Eating Ceviche at the Mercado de Mariscos (Panama City): Have a taste of the rich waters off the country’s Pacific coastline with a sample of ceviche, finely diced and marinated fish and/or shellfish, from a Styrofoam cup sold at one of the many carts in Panama City’s most famous market. If the tall glass jars and piles of just-caught seafood on ice is a bit too raw an experience for you, step outside to the slightly more formal market stalls with full menus of seafood dishes.
Walking Through a Coffee Plantation on the Barú Volcano (Chiriquí Highlands): The rugged, 3,505m (11,500-ft.) Barú volcano, the highest point in the country, is the centerpiece of Volcán Barú National Park and a “bioclimatic island.” It’s home to a wild, dense rainforest packed with bamboo gardens and towering trees dripping with vines and sprouting bromeliads and orchids from its trunks and branches. Near Boquete, the slopes of the volcano are home to some of the most prized coffee plantations in the world.
Exploring the Canal Zone (near Panama City): Seeing the modern marvel of engineering that is the canal will show you how powerful a force human beings are on this planet. Fittingly, this manmade wonder is enveloped in some of the most pristine wilderness in Central America.
Visiting Emberá Villages by Dugout Canoe (Chagres River, near Panama City): This adventure trip through the jungle-choked Chagres River by motorized dugout canoe to an Emberá Indian village feels worlds away from Panama City. Along the way, guides keep an eye out for wildlife such as monkeys and birds. The Emberá’s rustic villages, handicrafts, and temporary jagua -stain “tattoos” fascinate kids and adults alike.
Living like the Kuna Yala (Comarca Kuna Yala): This tropical paradise, with more than 350 idyllic islands and islets ringed in white sand, coral gardens, and mangrove swamps, is often populated with not much more than slender coconut palms and a few thatch-roofed huts of the Kuna indigenous community. Along the coast, some of Panama’s wildest jungle can be explored on hikes arranged by local tour guides, but most visitors come just to soak in the warm breezes and cool turquoise waters.
Whale-Watching in the Gulf of Chiriquí (Western Panama): The deep waters and sheltered bays and islets in the Gulf of Chiriquí and Coiba National Park attract whales from both the northern and southern hemispheres to mate and calf. Your best chance of seeing humpback, fin, or pilot whales are between the months of August and November, when they come so close they can sometimes be seen from the shore.
Watching the Diablos and Congos Dance (Portobelo): This folkloric dance is performed by the descendants of the cimarrones, the runaway slaves who fiercely fought for their freedom during the Spanish colonial period, in this port where the Afro-Panamanian legacy runs deep. The routines feature lively drum beats, colorful and often outrageous costumes, lavish masks, chants, and songs. They are performed during the Carnaval period, though Casa Congo ( 202-0880 ) in Portobelo can set up performances for groups during the rest of the year.
Experience Carnaval in Las Tablas (Panama City): Although Panama City’s Carnaval is more of a typical metropolitan party, this colonial town in the Azuero Peninsula holds a more traditional festival. The atmosphere is enlivened by an intense rivalry between “high street” and “low street,” with each side vying to have the most creative costumes and floats.
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.