Visiting the Panama Canal, Coiba, and Bocas del Toro

2,121Views 0Comments Posted 17/05/2024

You can’t go to Panama and not see its most famous attraction: the 50-mile Panama Canal waterway—the so-called “Crossroads of the World”—which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Prior to the canal’s inauguration in 1914, the only way to transport goods between the two oceans was to sail around the southern tip of South America, a dangerous, 8,000-nautical-mile journey. While many travelers take in the spectacle from the viewing platform at the Miraflores Visitor Center, it’s worth doing a transit tour to get a complete picture of the canal’s history and engineering achievements.

Go snorkeling and diving in Coiba National ParkA string of 38 wildlife-rich islands off the southwest coast of Panama, Coiba National Park is a paradise for divers and nature enthusiasts. The best dive sites are scattered around the Rancheria, Canales, and Contreras islands, home to a dazzling array of aquatic life: colorful sea fans, white-tip sharks, loggerhead turtles, and one of the largest reefs in Central America. The park is just as known for its on-land diversity, in part due to the archipelago’s isolated location, which shelters it from the effects of El Niño. Bring your binoculars to zoom in on endemic species such as the Coiba howler monkey, the crested eagle, and the scarlet macaw. To better understand how the archipelago became such a hotbed of diversity, it’s worth reading up on the history of its main island, Coiba—a penal colony in the late 18th and early 19th centuries—where limited access allowed flora and fauna to flourish.

Live out Robinson Crusoe fantasies at a private island hotelIn Panama, private island fantasies are well within reach. Several of the country’s most exclusive hotels take over entire islands (and in the case of Islas Secas, an entire archipelago), giving travelers the ability to truly go off grid. Located off the Caribbean Coast, Nayara Bocas del Toro is an adults-only, all-inclusive paradise comprising 16 overwater villas and a pair of 50-foot treehouse accommodations that hover above a mangrove forest. The eco-resort has been designed for relaxation—its centerpiece is a 90-foot elevated overwater beach with velvety white sand and a stairway descending into the sea—but active guests will have plenty of activities like kayaking and snorkeling to keep them busy.


For even greater seclusion, you’ll want to set your sights on Islas Secas private-island hotel, which is located in the Gulf of Chiriquí off Panama’s west coast. The vision of billionaire investor and conservationist Louis Bacon (who also owns Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountain Lodge and Taos Ski Valley), this solar powered eco-lodge is sprawled across 14 tropical islands, 13 of which are undeveloped. All the action happens on the main island, Cavada, home to a collection of pavilions and casitas, the breezy Terraza restaurant, and an activities center for getting suited up in scuba and snorkel gear. Or simply kick back on your private wrap-around deck, watching humpback whales splash around in the bay.

The San Blas archipelago is home to the Guna (previously known as Kuna), an Indigenous group known for their colorfully embroidered clothing. Let’s talk about them tomorrow as we tour around Panama.