Visiting Panama

This Latin American jewel has been listed as one of the top holiday destinations for 2012.  Tropical Panama could make for a great getaway during the European winter.

Getting there

Abundant wildlife, with some species unique to Panama, along with two oceans to boast of and the laid-back lifestyle of the island residents is enticing an increasing number of visitors to its shores.   From the UK, one may fly to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City to begin a holiday.  Flights depart from Gatwick to Panama through Atlanta in the US or from Heathrow to Panama via Miami.

Panama City

The cosmopolitan capital, perhaps better known as home to the Panama Canal, is a vibrant mix of ethnicities and architecture; it has been an important trading post for centuries and reputedly has the fastest growing economy in Central America. The city is divided up into old and new town districts. 

The former is made up of Casco Viejo and Colon; it is not advisable to wander around these districts alone and at night; although by day the Casco is definitely worth a visit.  Perhaps consider taking in the Mardi Gras; one of the world’s biggest carnivals.  This riot of colourful festivities is held over four days leading up to Ash Wednesday.  There are many world-class establishments in which to stay, however early booking is recommended.

Bocas del Torro

Made up of numerous Caribbean islands and a mere 32km from Costa Rica, the area in and around Bocas will soothe weary souls with its natural beauty.  Air Panama has direct, regular flights from Panama City’s Albrook Airport or opt to drive along the Pan-American Highway to Almirante, around 570 kms.  From here, marine taxis collect passengers for Bocas town; approximately a 30 minute journey.

The dry season falls between April and December and this is considered a good time to travel with daytime temperatures reaching 32oC, cooling to around 21oC at night.

Cruising through the Panama Canal

Many travellers choose cruises mostly for the relaxation provided by this calming mode of travel. Others book cruises based on the final destination and regard them as a way to get to their desired location while still having time to adjust to changing hours so they can avoid jet lag.  A cruise through the Panama Canal, however, is truly a case where the cruise route itself is the major attraction for many travellers. 

The canal took more than ten years to complete, using about 75,000 workers at the peak of construction.  Located about 80 kilometres northwest of the capital of Panama, the canal is a popular cruising route between December and April each year, though it is open all year round. 

Traversing the locks of the canal is an exciting experience that passengers will remember for a lifetime, but of course there is a great deal more to the canal zone than the science and technology that makes this journey possible.  The jungle surrounds the ship on both sides and passengers have literally hours in which they can admire the passing shoreline and marvel at the tropical rain forest on display.

Since the canal links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, it is a great way for travellers from Europe to reach destinations such as the famed Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta and the port city of San Diego, California.  A Panama Canal cruise truly will be a voyage to remember. 

Panama Canal Cruises

The wonders that surround the Panama Canal are sure to impress any traveller. Cruises along this famous waterway take in famous locations in both the Caribbean and Central America and are a highly recommended option for anyone looking to experience some stunning tropical scenery and diverse culture.

The French were responsible for the construction of this man-made maritime thoroughfare, in 1880, but the US took over operations at the start of the 20th Century. Crossing the narrowest part of the American continent, the canal is a total of 48 miles long and carries a vast number of cargo and passenger ships between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The Panama cruise season runs from October to April, but traveller should take note that the rainy season in this region doesn’t usually end until the middle of November. Many of the main cruise companies offer voyages along the Panama Canal, with Princess Cruises operating 40 trips each season. The canal normally forms part of the route for cruises running from Florida that cut through the Caribbean, Panama and on to the west coast of Mexico. Cruise and stay holidays can range from 9 to 16 days.

Some cruises also allow passengers to leave the ship at destinations along the canal, such as Gamboa. As it is a relatively short leg of the journey, many ships pass though in a day. However, the opportunity to experience inspiring locations like Gamboa should not be missed. Also not to be passed by are Lake Gatun and the famous Gaillard Cut, on the Continental Divide.