Panama – From the Cloudforests to the Caribbean

Panama is home to some of the wildest rainforests in the Americas, seas teeming with wildlife, and the rich heritage of its Hispanic and indigenous populations. We start this trip in Panama City, a vibrant metropolis that marries the old and new with enviable ease, visiting the famous Panama Canal and the quaint colonial centre of its old quarter, tasting traditional dishes along the way.

From here we head south to the rugged Azuero Peninsula, a land of white washed churches and family run ranches. It’s here that local traditions are perhaps at their strongest, and the region is a treasure trove of crafts and culture. We visit a typical farm and explore picturesque towns that are a world away from the modern capital, where the pace of life is gentle and rural customs hold sway.

From here we head to the mountains, forests and waterfalls of Santa Fe National Park, exploring on foot and by vehicle, then continue to the highland town of Boquete. This is a centre for Panama’s coffee growing industry, and no stay here would be complete without seeing how this is grown and produced. Nearby lie the dense forests of La Amistad National Park, one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet – we explore the park in search of wildlife such as sloth, monkeys and harpy eagle.

Our final stop on our journey through Panama is the idyllic archipelago of Bocas del Toro, on the Caribbean side of the country. We meet the indigenous Ngobe Bugle people and see how they are retaining their traditions, and take a boat trip through the islands. One of the most impressive sights here is a beach where large numbers of starfish can be found – we also visit the Isla Pajaros with its rich birdlife, and look out for dolphins and turtles along the way.

From the natural world to charming colonial architecture and a wealth of traditions, experience the best of a little known part of Central America.

Highlights

  • Explore the cloud forests of La Amistad
  • The cultural traditions of the Azuero Peninsula
  • Meet the Ngobe Bugle People
  • The marine wildlife of Bocas del Toro

Day 1 - Panama City

Arrive into Panama City and transfer to your hotel. Overnight Riande Granada Hotel or similar.


Day 2 - Panama City

This morning visit the iconic Panama Canal, heading to the Miraflores Locks to see gigantic ships transiting between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. Later we head to the historic quarter of Casco Viejo, taking a walking tour to discover local markets and some typical Panamanian dishes. Overnight Riande Granada Hotel or similar. (BL)

Panama City
Panama’s capital sits in the middle of the country, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and is home to around a third of the population. It was first established in the early 16th century by the conquistadors, who used this as base to explore and conquer Latin America. Its ‘big break’ however came with the construction of the Panama Canal, in 1914 – since then, Panama City has become one of the Americas’ great trading centres.

Today, it’s a busy, vibrant town, which seems to have little in common with the rest of the country – you’d be forgiven for wondering if you were in the US at times, with glass fronted skyscrapers and international banks vying for space. Panama City has in recent decades become renowned as a place for the narcotraficantes of Latin America to launder their money, due to its rather lax banking laws, and Panama’s former dictator Manuel Noriega was arrested by the USA due to his involvement in the trade.

The city’s most atmospheric quarter is the old colonial centre of Casco Viejo, recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Here you’ll find a profusion of elegant buildings in various architectural styles, ranging from Baroque to Art Deco, with some opulent palaces, churches and plazas to explore.

Day 3 - Azuero Peninsula

Drive to the Azuero Peninsula, situated in the south of Panama and one of the best places to see traditional Panamanian culture. On arrival we visit a typical family farm, learning about the history of the family and seeing how they make typical artisan produce. Overnight Cubita Hotel or similar. (B)

Azuero Peninsula
This is a region of farmers and fishermen, where cowboys herd their cattle much in the same way as their forefathers, and village fiestas see people turning out in national dress to party. The small towns and villages of the region can fairly lay claim to be the cradle of Hispanic Panama’s traditions and customs, and it’s far less developed than most other parts of the country. It’s also a great place to pick up local crafts, from the garish ‘devil masks’ which form part of the annual Corpus Christi celebrations, to ceramics and embroidery.

Day 4 - Azuero Peninsula

Spend the day exploring some of the historic towns of the peninsula. The towns of Los Santos, Las Tablas and Guarare are home to fine colonial architecture and a good place to understand the heritage of the region, with a wealth of traditional arts and crafts. Overnight Cubita Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 5 - Santa Fe National Park

Drive into the mountains to reach Santa Fe, a beautiful area dotted with rivers and waterfalls. In the afternoon we explore the national park on foot and by vehicle. We visit a local community that lives within the park, some of the petroglyphs to be found here, and look out for wildlife along the way. Tonight we’ll have a traditional dinner on a nearby coffee plantation. Overnight Coffee Mountain Inn or similar. (BD)


Day 6 - Santa Fe National Park

Continue exploring the park on foot on an easy hike to some nearby waterfalls. The afternoon is free to explore further – our lodge has a number of different activities to choose form – or you can just relax and enjoy the tropical gardens and great views. Overnight Coffee Mountain Inn or similar. (B)


Day 7 - Boquete

Drive to the picturesque mountain town of Boquete, on the edge of Baru Volcano National Park. In the afternoon visit a nearby coffee farm in the surrounding highlands, learning how the crop is grown and processed into the finished product, as well as some of the history of the farm itself. Overnight Hotel Ladera or similar. (B)


Day 8 - La Amistad National Park

We spend the morning hiking along trails in the cloudforests of La Amistad National Park. Our route takes us past ridges and valleys, following a creek and passing some impressive waterfalls along the way. The afternoon is free to explore Boquete or the surrounding area at your leisure. Overnight Hotel Ladera or similar. (B)

La Amistad
La Amistad spans the borders of both Panama and Costa Rica, and is the most biodiverse region in Central America. Within its borders lie the high peaks and treeless moorlands of the Talamanca massif, rising above 300 metres, as well as thick rainforest, and it’s home to three of Panama’s indigenous groups. Wildlife here includes all five of Panama’s cat species – jaguar, puma, jaguarundi, ocelot and margay – and it’s estimated that almost 4% of the planet’s land dwelling species can be found here. Birds include quetzals, macaws, hummingbirds and the majestic harpy eagle, the latter of which preys on the numerous monkey species that make their home amongst the tangled vines and dense vegetation.

Day 9 - Almirante – Bocas del Toro

Travel to the coastal town of Almirante and from here transfer by boat to the archipelago of Bocas del Toro, an idyllic group of islands in the Caribbean. We spend the afternoon with the Ngobe Bugle people who show us how they use the cacao plant, as well as teaching us about their customs and culture and the local community based projects in place here. Overnight Gran Hotel Bahia or similar. (BL)

Bocas del Toro
The archipelago of Bocas del Toro sits in the Caribbean Sea and is made up of six main islands, the largest of which is Isla Colon. With thick forests, palm fringed beaches and coral reefs, this isn’t far off the conventional clichés of paradise islands, with a generally relaxed pace of life and friendly communities. As well as an Afro-Caribbean population, and increasing numbers of Europeans and Americans, the islands are home to the Ngobe Bugle people, an indigenous group who have managed to retain their traditions better than some others and speak their own distinct language. The Ngobe Bugle are subsistence farmers, as well as fishermen and hunters, and some practice polygamy.

Wildlife enthusiasts will find much on offer here. Snorkelling and diving opportunites are superb and marine wildlife includes manatees, turtles, and dolphins. Land based species include sloth, monkeys, crocodiles and iguanas, and birdlife is particularly prolific.

Day 10 - Bocas del Toro

Today is spent exploring the island of Isla Colon, and its surroundings. Visit the renowned ‘starfish beach’, as well as Isla Pajaros, where large numbers of seabirds make their home. We also visit the island of Bastimentos, exploring on foot in search of wildlife. Overnight Gran Hotel Bahia or similar. (BL)


Day 11 - Bocas del Toro – Panama City

After a free morning, fly back to Panama City for your final night in the country. Overnight Hotel Riande Grande or similar. (B)


Day 12 - Panama City

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)


This trip can be combined with our Colombia Revealed tour for an epic adventure through Central and South America.

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

    Please note that while we prefer to use centrally located hotels where possible, this is not always practical and in some locations they may not be the best option in terms of standards or reliability.

  • Guides

    You will be accompanied by an English speaking guide.

     

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again. Please note that when meals are included, sometimes these will be in hotels, as often these are the most appropriate option, and will sometimes be set menus. Local restaurants are often lacking in variety, as well as the capacity to cater for groups. Drinks are not included and are at your own expense.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour (www.travcour.com) can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

UK nationals don’t need a visa to visit Colombia and can stay for up to 180 days. Citizens of most American and Western European countries don’t need a visa either. Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of six months from the date of entry into Panama and you should have two blank pages in your passport.

Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information. 

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company

Money

Panama has adopted the US dollar as currency, although it has its own coinage – known as centavos. Not all shops, hotels, restaurants and bars accept credit cards, or may not accept all credit card types. Check if they take cards before asking for anything and keep all debit and credit card receipts. When using an ATM, it is best to do so in business hours inside a bank, supermarket or large commercial building.

When to go                                                                                                   

With its location close to the equator, Panama’s climate is tropical, with high levels of humidity outside of the mountain regions. The best time to visit is usually considered to be the dry season, between December and April – although on the Caribbean side of the isthmus, it can rain at any time of the year. There’s not a huge variation in temperatures throughout the year, but bear in mind that the highlands can be a little chilly at night and in the early mornings.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience. 

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to any parts of Panama that we visit on our tours.We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in Panama. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
24 August 2021
Price (PP) -
£3,099
Single Supplement -
£410
Trip Status -
Contact us
Date -
22 February 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,199
Single Supplement -
£410
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
23 August 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,199
Single Supplement -
£410
Trip Status -
Available