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La Pintada

About 20 minutes from Penonomé is the charming village of La Pintada, known for its sombreros pintados, or "painted hats," made from intricately hand-woven black and white fibers of the bellota plant. It's a long, arduous task to create this traditional hat, and prices average $75 to $80 (£38-£40), twice that amount if bought in Panama City. You'll find a good selection of sombreros pintados at the Mercado de Artesanías La Pintada (Tues-Sun 9am-5pm), as well as montuño embroidered shirts, woven rugs, dolls dressed in folkloric dresses such as the pollera, and other regional knickknacks. The market is on the left side of the main road from Penonomé, once you enter La Pintada.

Another unique attraction is a factory tour of Cigarros Joyas de Panamá (tel. 6729-4978). These are the only premium cigars in Panama made with Cuban-seed tobacco. Miriam Padilla launched her cigar operation in the early 1980s with Cuban partners who eventually moved on. After a hiatus for many years, Miriam rebuilt the business and now each month produces more than 300,000 fine cigars, handcrafted in the Cuban tradition, for export. A box of 25 of her cigars sells for about $85 (£43) in the U.S., but you can buy them wholesale here. You'll see the factory, which is well signed, just before you enter La Pintada.

Parque Arqueológico El Caño

El Caño Archaeological Park displays the excavated burial grounds and artifacts of indigenous groups that inhabited this region from A.D. 500 to 1500. Considering that it is one of the most important archaeological sites in Panama, it's surprising that you don't even need a full hour to take it all in -- much of what was found was shipped to the U.S. when an American amateur archaeologist excavated the site in the 1920s. More importantly, it is estimated that many unearthed burial sites still exist here, yet there is little interpretive information about these or other items. Nevertheless, if you're in the area, this 8.1-hectare (20-acre) park makes for an interesting stop. There are burial mounds and a burial pit with skeletons still intact; a small museum with pottery, tools, and other artifacts taken from burial sites; and a reproduction of what the site is imagined to have originally looked like. (Hours are Tues-Sat 9am-noon and 12:30-4pm, Sun 9am-1pm; admission $1 (50p) adults, 25¢/15p kids.) To get here, take the exit for El Caño, about 27km (19 miles) west of Penonomé, and continue for 3km (1 3/4 miles), always keeping to the left until you reach the site. If you don't have a vehicle, you'll need to take a taxi from Natá.

Natá

Natá is the oldest village in Panama, founded by the Spanish in 1522 and named after the powerful cacique Natá who once ruled this region. Natá is known for its venerable church Basilica Menor Santiago Apostal de Natá, which was erected during the same year and is therefore considered to be the oldest surviving church in the Americas. Extensive renovations took place during the 1990s, yet visitors can still appreciate the church's original wooden columns, altars, and artwork. The church is located on the plaza, about a half-mile from the Interamericana Highway. Natá is 180km (112 miles) from Panama City, and 31km (20 miles) from Penonomé.

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.