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Adventure Sports

The options for enjoying Panama's great outdoors range from hiking through the cloud forest to paddling down a white-water river. The country's world-class fishing, surfing, diving, and bird-watching draw plenty of people focused on just one activity, but Panama is also a great destination for travelers who want to dabble in several adventure sports.

Hiking. Panama's hiking options range from short walks into the rain forest near Panama City to longer hikes though the mountains above El Valle de Antón, Boquete, or Cerro Punta, to a two-week trek through the jungles of the Darién.

Horseback Riding. Equestrian tours take you through the mountain forests of Cerro Azul, El Valle de Antón, Boquete, Volcán, Cerro Punta, or the rain forest of Bocas del Toro.

Kayaking. Sit-on-top kayaks are available at many lodges for exploring reefs and mangroves, but serious kayakers can join tours to paddle the lower Chagres River, the Panama Canal's Pacific entrance, or the San Blas Islands of Guna Yala.

Rafting. The Chagres and Chiriquí Viejo Rivers have exciting white-water rafting routes that pass through pristine rain forest. From June to December they are complemented by half a dozen smaller rivers near Boquete.

Surfing. With dozens of surf spots on two oceans, Panama has waves most of the year. Expert-only reef breaks are the norm, but a handful of beach breaks are good for neophytes, too. Try Playa Santa Catalina, Morro Negrito, Bocas del Toro, and Isla Grande.

Zipline Tours. These high-adrenaline tours send you gliding through the forest canopy on cables strung between platforms high in trees, providing a monkey's perspective of the jungle.

Diving

With two oceans, 1,600 islands, and countless acres of coral, Panama is a world-class dive destination. Its Caribbean reefs and wrecks are adorned with dozens of sponge and coral species and a mind-boggling array of fish and invertebrates. But the Pacific has the country's most spectacular dives, with schools of big fish, manta rays, sharks, and other marine creatures.

Bocas del Toro. With plenty of coral reefs and several dive shops, this popular Caribbean archipelago is perfect for scuba divers and snorkeling enthusiasts alike.

The Canal. Scuba Panama offers a unique dive in the Panama Canal, where steam shovels and trains used to dig it lie submerged in the murky depths.

Escribano Bank. This barrier reef east of Isla Grande is so remote that few divers visit it, but it lies near the eco-resort Coral Lodge.

Isla Coiba. Protected within a vast national park, Coiba is surrounded by the country's best diving, with immense reefs, submerged pinnacles, and legions of fish. Explore it on one-week dive cruises or shorter trips from Play Santa Catalina.

Islas Secas. This remote archipelago in the Gulf of Chiriquí has extensive reefs teeming with marine life that can be explored from the exclusive resort on the islands, or on day trips from Boca Chica.

Guna Yala. Though scuba diving is prohibited in Guna Yala, the province has impressive reefs, especially at the Cayos Holandeses, which can be visited on cruises with San Blas Sailing.

History

The site of the first Spanish colony on the American mainland, Panama has remnants of five centuries of European influence, including ancient fortresses and colonial churches, as well as indigenous cultures that have hardly changed since Columbus sailed down the country's coast.

The Canal. The Panama Canal's creation only a century ago was a historic event that is celebrated by displays in the visitor center at Miraflores Locks and murals in the Canal Administration Building.

Casco Viejo. Panama City's historic quarter holds an enchanting mix of colonial churches, abandoned monasteries, 19th-century buildings, and timeless plazas that are perfect for a drink, or meal.

Indigenous Panama. The country's indigenous communities are living history, preserving centuries-old customs. Visiting them provides glimpses of the Panama that Spanish explorers discovered five centuries ago.

Panama Viejo. The ruins of Panama's first city—founded almost five centuries ago, and sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan in 1671—evoke the nation's start as a trade center.

Portobelo. Together with nearby Fuerte San Lorenzo, these colonial fortresses hemmed by jungle and perched over aquamarine waters are stunning reminders of the days when pirates cruised the Caribbean in search of booty.

Nature Lodges

With more than 960 bird species, 9,000 kinds of flowering plants, and such rare animals as tapirs and ocelots, Panama is a great place for nature lovers. And there's no better way to experience that wildlife than a stay at a nature lodge, where you can bird-watch from your porch or bed.

Cana Field Station. Nestled in Parque Nacional Darién, this remote and rustic lodge is surrounded by jungle that is home to more than 400 bird species and an array of other wildlife, making it the best place in Panama to see animals.

Canopy Tower. This refurbished radar station in Parque Nacional Soberanía has good bird-watching from the restaurant, the rooftop deck, and every room. Expert guides and daily hikes help guests see as much as possible, whereas the property's sister Canopy Lodge, in El Valle de Antón, provides more comfort in a gorgeous setting.

Finca Lerida. Rooms on this coffee farm at the edge of Parque Nacional Volcán Barú are near a cloud forest where guests regularly see resplendent quetzals, emerald toucanets, and hundreds of other birds.

La Loma Jungle Lodge. With just three open-air bungalows inside the rain forest on Isla Bastamentos, in Bocas del Toro, this intimate lodge provides constant exposure to nature.

Los Quetzales Lodge. Cabins inside the cloud forest here feature amazing views and bird-watching, whereas guests at the main lodge can choose from hikes in two national parks.

Sierra Llorona. Surrounded by a 500-acre private nature reserve traversed by miles of trails, this small, affordable lodge has more than 200 bird species, various types of monkeys, and other wildlife on the property.

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