Panama now boasts one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America. Panama City is in the throes of a building boom, with the service sector fueling much of that growth, as well as the expansion of the Panama Canal. Towers appear regularly, adding to the already-impressive skyline. The country is 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 Caribbean coastlines. Panama is home to more than 10,000 species of plants, 940 species of birds and 225 species of mammals — all in an area slightly smaller than South Carolina. The country is now looking to make creative use of its resources and has set aside 29 percent of its land for conservation and national parks. The rainy season generally runs from May to October, with December to April being the best time for a visit.
A visit to the charming old part of town, Casco Viejo, is a must. You can easily spend a full day there, wandering the quaint streets, shopping and visiting sites such as the Catedral Metropolitana and the fascinating Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panamá, devoted to the construction of the Panama Canal. For dinner, I recommend the restaurant Madrigal for exceptional cuisine. Michelin-starred chef Andrés Madrigal is at the helm, and his Spanish-Mediterranean menu is made almost entirely with local ingredients and changes daily. His talent for combining unexpected textures, aromas and flavors makes for an epicurean adventure.
The Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo, located on the far end of the Amador Causeway at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, is a colorful jumble of folded shapes clad in red, blue, green, yellow and orange. The 44,000-square-foot museum celebrates the history and impressive ecological diversity of Panama. Set aside enough time to stroll through the lush biodiversity park. The museum is closed every Monday.
Boquete is a delightful town, tucked away on the slopes of the dormant 11,400-foot Barú Volcano. The word “boquete” means “gap.” It was through this gap that gold prospectors trekked, looking for a quicker way to the Pacific. Boquete is the center of Panama’s coffee production, which is relatively small but revered worldwide for its quality. Prearranged coffee tours are available to the local plantations (drop-in visitors not welcome). A good alternative to taste a variety of roasts and flavors is Café Ruiz.
To phone hotels in Panama, dial 011 (international access) + 507 (Panama code) + local numbers in listings.
Same as New York (EST).
Balboa (PAB). The Panamanian balboa is set at par with the U.S. dollar.
The rainy season generally runs from May to October, with December to April being the best time for a visit.
Panama City, Tel. (507) 317-5000.