One Canal: Two Oceans: Panama
Well, you made it.
You got that coveted job outside of law and you’re ready to start your new life. But before you head in for that first day of work, use that gap week or two to take a trip. Clear your head, relax, recharge, see some sites, and have a load of fun.
Give Panama a try. With world-class dining, tropical escapes, natural wonders, and cultural and historical highlights, Panama is a great place to spend that gap time before you start your new career.
Located just 9° north of the equator, with a tropical rainforest climate, Panamá is the isthmus that connects Central America and South America. It averages 12 hours of daylight and temperatures ranging from around 88° F during daytime and 78° F after sunset. The best time to visit is during the dry season, between January and mid-April. Just a 2.5-hour direct flight from Miami, a little over 5 hours from New York, and 6.5 hours from LA to Panama City, Panama is also readily accessible.
Flights from New York City’s JFK to Panama City typically run between $435 to $550 round trip while average price of a round trip flight from LA to Panama City is between $550 and $660.
Panama’s currency is the Balboa, which is equal in value to the American dollar. U.S. dollars are in common use so you don’t need to make a currency exchange.
From 5-star hotels to boutique hotels to, hostels, and Airbnb lodging, Panama City offers a wide range of accommodations—more than 20,000 rooms in all. And there are lots of options including ones close to nature with views of tropical forests or beaches, historical settings, all-inclusive beach resorts, and more.
You can rent a car, but if you are in any of the larger cities, you can catch an Uber or other tax service to most places citywide for $2-$5. There are also buses, inter-city rail travel options, and ferries to take you to various islands.
Panama is blessed with two different ocean fronts. For crystal clear waters, white-sand beaches, calmer waves, relaxing breezes, and an abundance of coral reefs making them perfect for snorkeling, head to Panamá’s beaches located on the Caribbean side of the country, which include San Blas Islands, Bocas Del Toro, home to 95% of the coral species found in the Caribbean Sea, Isla Grande or Isla Mamey, among the many others.
Panama’s Pacific coastline, which stretches approximately 1,000 miles, features both black-colored and pearl-white sand. With changing tides, you’ll discover excellent places to surf. For a resort-style beach, try Riviera Pacifica. Taboga Island is a volcanic island with lots of flora and fauna. Pearl Islands has beautiful white sand beaches, scuba diving, whale watching, and well-preserved nature and marine life.
The Gulf of Chiriqui which extends along Panama’s Pacific coast from the border of Costa Rica to the Azuero Peninsula, has beautiful white-sand beaches and one of the largest coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean, making it a favorite place to go snorkeling.
Fascinating day trips abound from exploring the Santa Fé National Park’s waterfalls or taking a trip to the rainforest of Natural Metropolitan Park to experiencing Panama’s best gastronomic offerings in Casco Antiguo or drinking some of the world’s best coffees to must-see sites like the Panama Canal, numerous historical and cultural sites. You can learn about biodiversity and indigenous people. There’s something for everyone.
Here are some where-to-go suggestions:
The Panama Canal, considered to be the world’s eighth wonder, is a definite for those visiting Panama. This engineering marvel radically decreased travel time for ships moving between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Take a tour through the locks to experience firsthand how it’s done or watch from the pier if you’re water wary.
Janson Farms, established in 1926, is located in the mountainous region of Boquete. Permeated by hints of fruit, tea, and/or florals, it offers some of the most delicious coffees in the world—including one of the most expensive. Complex and rich, yet delicate, these coffees are an experience that should not be missed.
Take a rum tour in Pese, where you can tour the country’s oldest sugar mill and alcohol distillery and try Seco, the nation’s alcoholic drink.
Although it’s a few hours away from Panama City, consider a trip to the coastal town of Portobelo where you can experience Congo culture, which has been kept alive by descendants of African slaves brought to Panama by the Spanish. You’ll witness the Congo’s unique traditions, which include theatrical dances, celebrations, and music-filled ceremonies.
Fit and looking for an adventure? Try climbing Baru Volcano in the Chiriqui Highlands. At 11,400 feet, Baco Volcano’s peak is the highest point in the country with multiple ecosystems along the way and views of both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean from the same viewing spot.
Nature lovers will want to visit some of the more than 50 thunderous but breathtaking waterfalls at Santa Fe National Park.
Visit Casco Antiguo for awesome gastronomic experiences where you will experience fragrant seafood scents wafting through the air and have the opportunity to dine at some of the world’s best restaurants with food prepared by world-class chefs. Restaurants are far more affordable than in the U.S. so sit back and enjoy.