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The specific promotions described in this article have now passed, but it remains online so that the resources named will be of future use to travelers.


Panama could be the new Costa Rica if it wanted to be. Obviously, though, the tiny nation with a coast on the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean that's becoming a vacation and retirement haven for bohemian and adventurous North Americans as well as Europeans would rather keep its reputation as a quiet enclave where serenity, eco-toursim and high-commerce rule, and where its placement in world history stays preserved. Panama remains a friendly place where one can go from a business meeting overlooking the Pan-American Canal to kayaking to a jungle trip and then hit one of the two coasts. It's a special place where tourism, commerce and history come together as one. Vacationers, finally, are really catching on.

Getting to Panama won't cost you your yearly travel budget, either. Intratours (tel. 800/334-8069; www.intratours.com) has Spring and Summer air specials to the country that connects Central America to South America and the world's great oceans. Summer round-trip airfares from June 16, 2006 to August 31, 2006 go for approximately $493 from New York and Philadelphia, $523 from Minneapolis, $472 from Miami and $582 out of Los Angeles. As with all flights booked through Intratours, these fares are for midweek travel with weekend departures extra. Saturday night stays are mandatory and the maximum length of the stay is 90 days. You have time to book these summer fares because as of now, there is no booking deadline for the summer travel sale.

Once in Panama, there are plenty of excellent travel providers. Condor Outfitters (tel. 800/783-8847; www.condoroutfitters.com) has an eight day land-only beach and nature trip starting at $850 per person based on double occupancy hotel lodging. The detailed itinerary takes you to the Gamboa Rain Forest on the banks of the Panama Canal, an aerial tram of a rainforest, through an Indian village, stops for two days at the Decameron Resort on the Pacific Ocean, and then finishes up in Panama City for a grand tour of the world famous, and apparently larger than life, Panama Canal. Condor also provides airport transfers inside Panama, and can help you book your air travel. An eight day beach and city trip starts at $649 with a three day golf package add-on starting at $106 including greens fees and cart.

If you're interested in the Canal, check out www.canalmuseum.com. It has photographs of the bridges that span the Canal at different points, some of which are architectural wonders, others studies in pragmatic water crossing. Completed on August 14, 1914, the Canal cost the United States up to $350 million dollars, by far the country's greatest expenditure up to that point in time. The old photographs of Canal construction dating back to the late 1890s show the great depth and size of the project. For another site giving the perspective of Canal construction and preservation from the American point of view, go to www.panamacanalmuseum.org.

For package tours to Panama, General Tours (tel. 800/221-2216; www.generaltours.com) lists several trips to Panama. An eight day air-inclusive trip making stops in Gamboa, Panama City and Playa Bonita starts at $1,289 per person based on double occupancy. Daily breakfast is included in the price of this package, which also includes privately-guided tours and private transportation with professional local guides. A three-day tour that stays in Panama City and focuses on local sites, especially the Canal, costs $749 through the spring and summer. Accommodations are at the Ambassador Suites with the option of upgrading to the Crowne Plaza Panama or the Miramar Intercontinental for additional moneys. Luxurious and interesting add-ons are also available. For people looking to spend some money, a two night private yacht cruising the San Blas Islands with your own captain and cook will cost $809. The trip also includes all food and drink and air travel to the San Blas area. For mountain people looking to experience Panama's great outdoors, a two night excursion to the inland area in the western region of Panama and the Baru National Park costs $439 with airfare. General Tours just celebrated its 59th year in the travel industry. They're tours are known for sharp itineraries and "bridging" cultural gaps through rewarding travel experiences.

Extreme Panama (tel. 011 507 6674 -7120; www.extremepanama.com) offers comprehensive trips to Panama that cover less chartered sections of the country. A land-only nine day tour of the country starting at $1,480 per person based on double occupancy accommodations that leaves on May 6, July 1, and August 5, 2006 stops at some of the more popular locales such as Panama City, but also goes to Bocas del Toro and Sante Fe. The trip includes airport transfers within Panama, and all intra-Panama travel. Digging deep into Panama's wealth of natural and industrial resources, this trip includes stays on private islands around San Blas, hiking to hidden waterfalls, touring banana farms and coffee plantations, optional excursions for bird watching and river rafting. Some meals are included. Fortunately, the trip is labeled easy to moderate in terms of the level of difficulty for the excursions.