- Panama City: If you're using Panama City as a base for day excursions to the Canal Zone, the Radisson Hotel Panama Canal (tel. 211-4500) is a good bet for families for its safe, quiet location, outdoor pools, bicycle rental, and long walking/jogging shoreline path that connects with the Amador Causeway. On the causeway, visit the Smithsonian's Punta Culebra Nature Center (tel. 212-8793) to view and touch sea creatures. Kids and adults get a kick out of seeing the colorful Mercado de Mariscos (Fish Market), and kids like the Kuna Cooperative, where Kuna women affix their traditional beaded bands to the arms and legs of tourists.
- The Canal Zone: The Panama Canal, Lake Gatún, and the surrounding rainforest overflow with kid-friendly activities, and parents can either base themselves in Panama City or at Gamboa Rainforest Resort (tel. 314-5000), a kid-pleaser for its swimming pools, games center, butterfly farm, reptile displays, and aerial tram. Families can also rent a bicycle for a ride up the Pipeline Road to view wildlife and birds.
- Jungle Adventure Cruises: Half-day jungle cruises are fun for families because of wildlife sightings, and also because cruises put participants shockingly close to massive tankers crossing the Panama Canal. Cruises visit Monkey Island, where it is almost guaranteed you'll see four different species; also keep an eye out for capybaras, crocodiles, and sloths. Gamboa Rainforest Resort has their own tour, or try Ancon Expeditions (tel. 269-9415) for their fun guides.
- Summit Garden & Zoo (near Panama City; tel. 6105-1418) Wildlife is notorious for shying away from humans, but you can view jaguars, monkeys, tapirs, harpy eagles, and other species endemic to Panama at this zoo. It's not a fancy attraction, but there are extensive lawns and gardens, and the zoo is undergoing a progressive renovation during the next few years.
- Emberá Villages (Chagres River, near Panama City): This adventurous trip is fun for kids because it involves traveling the jungle-choked Chagres River by motorized dugout canoe to an Emberá Indian village. Along the way, guides keep an eye out for wildlife. The Emberá's rustic villages, handicrafts, and temporary jagua-stain "tattoos" fascinate kids and adults alike. Give Ecocircuitos (tel. 315-1488) a call.
- Isla Contadora (Archipiélago de las Perlas): What's special about this island are the dozen beaches that offer calm-water swimming conditions, the best snorkeling in Panama, day excursions to uninhabited islands, fishing trips, and more.
- El Valle de Antón: Just 2 hours from Panama City, this mountain village provides families with a host of activities, including horseback riding, hiking, canopy adventures, a serpentarium, and El Nispero Zoo, with its new amphibian center. The most family-friendly hotel here is the Crater Valley Adventure Spa (tel. 983-6942), with a climbing wall, bicycle rental, and kids' activities, as well as an elegant pool and minispa for adults.
- Bocas del Toro: Three distinctively different lodges on Isla Bastimentos in Bocas offer family-friendly activities. Go to Bahía Honda to see bat caves, sloths, monkeys, and caimans; snorkel around Cayos Zapatilla; or kayak through mangroves or on a Class I inland river. Check out the Jungle Lodge (tel. 6592-5162), Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge (tel. 838-0021), and Casa Cayuco (tel. 509/996-4178 in the U.S.).
- Chiriquí Highlands: A short, kid-friendly trail is in La Amistad International Park. The Quetzal Trail offers fairyland rainforest and birds, and is downhill from west to east. If staying in Boquete or Bambito, book a Class II white-water rafting trip with Chiriquí Rafting (tel. 6879-4382).
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.