Spotlight on Panama

By | Category: Travel destinations

The waistline of the Americas, Panama is also the crucial connection. Its 80km belt of locks brings the Atlantic to the Pacific, wedding east to west in global commerce in the famous canal that has defined Panama in the last century. What lies just beyond could define the next. Pristine beaches, lush rainforest and big-city nightlife give a taste of the country’s outstanding assets. Panama City is a major financial hub with a monumental Manhattan-esque skyline, yet one hour outside the city, indigenous Embera paddle dugout canoes and a couple of hours further, the roadless rainforests of the Darién harbour one of the world’s greatest wildernesses. The Panama Canal expansion might signify increased business, but numerous isolated islands around the coastline will still mean a stint playing at Survivor is a possibility.

Best time to visit
Mid-December to mid-April (the dry season)

Top things to see

• Monster freighters and capuchin monkeys sharing the Panama Canal

• The hip, regal and ruinous intersecting in the 17th-century Panama City neighbourhood of Casco Viejo

• Perfect beaches and poisonous dart frogs in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago

• The great no-man’s-land of jungle known as the Darién Gap, un-crossed by any road

• The serene 13km arc of sand at Playa las Lajas along the in-the-know surfers’ paradise of the Gulf of Chiriqui

Top things to do

• Snorkel with sea turtles and sharks in Parque Nacional Coiba

• Trek through Parque Nacional Volcán Barú in search of the elusive quetzal

• Water-sopping and rum-soaked, revel on the crowded streets at Carnavales de Azuero

• Barter with Kunas, an autonomous indigenous group, on the sun-soaked islands of San Blas

• Sip award-winning local java in the cool mountain town of Boquete

Getting under the skin

Read: The Path Between the Seas by David McCollough, on the elephantine undertaking of the Panama Canal

Listen: to the salsa of Rubén Blades or the Panamanian folk of Samy and Sandra Sandoval

Watch: the Academy Award–winning documentary The Panama Deception, by Barbara Trent, which investigates the US invasion of Panama

Eat: sancocho (chicken, ñame and cilantro soup); or carimañolas (meat-filled yucca puffs)

Drink: chicheme (sweet corn, cinnamon and vanilla in milk); or seco (sugar-cane liquor served with milk and ice)

In a word
¡Chuleta! (Wow!)

The world’s most famous shortcut; Manuel Noriega; Panama hats; baseball; Darién Gap

Random fact
Panama hats actually originated in Ecuador – they acquired their name as they were shipped to Panama from Ecuador before being distributed worldwide


Extract taken from the brand new edition of Lonely Planet’s internationally bestselling landmark title, The Travel Book (£40; out now)

The Travel Book pop-up photography exhibition
From Monday 7-Sunday 20 November, Londoners and visitors to the city will be able to see The Travel Book brought to life at a special photography exhibition in London’s Boxpark in Shoreditch. Lonely Planet will be taking visitors on a journey across the world through a selection of stunning images from The Travel Book, every one of which is guaranteed to fill the viewer with wanderlust.

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