, and they are particularly abundant around the archipelago. It is a great opportunity to spot these majestic giants in their natural environment.