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This booming Central American hotspot has much more going on than its namesake canal

Word of Mouth"Panama City itself is an impressive and beautiful downtown feel," says Fodorite Continental_Drifter. "To get some of ‘old Panama,’ consider staying in El Casco Viejo, the old city. . . Now for beaches, though, you'll have to get out of PC. Spend a few days in Panama City and then hop a domestic flight to Bocas del Toro . . . [it] will give you great choices for things to do."

Why Go NowPanama’s ongoing building boom is one for the ages. Panama City's transformed skyline features dozens of new skyscrapers, including the Trump Ocean Club and Waldorf Astoria's Panamera (slated to open in June), while once gritty neighborhoods like UNESCO site Casco Viejo, a cobblestoned town of aging colonial and neoclassical buildings, now charms with atmospheric boutique hotels and buzzing restaurants.

Where to StayLatin America’s first Hard Rock Hotel, a sixty-story tower in Panama City primed for panoramic views of the downtown and bay, is expected to open in early 2012. For stylish lodgings in Casco Viejo, converted townhouse hotel Las Clementinas offers six romantic suites, a private rooftop terrace, and brasserie-style restaurant. The just-opened, 611-room Westin Playa Bonita is located on the beach, a 20-minute drive from the city. Or, if you wish to traverse the canal, hop aboard Royal Caribbean's 2,000-passenger Vision of the Seas, which will sail the Panama Canal twice in 2012 due to increased customer demand (it's the first time the vessel has sailed the Panama Canal since 2009). See more Panama City hotel reviews.

Insider TipHead to Panama’s offshore archipelagos—Bocas del Toro and San Blas—for over-the-water bungalows and rainforest eco-lodges, deserted beaches, and Panama’s indigenous Kuna tribe.

When to GoAs the locals say, there are only two seasons in Panama: hot and hotter. Most crowds descend January through March to escape the northern winters, while December and April are a little quieter.

Plan Your TripVisit Fodor's Panama Travel Guide for the latest hotel, restaurant, and shopping recommendations in Panama City and beyond.

Photo: zxvisual/istockphoto

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