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This section incorporates a sizeable region around Panama City, including the Panama Canal, Canal Zone, Central Caribbean Coast (including Colón and its surroundings), and Gulf of Panama. At first glance, it seems like a lot of ground to cover, but these destinations can be reached by a short drive, a puddle-jump flight, or a boat ride from the city, and some attractions are even close enough to visit by taxi. With its high level of services and amenities, Panama City is an ideal base from which to explore this region, and many travelers, especially those with limited time, plan their entire trips around this area, owing to its surprisingly diverse range of attractions.

The Canal Zone dry season is December to April, while the Caribbean coast sees substantially more rain; showers can occur during the so-called dry season at any time.

Temperatures in the islands off the Pacific Coast are consistently a few degrees cooler than those in Panama City, and less rain falls there.

Exploring the Region -- A trip to Panama wouldn't be the same without visiting one of the engineering marvels of the world, the Panama Canal. There are several ways to do this: at the viewing platform in Miraflores, on a jungle cruise or partial canal transit, or at the Gatún Locks near Colón. Along the Canal Zone corridor, the national park Soberanía puts you in a thick rainforest teeming with birds and wildlife, and you can visit an Emberá Indian village nearby or raft the Chagres River. Near Colón, Portobelo pays homage to the Spanish colonial era with its forts and ruins, as well as Fort San Lorenzo, on the canal's western side. Around the area, there are a couple of cool ecolodges and resorts that offer accommodations in natural surroundings yet are still close to Panama City -- a tantalizing option for travelers deciding where to stay. This chapter also covers the Archipelago de las Perlas (Pearl Islands) and Isla Taboga, which are located in the Pacific, off the coast of Panama City. Even if your travels won't take you too far from the City, you can visit everything from popular beaches to mountain villages, to idyllic islands, all within a two hour drive, thanks to Panama's incredible geographical diversity.

Keeping the Kids Happy -- The area surrounding Panama City is packed with a lot of fun and exciting attractions that are ideal for families with kids. From the Summit Garden & Zoo, to canoe trips on the Chagres River, jungle cruises on Lake Gatún, rainforest expeditions, and beach sports, you can keep your kids busy learning or having fun for at least a week. The most kid-friendly hotel in the area is Gamboa Rainforest Resort, which has a huge pool and game center -- but even better, the resort has an aerial tram that sails passengers through the rainforest to a high lookout platform. Also featured are a butterfly farm, reptile and aquatic life display, bike rental, and more -- and these facilities can be used even by non-guests for the day. If you're lodging here, it's easy to plan trips with the company's on-site tour desk.