Choose your own adventure when you head to Panama. Home to the world famous Panama Canal, this Central American country has a lot to offer. Panama’s physical landscape includes beaches, mountains, islands, and forests; its civic landscape covers everything from a cosmopolitan capital city to ultra-basic indigenous villages. Needless to say, there is a broad range of places to visit, which can make it tough to decide where to go.

Do you want to go surfing in San Carlos or scuba diving in Santa Catalina? Horseback riding in Boquete is always a treat. Then again, you could go kayaking on the Chagres River near Panama City. Speaking of Panama City, you were wanting to take that guided walking tour, because it's the perfect way to learn about the nation's history (and work off that chocolate tour you went on in Isla Bastimentos). The following destination categories will help you understand your options — they'll help you determine the best places to visit in Panama based upon the Panama tourist attractions you're most interested in.

Because Panama is a nation smaller in geographic size, it is easy to sample different locations in a short amount of time. If you're hoping to make the most of your vacation in Panama, then your best bet may be to decide on one or two destinations and then find supplementary places nearby. You can visit three to four destinations in a 7-10 day period, so don't be afraid to diversify your activities.

Frequently asked questions

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What should I wear or bring to a national park in Panama?

Sturdy hiking shoes are a must. Many trails are rocky and may be muddy at times, so having a good pair of shoes is important. Long pants and a long-sleeved shirt will help protect you from the sun and pesky insects, while a rain jacket will keep you dry during unexpected downpours. Bringing a small daypack will allow you to throw in other important items, such as a camera, binoculars, sunscreen, insect repellent, maps, snacks, and a water bottle. Always bring water – there are no water fountains in the parks and it is very important to stay hydrated.

Where are Panama's national parks & reserves?

Panama’s national parks, nature reserves and reserves are scattered across the country. Some are very easy to get to, while others are more of a trek. For example, Soberanía National Park, one of the country’s best birding sites, is a quick 50-minute drive from Panama City, and Altos de Campana National Park is right off the Inter-American Highway in central Panama. However, parks in more remote areas like the Darién can be difficult to reach. Road conditions can be poor and access to the park can be limited.

I want a nature vacation. Where should I go in Panama?

Panama’s best outdoor areas include mountain towns like Boquete and El Valle, coastal areas like Bocas del Toro and the Gulf of Chiriquí, and places along the Panama Canal, including Barro Colorado and the Soberanía National Park. Panama’s central mountain range has thick forests and a good sampling of birds and other creatures. Coastal areas offer travelers the opportunity to explore mangroves, estuaries and coral reef systems. Barro Colorado is an island in the Panama Canal and is one of the country’s most biologically diverse areas. It’s also close to the Soberanía National Park, which is a birder’s paradise and only an hour from Panama City.

Are national parks and reserves safe in Panama?

By and large, Panama’s national parks and nature reserves are extremely safe. Larger creatures like pumas and jaguars tend to steer entirely clear of people. And monkeys, birds, and amphibians don’t pose much of a problem. There are, however, some creatures that visitors should look out for. These include spiders, scorpions, and snakes like the fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper). As a general rule, don’t wander off the trail or ruffle in piles of dried leaves. It’s also smart to watch for snakes crossing the trail.

Can I expect to see wildlife in Panama?

How much wildlife you see depends on where you are. In most parks and reserves, you can see birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and sometimes monkeys. There are many other creatures prowling the parks, but you may not see them. These include Panama’s big cats – jaguars, pumas, margays, jaguarundis, and ocelots. Panama’s offshore parks provide the opportunity to see marine life, including an assortment of tropical fish, several types of reef shark, sea turtles, dolphins, and even humpback whales. To learn more about biodiversity in Panama, visit our page on 'flora and fauna.'

Are Panama's parks and reserves well developed?

Panama’s national parks and nature reserves are moderately developed. All parks have at least a basic ranger station where visitors can register with park rangers, get maps, and learn about the park. The quality of the trails often depends on the accessibility of the park. Parks that see more visitors have better facilities, including handrails, benches/picnic tables, and identifiable boundaries. Trails in less accessible parks can be crudely made and confusing. Exploring parks with a guide is generally advisable.

How much does it cost to visit a national park or reserve in Panama?

It depends on the park or reserve. Some parks are free, while others require visitors to pay a small entrance fee. Usually this is not more than $5 per person. It can be paid at the ranger station near the park’s entrance. You’ll also find trail maps and other helpful information here.

Where are Panama's airports?

Panama’s main international airport is located just outside Panama City. Known as Aeropuerto Internacional de Tocumen (Tocumen International Airport), this airport receives flights from around the world. There is also one other international airport in the city of David, but it currently is not running many international flights. The code for the Tocumen International Airport is PTY. David’s airport, which is officially known as Aeropuerto Internacional de David “Enrique Malek,” is coded DAV.Going through customs is easy and straightforward. After collecting your luggage and having it run through an X-ray machine by Panamanian officials, you will turn in your customs sheet and have your passport stamped. The whole process usually takes around 30 minutes.