Central Panama’s destinations are nearly all within a two-hour drive from Panama City, or in the case of the islands to the southeast, within 90 minutes of the city by boat or plane. Most of the region's attractions can be visited on day trips from the capital, but a couple of spots require overnights. Calle Omar Torrijos leads north from Panama City's Balboa neighborhood to the canal's Pacific locks, Summit, Gamboa, and Gatún Lake. If you go straight on that road past the left turn for Gamboa, you’ll reach the Autopista Alfredo Motta, a toll road that leads to Sabanitas—where the road east to Portobelo and Santa Isabel begins—and Colón, and the turnoff for the Gatún Locks and San Lorenzo, shortly thereafter. The westbound Carretera Interamericana is reached by taking Avenida de los Mártires over the Bridge of the Americas. It becomes a two-lane highway and veers west before Chorrera, and winds over the mountains before reaching the Central Pacific beaches and El Valle de Antón, one to two hours from the city by car. The Pacific islands of Islas Taboga, and Contadora are reached by daily ferries or flights.
The Panama Canal and Environs. A visit to the Panama Canal offers not only the chance to see—and perhaps transit—one of the world's great engineering wonders, but also to witness its 21st-century expansion. The national parks nearby provide myriad opportunities for hiking and wildlife viewing.
The Central Caribbean Coast. The historic town of Portobelo is a scenic hub for Caribbean-influenced Panamanian culture and lively events, as well as a gateway to the natural and cultural wonders that lie farther east, while the San Lorenzo protected area is great for hiking and bird-watching near a centuries-old fort.
The Eastern Sierras. The unspoiled grandeur of Chagres national park and the Sierra Llorona mountain range provide an inspiring backdrop for hiking, white-water rafting, and visiting indigenous Emberá communities.
The Central Pacific Islands. Travelers looking for a relaxed, beach-oriented getaway from bustling Panama City do well in the sun-soaked Central Pacific Islands, including Taboga, an easy day trip by ferry from Panama City, and Contadora, which once attracted the nation's rich and famous to its shores.
The Central Pacific Coast. Panama's highest concentration of large, all-inclusive beach resorts—as well as golf courses—make this a popular vacation spot for Panama City residents as well as visitors.
The Cordillera Central. This cool, verdant mountain range provides a breathaking alternative to the often-hot coastline, with stunning vistas, great hiking, and charming small hotels.