Equal parts adventure hub and mountain retreat, Boquete is a magnet for expats, retirees and travelers of all stripes. Birdwatchers come for a glimpse of the resplendent quetzal, while adventurers come to climb a mountain, ride a zip line or raft white water. But what really moves this small town is the one of the world’s most important export crops: coffee. Coffee farms dot the countryside, with tours showing the process from leaf to cup. Fuel up, and you’re ready for the next adventure.
A window into the country’s wilder side, Panama’s many festivals also reveal the breadth of cultures packed into this small nation. From Caribbean Congo celebrations in Portobelo to the vibrant folkloric traditions of the Península de Azuero, the three-day Guna stomp that is Nogapope or Panama City’s open-air jazz festival, all of Panama loves a good rum-soaked time. When it’s all over, a replenishing bowl of ‘Get Up Lazarus’ (a potent seafood soup) at Mercado de Mariscos is in order.
Parque Nacional Coiba
Often compared to the Galápagos, this marine park is a veritable lost world of pristine ecosystems and unique fauna. Spy flocks of scarlet macaws, enormous schools of fish, migrating humpback whales with calves, and manta rays scuffing the ocean floor. Scuba divers might glimpse a hammerhead or a whale shark. Most importantly, it’s still wild, with few visitors and little infrastructure. Not long ago an infamous prison isolated all on the main island, but now everyone comes here by choice.
Archipiélago de San Blás
With little to do but negotiate the price of a coconut, sway in a hammock or snorkel turquoise waters, many find the Archipiélago de San Blás to be paradise here. Locally known as Guna Yala, this 400-plus island archipelago in the Caribbean is an independent indigenous territory steeped in tradition. Get around by speedboat, sailboat or dugout canoe. Most guest lodges are remote palm-fringed islets surrounded by clear waters. The Guna residents mostly live on community islands teeming with livestock, commerce, and thatched or concrete homes.
Península de Azuero
Sweet landscapes of sculpted hills, lonely beaches and crashing surf feed the growing buzz: this rural peninsula has become today’s hot getaway. Yet the strongest impression is one of tradition. Spanish culture has deep roots here, evident in the charm of tiled colonials, country hospitality, religious festivals and elaborate polleras (embroidered lace dresses). Playa Venao has emerged as a major surf destination, while to the west the delightfully untrammeled Sunset Coast has quiet beaches, great surfing and community turtle tours.
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