There is so much more to Panama than the magnificent canal - it is a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts, diving and snorkelling are excellent on both Pacific and Caribbean coasts, and the isthmus is home to seven different indigenous communities who strive to preserve their unique and colourful traditions.
Watching huge container ships and cruise liners making their stately progress through the Panama Canal from a tropical jungle clearing, while a freight train rumbles by on the parallel railroad, is a bizarre and humbling experience. On either side, rainforest echoes with the calls of tropical birds - hinting at the amazing biodiversity beyond.
Panama has some of the best-preserved rainforest in Central America, home to rarities like the quetzal and harpy eagle (Panama’s national bird), and extravagant macaws, parrots and toucans. Mountains, cloud forest, wetland and mangrove support a huge variety of fauna from tiny tree frogs and monkeys to big cats.
The archipelagos of Bocas del Toro and San Blas (run by its native Kuna people) are incredibly beautiful - turquoise seas, white sandy beaches shaded by coconut palms, and coral reefs swarming with fish. Panama City is well worth visiting for its striking contrasts of old and new - quiet cobbled squares and faded colonial buildings against a skyline to match Manhattan.
Here are some of our Panama highlights
The Panama Canal
The most famous of Panama's sights is the iconic canal and no trip should miss a visit here. An amazing feat of engineering, it is bound to impress. Transit through the canal itself, or travel the length by train on the Panama railroad.
The cosmopolitan capital of Panama City is a city of contrasts - the old 'Casco Viejo' peninsula with its colonial facades and the modern high rise financial district, justifying its nickname of the 'Miami of the Americas'.
Bocas del Toro on Panama's Caribbean coast has some wonderful uninhabited islands. Spend a day relaxing on one of the tranquil beaches under swaying palm trees or explore the vast, emerald underwater world with a mask and snorkel.
Although this had been an afterthought connected with a route to minimise small planes, this part of the trip was an outstanding success. There was a good mix of excursions from the old town to the colonial, the canal itself and the boat trip on Lake Gatun where we saw many animals and birds. We had the same guide on both days and he was excellent. We also walked into one of the nearby shopping malls so we had a diversity of things to see and do. - JJ