More than hats and a canal, the southernmost of all the Central American countries delivers a holiday for the best of all worlds; canopy-hugging white-sand beaches, clear turquoise seas, fauna-rich rainforests, flamboyant carnival celebrations, and an emerging boutique hotel scene. From a pulsating nightlife fuelled by rum, rumba and merengue in dynamic Panama City, to the coffee farms and cloud forests of Chiriquí, the cool eco-playground of Panama is keen to show off its cultural heart.
More potent than Seco Herrerá, its national drink, this near-hidden southern gem is the narrow strip of land that links Costa Rica and Colombia. Whilst the Panama landscape is a fusion of wetlands, beaches, mountains, and steamy rainforests, its key attraction is the eponymous Panama Canal - an epic man-made marvel that has become one of the most important yet controversial waterways on the planet.
Giant container ship-watching aside, holidays to Panama offer lots of adventure off the well-worn trail, including rainforests at Gamboa, wild jungles at Darién, and coffee plantations at Chiriquí. Whale-watch at Parque Nacional Marino Golfo, spot howler monkeys in the Parque Nacional Soberaniam, and experience a plethora of underwater delights at Coiba National Marine Park and Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park.
Beach holiday bliss beckons at Archipelago de las Perlas, easily Panama's most idyllic group of islands so-named for the large pearls found in its glistening waters. Other Robinson Crusoe-style pleasures can be found at the San Blas islands, owned and inhabited by the indigenous Kuna people, and at Bocas del Toro, a clichéd tropical paradise steeped in dense forest and skimmed with sandy beaches, and extensive coral reefs.
For a full-charged cultural kick, sleek Panama City is where futuristic skyscrapers loom over colonial gems, street markets entice, and carnival celebrations kick into gear. By day, tour the Interoceanic Canal Museum of Panama, the Plaza de Bolívar and the History Museum of Panama; by night, immerse yourself in the cool Latin-centred club scene around Casco Viejo, the city’s up-and-coming historic quarter.