In the November 2011 Hideaway Report, our editor-in-chief described his discoveries in Panama, a country “blessed with incredible geographic diversity: lowland tropical rainforests, dense cloud forests near the border with Costa Rica, and mangrove swamps along stretches of both the Pacific and the Caribbean coastlines.” Now that a number of sophisticated hotels have opened their doors, the time has never been better to explore the world’s most famous isthmus.
Arrive in Panama City, most likely in the evening. Check into your hotel and relax after the day’s travel.
Explore Casco Viejo, set in a neat grid pattern that invites casual strolling. The area dates to 1673, when it was built on a strategically defensible peninsula shortly after pirates ravaged the original city, now known as Panama Viejo. (Mr. Harper lays out a detailed walking tour of Casco Viejo in the Hideaway Report.) In the afternoon, take some time to enjoy the amenities of your resort.
Take a day to visit one of the engineering wonders of the world, the Panama Canal, a short drive outside the city center. Also delve into the nearby Soberanía National Park, a pristine tropical rainforest noted for its remarkably diverse species.
From Panama City, it’s a 50-minute flight to David and an hour’s drive on to Boquete, “a delightful small town 4,000 feet above sea level in the cool highlands of Chiriquí Province,” according to Mr. Harper. After settling into your hotel, tour one of the local coffee farms. The high-quality beans produced in this region are some of the most expensive in the world.
Spend the day hiking in the cloud forests around Barú Volcano, home to hundreds of species of birds including the resplendent quetzal. Alternatively, go kayaking or mountain-biking, or have a soak in one of the natural hot springs.
Return by air to Panama City, and take a charter flight to Pedasí on the Azuero Peninsula. Otherwise it’s a four-hour drive to this region of rolling hills and golden-sand beaches, “renowned as a major source of Panamanian folklore, as well as for its exuberant carnival celebrations,” Mr. Harper notes.
Spend the day relaxing on the beach, or perhaps enjoying some fishing, mountain-biking or horseback riding.
Make a day trip to the Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge, an island reserve surrounded by an impressive coral reef ideal for snorkeling. The nearby Isla Canas, reached through a series of mangrove-lined canals, is famous for the sea turtles nesting on its wide beaches.
After a late breakfast, return to Panama City. Do any last-minute souvenir shopping in the afternoon, or just relax at your hotel.
Transfer to the airport and board your flight home.