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The northeastern region of the country, bordering the Caribbean Sea to the east and Costa Rica to the north. The Archipelago of Bocas del Toro consists of numerous small beautiful islands skirting the coastline. This is one of the best regions for snorkeling and diving. It is home to one of the few protected marine areas, the Bastimentos National Park.
The northwestern region, bordering Costa Rica to the north, Bocas del Toro to the east, Provincia de Veraguas to the south and the Pacific to the west. It is a varied region, offering coastal, lowland and mountainous, volcanic eco-systems. There are large tracts of montane and lowland rainforest much of which is protected by national and international parks: Volcan Baru, the international park 'La Amistad', the Marine preserve 'The Marino Golf of Chiriqui' as well as the wildlife refuge 'La Barqueta Beach' and 'Las Lagunas de Volcan'. This is one of the most beautiful and divers regions of the country.
This district has similar terrain to Chiriqui, partly, mountainous, partly volcanic, and partly beaches and lowlands. Much of this region is used for agricultural purposes.
Herrera, Coclé, and Los Santos border the Gulf of Panama on the northern side. There are some good beaches, but most of the region is semi-arid and used for cattle raising and agriculture.
The city of Colón has a major crime problem. Beware when visiting and avoid strolling around, especially at night.
Panamá City is an odd mixture of old world charm, reminiscent of the colonial times and ultra modern slick city designs. The business district could be mistaken for downtown Miami, but thankfully it is not as big. It is a lot safer than Miami, and for that matter, safer than most capital cities, but some parts (especially the district of Chorrillo) should be avoided at night. The more picturesque attractions lie on the outskirts of the city and in the surrounding areas: There is of course the famous Panama Canal, a must-see for every visitor, the 16th-century ruins of Panamá Viejo, the Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo as well as the tropical rainforest of the Sobreranía National Park and the Parque Nacional Metropolitana.
San Blas is a narrow district in the south of Panama, which borders the Caribbean to the east, Darien and Panama district to the west, Columbia to the South and Colon to the north. The mainland part consists mainly of lowland rainforest, but its real beauty is revealed by the off-shore islands that string along the coast. There are some 378 islands inhabited by the Kuna Indians, who run them as an autonomous province, with very little interference from the national government. They are preserving their culture and language and maintain an independent economy based on coconut sales, fishing and tourism. There are some excellent opportunities for snorkeling and swimming to be had in this region - the most favorable conditions prevail between April and June.
This region is mainly lowland forest. It is swelteringly hot and does not usually attract a lot of tourists. It borders with Columbia and the region in generally considered dangerous due to drug trafficking and general lawlessness, especially between Yaviza and the Colombian border along the upper Tuira River. There are some parts, notably in the Darien National Park which are relatively safe. However, it would probably be a good idea to enlist the services of a reputable guide when visiting such remote regions. Any attempt to cross the border to Colombia through the Darien gap on foot must be strongly discouraged.
Barro Colorado is an island nature reserve in the middle of Lago Gatún, which makes up part of the Panamá Canal. The island provides a refuge for many bird and animal species. Visits can be arranged through the Smithonian Tropical Research Institute (see below)
Further downstream towards Panama City, between Lago Gatún and Lago Alajuela, is a large rainforest reserve with many walking trails. There is a visitors center at Summit, a small nearby town where there is also an experimental botanical garden with species from all over the world and a small zoo, featuring local wildlife.
This was is Panamá's first national park. It is located about 1 ½ hours west of Panamá City. Elevations range from about 600-900 m (2000-3000ft) above sea level. Campana is a great birding territory, especially for foothills species such as: hummingbirds, thrushes and many tanagers among others.
Established in 1984, this is an 8000 ha preserve, which has been set up to protect the distinctive tropical desert and mangrove coastal forest that lines the Bahía de Parita in the Coclé district. Nearby are many pristine beaches where migratory birds congregate and are studied by the Humbold Ecological Station.
This is an island bird and wildlife sanctuary just off the coast by the district of Los Santos. Inquire at the IPAT office in Chitré for tours.
This National Park lies at the tip of the peninsula, an area that is remote and difficult to reach. No roads penetrate into this region and it is off limits for most casual travelers. Inquire locally for current conditions and availability of guides.
Near the resort town of Boquete in the central highlands and the surrounding region known as the valley of the volcanoes this is one of the most frequently visited areas of Panamá. When visiting the volcano it is advisable to go with a small group and a competent guide. The trek and vistas are spectacular.
See our featured trips
Both can be reached from Cero Punta and both are spectacular and challenging, yet very rewarding, especially for bird watching.
Along the northwestern Caribbean Coast lie numerous pristine islands that are ideal spots for snorkeling and diving excursions. There is also a marine reserve on Bastimentos and a bird sanctuary at Isla del Cisne
Large tracts of the Darien region in the south, bordering Columbia, are also set aside as nature reserves and national parks. However, this region is quite dangerous and excursions should never be attempted alone. Go well prepared with a competent guide and plenty of insect repellent.