Dive with a rare whale shark, ocean kayak around uninhabited islands or get soaked while rafting in the highlands. For many, it’s fantasy enough to swim in warm waters teeming with tropical fish. Clear and colder, the Pacific is the best place to spot a wide variety of marine mammals, including whales, in spots such as Parque Nacional Coiba and the Golfo de Chiriquí, while the Caribbean is known for its colorful corals and starfish around Bocas del Toro and the powdery white-sand beaches of the Archipiélago de San Blás.
In the tropics, the highlands are the equivalent of a breath of fresh air. Panama’s highlands range from lush forest with tiny golden frogs to mist-covered coffee plantations. From Panama City, weekenders take to El Valle and El Copé. Boquete is the classic mountain town, but if you are looking to get off the beaten path, the hamlet of Santa Fé has true mountain tranquility, with local-led horse rides and hikes to waterfalls with swimming holes. Paradise is not lost.
This surf village is all small town, with wave-front hotelitos and hostels far off the one paved road. Here nature is a delight and ‘resort’ is still a foreign word. The biggest draws are the world-class waves that roll in year-round but peak in February and March. The town is also the launching pad for excursions and diving trips into the wildlife-rich Parque Nacional Coiba, an island where nature and marine life flourish. Day trips here are now easier than ever.
Parque Nacional Volcán Barú
Panama’s only volcano dominates the landscape of the misty Chiriquí highlands. At 3474m it’s also the highest point in the country. Enthusiasts can make the predawn climb, steep and usually muddy, for the reward of viewing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the same time – if it’s clear. Another, perhaps saner, option is the Sendero Los Quetzales, a stunning trail that traverses the park, crossing over the Caldera River, with the possibility of seeing exotic orchids, tapirs and resplendent quetzals.
Parque Nacional Soberania
A quick day trip from the glass towers of Panama City and you’re in one of the premier birdwatching sites in the world. Parque Nacional Soberanía has one of the most accessible tropical rainforests in Panama. While out on the trail, look for sloths, howler monkeys or white-faced capuchins. On Pipeline Rd over 500 bird species – from toucans to motmots – have been sighted. For an alternative view of the canopy, climb the towers at Rainforest Discovery Center or visit the neighboring Emberá and Wounaan communities.
Check http://www.worldventuresfoundation.org for more travel guide.