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Central Panama in this guide is defined by the Panamá and Coclé provinces west of Panama City, and the Herrera and Los Santos provinces that make up what's known as the Azuero Peninsula. The Central region includes El Valle de Antón, a lovely mountain village located in the center of a volcanic crater; Pacific Beaches, with an array of lodging accommodations from rustic cabins to all-inclusive destination resorts; and the charm of Panama's cultural "heartland," the Azuero Peninsula, dotted with colonial villages and home to the liveliest festivals in Panama. What these destinations all have in common is that they are reached by vehicle (or bus) from Panama City, not by plane -- unless, of course, you charter a plane to fly to Pedasí, at the tip of the peninsula. This region begs to be explored by car, so consider renting a vehicle, which will give you the freedom to plan your own itinerary and wander at your own pace, stopping off at villages and attractions that interest you and buying gastronomic treats from vendors that line the highway.

The Interamerican Highway (Pan-American Highway) and the Carretera Nacional are modern roads that are easy to drive and do not require any kind of special considerations or a 4WD. Distance is measured by markers that show the kilometers from Panama City -- this is how locals give directions, for instance: "Turn at kilometer 54." The markers are white and look like oversize dominoes.

El Valle de Antón is characterized by year-round spring weather conditions, and a cooler cloud forest in higher areas; the Pacific Beaches are driest from January to March; and, because of mass deforestation, the Azuero Peninsula is very dry in comparison to the rest of Panama.