145km (90 miles) W of Panama City

The Coclé Province from Penonomé to Aguadulce is scarcely visited by foreign tourists, and although local municipalities have initiated the first stages of organized tourism, the region is not yet poised to become a hot spot. Historical, cultural, and natural attractions are scattered around in such a fashion that renting a vehicle or booking a custom tour is key to exploring the area, unless you're headed straight for the Trinidad Lodge outside of Penonomé. Travelers normally visit this area on their way to the Azuero Peninsula, or as a side trip from the Pacific Coast. In this section, villages are highlighted only if they have at least one worthwhile attraction.

The capital of the Coclé Province is Penonomé, a town that for a few years during the 17th century was the nation's capital after Panama City had been sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan. Little of the town's colonial history is evident today, and really there isn't much to do and see in Penonomé apart from visiting the Mercado de Artesanías and Museo de Penonomé.

The Mercado de Artesanías (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm) is located on the Interamericana Highway just before the exit for Penonomé. You'll find a limited selection of mostly Ngobe-Buglé indigenous handicrafts and clothing. If you're driving to the Azuero Peninsula, you might consider a quick stop to see what they have here and continue on your way. Near the plaza is the small yet interesting Museo de Penonomé ★ (tel. 997-8490; Mon-Sat 9am-12:30pm and 1:30-4pm, Sun 9:30am-1pm; $1 (50p) adults, 25¢/15p kids) on Calle San Antonio at Parque Rubén Darío Carles in what's left of the San Antonio colonial neighborhood. The museum occupies four adjoining homes and displays colonial religious art, pre-Columbian artifacts, and artifacts from the town's initial stages.

I don't recommend that you lodge in Penonomé -- there are far better options on the Pacific Coast or at the Trinidad Lodge or La Iguana. You'll only find utilitarian lodging in Penonomé, and most of it is located along the not-so-glamorous Interamericana Highway. If you are in a pinch, and really need an inexpensive place to lay your head down, try the Hotel La Pradera, which has clean, modern rooms, a restaurant, and a swimming pool (tel. 991-0106; $35/£18 Mon-Thurs, $43/£22 Fri-Sun; MasterCard and Visa are accepted). You'll see it near the western entrance to Penonomé.

Heading north out of Penonomé, La Pintada village is regionally known for its own handicrafts fair and especially for its locally renowned straw hats and its cigar factory.