Panama City, founded in 1519, grew and prospered until pirate Henry Morgan ransacked and burned it to the ground in 1671. A new city, built nearby in Spanish colonial style, served as the city center for centuries until the Panama Canal was opened in 1914, and Panama City started to develop into one of Latin America’s most modern cities and an important banking center. Today one may visit the three cities: Vestiges of the original settlement can still be seen in Panama Vieja. The colonial district, known as Casco Viejo, has retained its charming colonial flavor and architecture, and modern Panama is composed of sleek skyscrapers, wide avenues, and modern hotels. For visitors, however, Panama City remains best known for the famous canal, and is the gateway for canal visits and day boat excursions, as well as eco-related activities in many parks and reserves bordering the canal. Panama City offers all visitor facilities, and its intense nightlife includes casinos.
Bocas del Toro is the name of a large Panamanian province (3,508 sq. mi.) bordering both Costa Rica and the Caribbean. It’s also the name of offshore archipelago of five major islands, plus the town of Bocas del Toro (pop. 11,000) which is fast becoming an increasingly popular tourism destination. To protect the region’s ecosystem and extraordinary natural resources Panama’s first National Marine Park was established within the archipelago where colorful reefs and clear waters form a diving paradise. Bird watching at Swan Key Sanctuary is excellent, and scores of deserted small cays have spectacular beaches. The archipelago’s main town Bocas del Toro is a trip into the Caribbean of yesterday, with many surviving buildings from the days the United Fruit Company owned most of the islands. Several small hotels and restaurants have recently opened, and the town’s port is beginning to welcome Caribbean cruise ships. The mainland offers visits to Guaymi Indian villages and the surrounding rainforest.
• Canal Tours: Choose between day visits to the locks, half-day canal transits on Saturdays, or full transits operated once a month.
• Colonial Architecture: Ruins of Panama Vieja and colonial architecture in Casco Viejo.
• Bird Watching: Soberania National Park holds the world’s record for most bird species sighted in a single day.
• Trekking: Las Cruces Trail is a most popular and demanding trek.
• Canopy Tours: Available in nearby Gamboa rainforest or Anton Valley.
• Bastimentos National Park: A paradise of white-sand beaches, turquoise waters and underwater natural treasures.
• Bird Watching: Many species of marine birds may be observed in nearby islands.
• Water Sports including sailing, surfing, boating and snorkeling.
• SCUBA diving