Central Panama

All visitors heading from Panama City to the Chiriquí highlands, Azuero Peninsula or Bocas del Toro will first go through central Panama. Occasionally overlooked by travelers, central Panama holds an abundance of natural beauty and charm. Its Pacific coast beaches are some of the best in Panama and its mountainous highlands are lush, temperate and not too touristy.

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Omar Torrijos National Park

Known to most Panamanians simply as El Copé, The Omar Torrijos National Park extends along both the Pacific and Caribbean slopes of the Continental Divide in central Panama. The park is somewhat difficult to reach, but has well preserved forests and wildlife, partially due to its remote location.

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San Francisco

San Francisco is a small town in central Panama. The town itself is unremarkable, but it is home to one of Panama’s best churches. If you’re heading to Santa Fé, you’ll pass San Francisco. It’s worth stopping in for a quick look at the church.

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Santa Fe National Park

Santa Fe National Park is located in Panama’s Veraguas mountain range. It encompasses the northern stretch of the Santa María River. Hiking on trails through this untrammeled rainforest will offer an interesting chance to identity plant and birdlife.

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El Valle de Anton

Nestled into the valley of an extinct volcano, El Valle is a pleasant highland town in central Panama. Its 600 meters above sea level make it much cooler than the lowlands, and its wide range of activities – including canopy tours, hot springs, and a bustling Sunday market – attract both Panamanians and foreigners alike.

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Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca is set just west of Playa Farallón on Panama’s central Pacific coast. This lovely soft-sand beach is pleasant and borders a calm section of the ocean. Several upscale resorts lie near the shoreline.

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Punta Chame

Punta Chame is a popular windsurfing spot along the Bahía de Chame in central Panama. The punta (point) is at the end of a long, thin peninsula lined by shrimp farms and mangroves. It’s only an hour and a half drive from Panama City, making it a popular spot with adrenalin-junkies from the city. In many ways, this is a get-away-from-it-all type destination, as there is little at at the end of the peninsula other than a windsurfing school, a few accommodations, and a smattering of residences.

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Playa Coronado

Playa Coronado, located about 80 km from Panama City, is the most developed beach area in Panama. Growth has exploded here during the past few decades, and it shows – almost every inch of beachfront property has been bought up and filled with mansions, condos, and housing developments. It’s definitely one of Panama’s more ritzy areas, but still, the beach is pristine and not too crowded.

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Playa Farallón

After the Colombian-owned Decameron hotel chain built an enormous beach resort here in 2000, the formerly sleepy fishing village of Farallón was transformed into Panama’s next hot beach destination. Today, this white-sand beach is visited by both national and international travelers looking to soak up the sun. Located along the Pacific coast 68 miles (110 km) west of Panama City, Playa Farallón is easily accessible and undeniably beautiful.

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Playa El Palmar

A relaxed surf-vibe pervades the white sand and curling waves at Playa El Palmar, a tranquil beach set along Panama’s central Pacific coast. Situated just outside the small town of San Carlos, Playa El Palmar serves up smooth, right breaking waves and a super mellow atmosphere. Locals and foreigners alike take advantage of the beautiful setting by flying kites, surfing hard, and relaxing in the sun.

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Santa Clara

Located along the Pacific coast in Central Panama, Playa Santa Clara is a white-sand wonder that is a favorite of both locals and tourists alike. The beach stretches for miles unabated, bordering a calm blue ocean that is perfect for swimming or just splashing around.

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San Carlos

San Carlos is a small town located 56.5 miles (91 km) west of Panama City. It’s nearby surfing beaches, and provides a nice place to break up a trip or crash for a night. Playa El Palmar, a stone’s throw away from the town, is a pleasant white-sand beach that is popular with beginning surfers.

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Penonome

Laying 143 km west of Panama City is the bustling and distinctly Panamanian town of Penonomé. Capital of the Coclé province, Penonomé is large enough to provide visitors with any amenities or services that may be required. Though not one of Panama’s popular destinations, Penonomé nonetheless retains a distinctly Spanish-colonial charm in its downtown area.

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Santa Fe

Santa Fé (pop.2,800) is a small and tranquil mountain town set 58 km north of Santiago. Part of the Veraguas province highlands, Santa Fé is known for its humble charm, fresh air, and beautiful surroundings. It sees far fewer visitors than Boquete, but offers many of the same attractions—hiking, waterfalls, rivers and more. At 470 meters above sea level, the climate up here is much cooler and the pace much slower than the lowlands.

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Santiago

Santiago is the provincial capital of Veraguas and one of Panama’s largest cities. It sits along the Inter-American Highway midway between David and Panama City, and acts as an important transportation hub for central Panama. There is little within the city that will interest most visitors, but there are a wide range of services and amenities available. Because of its central location and excellent facilities, Santiago serves as a good stopover while en route to other destinations.

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Panama

A little more about Central Panama

The beaches are all within easy driving distance from Panama City, beginning with Playa Coronado, which lies 80 km (50 mi) to the west. Playa Coronado, much like Playa Farallón, is an upscale beach destination. Its shores are scattered with both black and white sand, and border a serene ocean that is perfect for swimming or jet skiing. Playa Farallón, which lies 30 km (19 mi) past Coronado, is another resort-lined beach that offers every amenity imaginable. Its white-sand shores are gorgeous and perfect for lounging, and a number of activities – including sailing, jet skiing and parasailing – can be enjoyed here. Sandwiched between these two destinations are a number of other pleasant beaches. Playa El Palmar routinely serves up mid-size waves that are ideal for surfing, while Playa Santa Clara is sun-splashed and pretty. Of course, there are whole stretches of sand along this coast that are virtually deserted, providing visitors with secluded spots to spend their day.

In addition to its pristine beaches, central Panama also has stunning highlands. Parque Nacional Altos de Campana, a relatively unknown national park that lies 67 km (42 mi) from Panama City, presents visitors with a convenient place to stretch their legs and go for a hike. The park’s trails are well maintained and offer several vistas of the lowlands and Pacific Ocean. Altos de Campana is also a favorite among bird-watchers, as it harbors such species as the toucan, orange-bellied trogon, scale-crested pygmy-tyrant, and the white-tipped sicklebill. The region’s other national park, Parque Nacional Omar Torrijos, is a bit more difficult to reach but just as impressive. Often referred to as El Copé, this national park stretches down both slopes of the Continental Divide and serves up some seriously rugged hiking through primary growth forest. On clear days, El Copé’s visitors are rewarded with views of both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

Central Panama’s mountain towns are lovely as well. El Valle, a quaint little town set 600 meters (1,970 ft.) above sea level, lies only 120 km (75 mi) from Panama City, making it a convenient place to spend a few days while heading west. Settled into the valley of an extinct volcano, El Valle is surrounded by lush, towering hills that offer wonderful (albeit rugged) hiking opportunities. Visitors to El Valle can glide along ziplines, ride horses, and visit waterfalls. El Valle’s Sunday market is also renowned as one of the best in Panama—there are all sorts of Ngöbe-Buglé handicrafts, Kuna molas, and fresh fruits and vegetables that visitors can purchase.

Santa Fé, the central region’s other mountain town, is similar in look and feel to El Valle, but much less touristy. Like most of Panama’s highlands, the climate here is much cooler and the pace much slower. It’s a great place to visit after the beach. A final place of interest in central Panama is Punta Chame, a thin Pacific coast peninsula that boasts wonderful conditions for windsurfing. Routinely ushering in large gusts of wind, Punta Chame is Panama’s most popular windsurfing destination. Although not much exists out here besides a few modest accommodations and their adjacent restaurants, there is a windsurfing school that can provide both beginners and experts with classes and equipment. The turnoff to Punta Chame is 70 km (44 mi) west of Panama City, and it’s another 25 km (16 mi) down a bumpy road from there. At a relatively close distance to the city, Punta Chame is a favorite among adrenalin-seeking city dwellers.

Whether it’s beachside relaxation or a trek into the lush highlands, central Panama provides visitors with a charming place to spend their time abroad.

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