When it comes to active travel, Panama has always taken a back seat to its neighbor Costa Rica, a country that has done much to promote itself as an adventure-travel mecca. Yet Panama is a tropical paradise for adventure-travel enthusiasts, too, offering the same outdoor activities and landscapes as Costa Rica -- but with far fewer tourists. Yes, maybe Panama's western neighbor boasts a more developed infrastructure for active travel, but really any kind of sport or outdoor activity in Panama has at least one or two responsible and experienced tour operators that can put together an adventurous trip. A full 30% of Panama's natural habitat is protected, including the wildest jungle in all of Central America, the Darién. There are high peaks with misty cloud forests, primeval rainforest, the best bird-watching in North and Central America, white-water rivers, powdery beaches, and an underwater world packed with sea life. Plus, unlike Costa Rica, Panama is home to seven Indian groups, as well as Afro-Caribbeans and West African descendants, providing visitors with fascinating and memorable cultural encounters.

Adventure- and active-travel journeys can be pieced together as day excursions, or your trip can be planned from start to finish by a tour operator. There is an ever-growing number of all-inclusive resorts and lodges around the country, too, which plan daily excursions that are either included in the daily rate or are an additional cost. Some of these resorts have bird-watching guides and scuba-diving pros as part of their staff; others subcontract a local outfit. When booking a vacation at an all-inclusive resort, confirm the professional certification of the resort's guides -- if you're a fastidious bird-watcher who's come all the way to Panama to see a quetzal, you'll want the finest guide available, not just a guy who likes birds.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.