- Natural Metropolitan Park (Panama City): Panama City is the only metropolis that boasts a tropical rainforest within its city limits. Travelers with ample time will want to visit national parks like Soberanía, but there's no denying the appeal of hopping in a cab and, within 10 minutes, exchanging the city streets for a steamy jungle teeming with wildlife.
- Soberanía National Park (near Panama City): This national park is very accessible from Panama City -- just 40 minutes by car -- yet it feels worlds away. The undulating, pristine rainforest that defines Soberanía is protected in part because it acts as a watershed that provides the water to keep the canal in operation. What's unique about the park is that wildlife species from North and South America and migratory birds meet here, creating a hyper-diverse natural wonderland. A series of nature trails here include the historic Camino de Cruces, which links the two coasts, as well as the famous Pipeline Road, a trail revered by bird-watchers for the more than 500 species of birds that live in the area.
- Volcán Barú National Park (Chiriquí Highlands): The rugged, 3,505m (11,500-ft.) Barú Volcano, the highest point in the country, is this national park's centerpiece 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 their trunks and branches. In higher reaches, an intermittent cloud forest evokes an eerie, prehistoric ambience. The park is very popular with bird-watchers, who come to glimpse the famous resplendent quetzal. One of the most enjoyable full-day hikes in Panama is here along the Quetzal Trail, which links the towns of Guadalupe/Cerro Punta with Boquete, and the crystalline rivers that descend from the volcano provide thrilling white-water rafting. On a clear day, hikers can see both oceans from the summit of the volcano.
- La Amistad International Park (Chiriquí Highlands): Like Isla Coiba, UNESCO rated this park a World Heritage Site because it is one of the most biodiverse regions in the Americas. The park is "international" because half of it is in Costa Rica, and it's managed by both nations. Characterized by virgin forests, La Amistad's rugged Talamanca Range is home to more than 400 species of birds and 100 species of mammals, many of them endangered. The park is mostly inaccessible, except near Cerro Punta, where there are several outstanding walking trails suitable for all ability levels, and enjoyable rain or shine.
- The Darién Wilderness (Darién Province): This tremendous swath of forest and swampland is considered to be one of the last untouched wilderness regions in the Americas. Even the Darién National Park is largely inaccessible, and the surrounding wilderness is so thick that the "missing link" of the Pan-American Highway, known as the Darién Gap, is here. If you like your nature ruggedly wild and remote, this is your place. The Darién is rated as a world-class bird-watching site for its flocks of colorful macaws, among other showcase species, but you'll need to join a tour and grab a chartered flight to the Cana Field Station.
- Isla Coiba National Park (Chiriquí Gulf): Formerly the site of an infamous penal colony for Panama's worst criminals, Isla Coiba is now an untouched paradise for divers, snorkelers, and nature lovers. The national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site protects 38 pristine islands and marine waters so rich in diversity that the area is commonly referred to as the Galápagos Islands of Panama. Isla Coiba boasts the second-largest coral reef in the eastern Pacific, and its waters teem with huge schools of colorful fish, hammerhead and nurse sharks, dolphins, manta rays, tuna, turtles, whales, and other gigantic marine species -- even saltwater crocodiles.
- The Kuna Yala Comarca: This tropical island 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. Given the lack of modern development in the region, the views here are not marred by towering hotels and resorts, allowing the natural beauty of the Comarca to shine through. 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 breeze and cool turquoise waters.
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.