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Panama travel guide

Much more than a canal... Panama boasts wildlife-rich jungles, chilled beaches, surf breaks and fascinating indigenous cultures

The southernmost of all the Central American countries, this sliver of land linking Costa Rica and Colombia never made it onto the ‘gringo trail’. Thankfully. Look beyond the eponymous canal; Panama has far more to offer the traveller. Its diverse cultural make-up reflects a medley of ethnicities from the descendants of Spanish conquistadors to Native Indians, and the little-visited, steamy rainforests and virginal coastlines play host to an array of exotic wildlife. You can venture into jungle communities, where puberty rites and other tribal customs still hold sway, or soak up the rays on an uninhabited island. Moreover, despite recent development, the country retains serious ecotourism credentials: there are vast swathes of untouched tropical wilderness bustling with monkeys, jaguars, bears and more species of bird than anywhere else on the planet.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Enjoy a taste of tribal life – hop in a dugout canoe to reach an Emberá Indian village in style or head to Kuna Yala, an autonomous region inhabited by a traditional and fiercely independent community
  2. Go hiking in wild Darién Province (check before you go)
  3. Drink in the views from a tropical island. If the Archipiélago de las Perlas doesn’t offer enough paradise isles, then the uninhabited Isla Coiba provides gleaming white sand and azure water aplenty
  4. Visit the Parque Nacional Volcán Barú for beautiful scenery, colonial towns and the country’s only volcano
  5. Swim in two seas in a day. Panama is just 50 km wide at its most narrow point meaning you can spend the morning lounging by the Pacific and the evening watching the sunset over the Caribbean Sea

Wanderlust tips

Take a torch for the unlit rural areas and frequent power cuts.

I wish I'd known...

Wanderlust web intern Thomas Rees on the thing he wished he'd known before he arrived:

"Book ahead for onward trips to Colombia. Places on backpacker yachts through the San Blas Islands fill up quickly. Organise your journey ahead of time and be sure to check-out the testimonials available online when choosing which boat to travel on. Some of the captains can be a little shady.”

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