(Las Vegas Review-Journal) The Caribbean has often been a popular summer destination for Las Vegas tourists looking to escape the heat and get a little rest and relaxation. And whether you’re looking to laze on a beach, spend your days hiking in rainforests, or party with other young solo travelers, Panama is guaranteed to have what you’re looking for in a week off from the daily grind.
Bocas Del Toro
Just a one hour flight from Panama City, this picturesque island is located up in the country’s northern Caribbean coast, just south of Costa Rica. On the island the water is clear, the sand is white, and the tourists are ubiquitous. Although there is no denying the island’s natural beauty, an influx of young travelers in recent years have transformed this paradise into more of a secluded party town. If you’re looking for a fast-paced island getaway, this one’s for you.
Further down the coast, Isla Grande is a five minute boat ride off the coast of Colon. This tiny island boasts all the amenities you would expect from a hidden island oasis including hammocks swaying over the shore, waves crashing into the rocks, and plethora of cocktail bars along the coast. Stay in one of the resorts on the island, or spend a day lazing on the coast before retreating back to Colon for shore side budget accommodations.
San Blas Islands
These exotic islands are the best place to explore the rich culture of Panama’s indigenous people, the Kuna. The small islands are located between Panama and Columbia and are mostly frequented by 14 passenger cruise ships that make the five-day voyage from one country to the other. Because these islands are still undiscovered by major tourism companies, they offer visitors a unique opportunity to explore untouched culture and nature.
La India Dormida
For travelers looking for something a little more inland, make sure to visit the small town of El Valle de Antón. Located in the crater of a now extinct volcano and engulfed in rainforest, El Valle provides much cooler temperatures as well as endless opportunities for hiking, bird-watching, and exploring. Be sure to hike La India Dormida, The Sleeping Indian Girl. This three hour hike scales a mountain that resembles a young Indian girl lying on her back; and it offers petroglyphs, waterfalls, and stellar views to hikers.
The industrialization of Panama City may surprise some travelers who aren’t expecting it to look quite so, well, American. (It even has a Trump Tower!) But it is certainly worth a visit to stroll down the Amador Causeway along the coast and take in the views of the admittedly impressive cityscape.
For travelers looking for a more “authentic” side of Panama City, make your way 20 minutes out of the city center into Casco Viejo. Founded in 1519 by the Spanish, the old city is perfect for self-guided walking tours and is littered with ruins, inspiring street art, and colonial statues. You’ll be charmed by the variety of colors on the buildings, the cobblestone streets, and tolling of the bells of its many cathedrals. Take the short 654-foot hike up Ancon Hill for stellar views of the city and Canal in the distance.
Of course, a vacation in Panama would be incomplete without a visit to the famous Canal. The Canal, which opened exactly 100 years ago is largely hailed as a massive technological achievement, creating the only gap between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. From Panama City, the most accessible place to see the Canal is from the Miraflores Locks. Check the Locks’ schedule online before visiting to ensure you’ll be there at a time to see a ship pass through.
The Food. No matter what your appetite, you’re sure to find at least one aspect of the local cuisine to fall in love with. While in either Casco Viejo or Panama City, make a trip to the Mercado de Mariscos- The Fish Market. Here, local fisherman serve up their daily catches in endless varieties of fresh ceviche. Make sure to wash it down with a Balboa cerveza before seeking out popular street food such as fried chicken or coconut rice.
By Janna Karel is a tour guide in Las Vegas and a seasoned international solo traveler. Contact her on twitter @jannainprogress.