Due to its privileged position between North and South America, Panama is a bridge that connects cultures, oceans, continents, and is undoubtedly the most important hub for passengers traveling thought the Americas. For this reason, most travelers see Panama as nothing more than a transition port. The charm of Panamanian culture is limited to the pervasiveness of Tocumen International Airport and is lost in the urgency of catching flights and making plane transfers. Overlooking what this amazing country has to offer, means passing up on the opportunity to experience the trip of a lifetime. So, instead of boring yourself by waiting at the airport, step out of those two doors and take in the array of wonders Panama has to offer. Here’s our guide of reasons why you should extend your next stopover in Panama.
Panama’s unique and rich historical background has served as kindling for the country’s assorted and colorful whirlpool of ethnicities and cultural diversity and nowhere is this more evident than in its capital. One of Travel and Leisure’s Best Places to Travel in 2019, Panama City’s cultural diversity makes it an eddy of gastronomical, artistic, historical, and natural wonders worthy of exploring. The capital’s steady increase as an international business hub has ignited a spirit of dynamic cultural exchange that is evident in its many neighborhoods, bars, restaurants, night clubs, hotels, spas, boutiques, and malls. But the beauty of Panama’s diversity isn’t limited to its capital. Outside of Panama City, the wonders of its landscape intertwine with the vastness of its oceans, the calmness of its beaches and the lushness of its jungles.
Start your journey experiencing a healthy mix of old and new by staying in, and visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site Casco Viejo. Brimming with history, the once gang ridden and dilapidate district, is now a colonial jewel that boasts an array of architectural wonders, galleries, markets, restaurants, coffee shops, boutique hotels and local vendors that gather along the cobblestone streets. You can walk the quaint and vast tangle of alleyways and roads by day, visit The Weil Art Gallery or shop for souvenirs at the many arts and crafts shops and explore markets along the way. Grab lunch at Mercado de Mariscos, a lovely seafood market, or sip some authentic Panamanian coffee at Café Unido. Extend your stay until nighttime to witness Casco Viejo truly come alive and enjoy rooftop dining experiences, dancing at clubs or sipping cocktails and beer at one of its many bars and pubs.
Just outside Panama City, lies the Panama Canal, a must see on your stopover extension. Head to the Miraflores Locks to witness the engineering wonder at work and, if you can afford the extra time, book a partial transit tour or head back to the city and check out the Canal Museum for an interesting history lesson.
Set on a Bocas Del Toro Island Retreat
The true embodiment of the Panamanian Caribbean, Bocas del Toro province is a paradise bursting with culture, white sandy beaches, lush landscapes and flora and fauna like no other. Bocas Town, on Isla Colon, is the capital of the province and boasts natural beauty only seen in this breathtaking setting. You can skip crowded beaches and head straight to the secluded Playa Bluff for a chance to surf the impressive waves or stay at a quiet and relaxing eco-friendly sustainable hotel such as Playa Bluff Hotel. They are located 30 minutes away from Bocas Town, in the middle of the wilderness, so they provide a relaxing experience in rooms that are air conditioner-free, completely solar-powered, they are plastic-free, and they only use filtered rainwater. You can bike or catch a taxi into town where you can bask in the beauty of Starfish Beach, experience culinary delicacies at Octo where Chef Joseph Archbold Caribbean creations will take your breath away, or you can go sailing and watch the romantic sunset.
Connect with Nature in Isla Bastimentos
Only a short water taxi ride away, rests Isla Bastimentos, an eco-friendly traveler’s dream. This small but charming island is mostly covered by jungle, secluded beaches, indigenous villages, and a small group of hotels. You can stay at the family owned eco-lodge Tranquilo Bay that boasts 200 acres of secluded jungle and has only six eco-friendly cabanas which will make your stay a personal and meaningful experience. You can take a tour with one of their two experts and go under the water to see reefs, turtles and an array of marine life, or you can wildlife watching at their 60-foot on-site observation tower. Catch some lunch or dinner at La Loma Jungle Lodge after touring their cacao plantation and head back to Tranquilo Bay and rest in your cozy cabana before making your way back to the city.
As you head back into civilization and start the long way trip back to the airport to catch your flight, consider the amazing journey you just took and start getting off the idea that Panama is just a stop before your real vacation begins. And if your stopover extension was too short to actually take advantage of what this amazing country has to offer, make sure to check out Copa Airline’s Panama Stopover Program, an initiative seeking to encourage tourism in the region. Passengers can schedule time for an extended stop in Panama for up to seven days at the time of ticket purchase, without additional cost in air fare or any logistics issues. This means travelers can enjoy two destinations for the price of one and get the most out of their journey.