Given Panama's compact size, and the short flights that quickly connect you to other destinations, travelers can pack a lot into a week here -- but the timing is tight. This itinerary includes a 2-day visit to Bocas del Toro, but you might opt instead to spend 2 nights in Boca Chica, near David, and visit Isla Coiba the first day (a long day trip, but worth it), then head out to the Gulf of Chiriquí National Marine Park the next day for sport fishing or lounging on the beach of an uninhabited island.
Day 1: Getting to Know the City
Arrive and get settled in Panama City. If your flight arrives early, visit Panama Viejo to get your historical bearings, then head across town for a walking tour of Casco Viejo. Travelers with little time will want to head straight to Casco Viejo. Dine on Panamanian food at Las Tinajas or Las Barandas.
Day 2: Getting Deep in the Jungle
One of Panama's top parks for birding, hiking, and just immersing yourself in the earthy, steamy environs of thick rainforest is only 45 minutes from Panama City: Soberanía National Park. Leave early and bring your binoculars to view hundreds of birds on a walk or mountain-bike ride along Pipeline Road; join a jungle cruise to see monkeys, crocodiles, and transiting ships on the Panama Canal; ride a dugout canoe up the Chagres River to visit an Emberá village. In the afternoon, pay a visit to the country's star attraction, the Panama Canal, at the Miraflores Locks, where you can have lunch and tour their visitor center. Head back to Panama City and cool off with a stroll or bike ride along the Amador Causeway.
Days 3 & 4: To the Highlands
Fly to David and grab a taxi or rent a car for the 45-minute drive to Boquete. Settle into your hotel and spend the afternoon getting to know town on foot or by bike, visiting the town's public gardens and other sights. Another option is to dive into an adventurous afternoon activity such as a canopy ride on the Boquete Tree Trek or a low-key booked visit to the Kotowa coffee farm. The following day, hike the Quetzal Trail, or spend the day rafting on a Class II to Class V river. You can also book a bird-watching tour that includes Finca Lérida and Volcán Barú National Park.
Days 5 & 6: From the Highlands to the Lowlands
Catch an early-morning flight from David to Bocas del Toro, and settle in to a hotel in Bocas Town, on Isla Colón. Preplan an afternoon tour with your hotel or an outfitter to visit Swan's Cay and Boca del Drago beach, or rent a bicycle and pedal out to Bluff Beach, or take a water taxi over to Isla Bastimentos, and then walk the 10 minutes to beautiful Red Frog Beach. The next day, head out with Starfleet Scuba, which can put together a snorkeling or diving trip to the region's top underwater playgrounds, and a cruise through mangrove swamps.
Day 7: Leaving Bocas del Toro
Spend the morning wandering around town and soaking up the Caribbean vibe, architecture, and culture. There are quite a few souvenir shops in Bocas where you can pick up gifts before your flight back to Panama City.