By Briana Seftel
Linking Central and South America, Panama has always played an important role in global trade and politics. But Panama is so much more than the Canal. From the white sand beaches of Bocas del Toro to some of the best rum and coffee in the world, there are plenty of reasons to vacation in Panama. ¡Vamos!
1. Forget the hassle of changing money
While Panama has its own coinage, the US Dollar is used for all paper currency - making it easy for US travelers to Panama. And while Spanish is the official language of Panama, most Panamanians speak English as their second language.
2. Experience a vibrant culture
Due to its “crossroads” nature, Panama is a melting pot of Spanish, Afro Caribbean, and indigenous cultures. Something you will undoubtedly see while in Panama is the pollera, the country's national dress made of one large skirt (usually white) and adorned with colorful flowers. Another integral part of Panamanian culture is its music, which combines cumbia, salsa, congo and more to create a rich and vibrant music scene.
3. Taste a rum for every day of the week
Ron Abuelo is the rum of choice across Panama and has a reputation as a world-class rum. Produced by aging cane molasses in white oak barrels until it reaches its delicious flavor, it is still being produced at Panama’s first sugar mill, which opened in 1908. Carta Vieja is another famous Panamanian rum born in 1915 in the province of Chiriqui. In the beginning, it was known as rum Baru and then was called "Rum of Panama." Taste these rums and more on your vacation!
4. Meet indigenous tribes
Visit one of Panama's five indigenous territories: Guna-Yala, Emberá-Wounaan, Ngäbe-Buglé, Madugandí, and Wargandí. On the banks of the Chagres River on the isthmus of Panama, discover the roots of two indigenous tribes: the Embera and Wuanaan. Ride up the river in a traditional hand carved canoe, watch a dance, and take home one of their fine woven baskets.
5. Party on a chiva
For a unique nightlife experience in Panama City, take a ride on one of Panama's "chivas parranderas" (party buses). These remodeled "diablos rojos" (red devils) buses come equipped with a guide, unlimited rum or seco, and a band or DJ. There are some seats as well as strap handles and poles to hold on to. Hold on tight!
6. See Pacific on one side, Caribbean on the other
Spend the morning on the Pacific, then enjoy an afternoon on the Caribbean! In Panama, it's relatively easy to hop from one side of the country to the other in one day. The Pacific side near the capital is known for its all-inclusive resorts, golf courses, and surf spots. The Caribbean's hotspots of Bocas del Toro and San Blas offer crystalline waters, exotic flora and fauna, and a rich cultural heritage.
7. Walk through history in Casco Antiguo & Panama Viejo
Panama Viejo, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. In 1671, the city was attacked by pirates and almost completely destroyed, giving way to the birth of Casco Antiguo (Panama's old quarter) in 1673. Today, the quarter is home to some of Panama City's most exciting nightlife, restaurants, and beautiful cobblestone plazas and churches.
8. Witness unforgettable wildlife
Panama's wildlife is the most diverse in Central America - even more than Costa Rica! Darien National Park, the largest national park in Panama, is one the most biodiverse spots on the planet. Here you can see an impressive 169 species including the Harpy Eagle, Panama’s national bird, yellow tree frogs, spider monkeys, tapirs, and so much more.
9. Enjoy a mild climate all year long
While Panama has a tropical climate, temperatures are relatively high and vary little throughout the year. Temperatures are usually lower on the Pacific than on the Caribbean coast, with little humidity. Due to this mild climate, there are no hurricanes in Panama.
10. Taste some of best coffee in Chiriquí
Thanks to its rich soil and mild climate, Panama produces some of the world's finest coffee. In the Chiriquí highlands in northern Panama, you can find a variety known as Geisha, originally from Ethiopia. At approx. $80 per pound, it's the most expensive coffee in the world!