1. Panama picked # 1 place to Go in 2012 by the New York Times

Why was Panama picked as the #1 place to travel to in 2012 by the New York Times? Although Panama is a small country, about the size of South Carolina, it has a great variety of world-class attractions—exotic tropical rainforests, beautiful mountain refuges, two coasts for Caribbean and pacific style beaches, more than a 1000 islands, seven living Indian cultures in their own reservations, a Miami-style sophisticated capital city, a vibrant nightlife, full service resorts, exotic off-the-beaten-path getaways, scads of Spanish colonial historical sites, world class golfing, diving, sport fishing, and surfing, not to mention that 8th wonder of the world and engineering marvel, the Panama Canal. It is hard to think of any other destination in the world that has such a variety of attractions so close by and so easy to get to.

2.Panama, the affordable exotic destination

In today’s economy people are looking for tourism bargains. Normally the kind of pristine natural beauty Panama offers has a hefty price tag on it. However, because Panama has just begun to promote itself as a tourist destination, its prices are some of the best in exotic travel. Within Panama City, taxis and meals and hotel prices in all categories are particularly pleasing. In fact the Economist just published a study that found Panama City to be one of the ten least expensive cities in the world! Yet, even though it is economical, you will find that Panamanians know how to do things right.


3. Panama is Safe

Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America for tourists. Tourism crime especially is low. You won’t have to be constantly on your guard for pick-pockets or purse snatchers like in other countries in the region. Foreign residents will tell you how safe they feel in Panama compared to other countries in the region and it is only getting better. Under the new Martinelli government, effective measures are being taken that have already reduced crimes in general by 28%.

 

4.Panama is the best place for nature travel and ecotourism today

Panama has the most accessible exotic nature in the world. Its position as a narrow land bridge connecting two continents endowed it with some of the worlds’ most pristine and bio-diverse rainforests, with national parks covering 5 million acres. There is a local saying: “In other countries you have 20 tourists looking at one bird, while in Panama you have one tourist looking at 20 birds.” A key indicator of its bio-diversity: Panama has 944 recorded bird species, more than the U.S. and Canada combined. Importantly, all that great nature is very accessible- some of the best locations are less than an hour from Panama City!

See Laguna Azul Ecolodge

 

5. Panama has some of the best and most accessible places in the world for bird watching and nature observation.

Panama City is nestled right next to the only rainforest within city limits in the world, the Metropolitan Park, as well as the Panama Canal rainforest where some of the best day trips are. Pipeline Road, the scene of a world record (350 bird species counted in one day) is scarcely a half an hour from Panama City. In Panama, you can get very close to the best of tropical nature without traveling long distances, giving up your creature comforts or putting yourself in any kind of danger.


6. Panama has world-class fishing, diving, snorkeling and sailing.

Panama has world class fishing spots in a number of places on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. One place in Panama, Piñas Bay, holds 170 world fishing records. Panama’s abundant marine life also supports five excellent diving and snorkeling areas: Coiba National Marine Park, the Pearl Islands, Bocas del Toro archipelago, Portobello and the Chiriqui Coast.


 

7. Panama is a great place to visit living Indian cultures.

Panama has not one, but 6 colorful Indian tribes right out of the pages of National Geographic. Each of them lives in sovereign territories where they preserve their own fascinating culture and way of life. Many live in accessible locations and are happy to share their life and culture with visitors.

1. Fly From Costa Rica. For those visiting West Panama ie Bocas del Toro or Chiriqui province

You can fly to Costa Rica and then fly to David, Panama. Because of high volume, airfares are much cheaper to Costa Rica and with some research you can find flights to San Jose for as little as $200.00. From San Jose you can take bus (around $30) to David, the capital of Chiriqui or you can fly to David on Air Panama for $245. Air Panama flies to David on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We recommend you fly from San Jose to David since the border crossing experience is miserable.

2. Fly Monday thru Thursday.

Airfares are lowest on those days so plan both to depart and return on those weeks days and you will get the lowest fare on regular airlines.

3. Avoid coming to Panama from December 15th to January 6th. Fares are highest during the Christmas/New Year holidays. Mid December thru March which is the high season and the summer months June-August fares are also higher.

4. Get a Retirement Visa in Panama and get a 25% discount on all international and domestic airfares.

If you are going to reside in Panama and are of retirement age ( in Panama that is 57 for a woman and 60 for a man) get a Retirement Visa. For this you need a lawyer and it will cost around $1000.00.
But it will pay for itself quickly in airfares, since all retired persons get a 25% discount on both international and domestic airfares.
( Your retirement visa makes you eligible for many other discounts as well. See our Panamainfo page about Retired Persons discounts)

5. Visit Panama Free on a Stop Over Visit.

If you’re going somewhere else in the region via Panama on Copa, you can schedule a Panama vacation stop for free. Copa doesn’t charge for layovers in Panama.
Also, you can use your frequent flyer miles with Continental, Delta and Copa which all share the same frequent flyer program. Copa has the most direct flights to Panama- from New York, Newark, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando and Washington D.C.

 Bonus: Cheapest Flights to and from Europe

KLM has direct flights three times a week from Amsterdam and Iberia has direct flights three times a week from Madrid. These flights usually have the lowest fares. If you are in Panama neither airline has a customer service office so the only way to get a ticket is online or through a local travel agency. We recommend Fidanque Travel, tel: 265-5599.

Getting to Bocas del Toro by bus or Boat

 

  • There are two routes into Bocas del Toro Province, one over the lush, jagged mountains from Chiriqui, the other from the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Buses travel both of these routes. If you are traveling from Costa Rica, take the bus to the border.

The town is located on Isla Colon and you ll need to take a boat to access it. Boats departs frequently from the towns of Almirante and Changuinola. If you re coming from the costa rican border it is faster to take the boat in Changuinola (7 US$), if you re coming from David, it will be cheaper to take the boat from Almirante (4 US$).

  • From the border in Panama (closes at 5 pm Panamenian Time!) you can take a 10 US mini bus to Almirante and a 25 minutes boat from there to Bocas del Toro (town) (4 US$).
  • Take a chicken bus to Changuinola and a taxi to the docks and then the 1 hour / 7 US$ boat to Bocas del Toro (town) or a Minibus for 5 US from the border straight to the docks of Changuinola.
  • The cheapest way is probably going with the chicken bus (leaves every hour/1 US$) to Changuinola, take a regular bus to Almirante (~1,50 / one hour) and the 4 US$ boat to the island.

There are several flights into Bocas from Panama City. AirPanama flies from the capital twice a day everyday (45 mins $80), and Aeroperlas does the same thing at the same price. *** As of March 1, 2012, Aeroperlas has suspended operations, so Air Panama is the only option.

Nature Air flies from San Jose, Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro 4 times per week. The cost is $110 each way plus $26 international departure fee and $12 for a Panamanian entry stamp.

Located 32km from the Costa Rican border, the Archipiélago de Bocas del Toro consists of six densely forested islands, scores of uninhabited islets and Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos, Panama’s oldest marine park. Although Bocas is Panama’s principal tourist draw card, a fair measure of authenticity remains. Low-key development has maintained the charm of small-town Caribbean life and the absence of megahotels has preserved the archipelago’s idyllic beauty. Even the most developed of the islands, Isla Colón, possesses a strong local flavor and appealingly slow way of life, while the oft-forgotten Isla Carenero is a lovely, peaceful haven.

Bocas’ laid-back Caribbean vibe is enhanced by the archipelago’s spectacular natural setting. The islands are covered in dense jungles of vine tangles and forest palms that open up to pristine beaches fringed by reeds and mangroves. Beneath the water, an extensive coral reef ecosystem supports countless species of tropical fish while simultaneously providing some seriously gnarly surf breaks. In Bocas, hiking through huge swaths of rainforest to arrive at an empty stretch of wave-pounded shore is pretty much the norm.

The mainland is home to the Panamanian half of the binational Parque Internacional La Amistad. Here, primary rainforests are home to unforgettable fauna such as the elusive jaguar, as well as a handful of Ngöbe-Buglé settlements that are still clinging to their traditional ways of life.

Activities in Bocas del Toro by Laguna Azul Ecolodge

Bastimentos Island  is an island with eponymous town, and corregimiento located in the Bocas del Toro District and archipelage of Bocas del Toro Province, Panama. The island is about 20 square miles (52 km2), one of the largest in Panama.Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park encompasses a large portion of Bastimentos Island, Zapatilla Cays, in addition to the waters and mangroves that surround the island.

The western tip of the island, better known as Bastimentos, is clearly visible from Bocas town, and is not part of the National Park itself. There are several private residences here.

Bastimentos National Park (Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos) encompasses a large area of Bastimentos Island of the Zapatilla Cayes in Bocas Del Toro Province. This marine park covers approximately 13,000 hectares of both land and ocean.

The beachfront areas in the park are mostly located on the eastern side which faces the Caribbean Sea. One of the most popular beach areas of the park is called Red Frog Beach, so named for the red poison dart frogs that can be found here. Other less accessible beach areas are not as popular with tourists and are located in both northern and southern areas of the park. They can be reached by hiking along a beach trail.

The park is home to a diverse collection of wildlife, birds and plants, including the poison dart frogs, howler monkeys and two and three toed sloths. However, there are no trails into the interior of the island, so opportunities to observe wildlife may be limited. There is excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities in the area due to unspoiled coral reefs which are home to over 200 species of marine fish.

The culture of Bastimentos is very different from the neighboring islands. It is very rustic, and the locals speak Guari Guari, which is a mixture of English and Spanish with very heavy creole influences. Bastimentos also does not have any cars, scooters, or motorized vehicles of any kind on the island. The “road” through the town of Old Bank, which inhabits only 600 people, is just a large paved sidewalk lined with brightly painted houses, only about 4 basic restaurants, very rustic bars, and of course many playing children, stray dogs, roosters, chickens, and an occasional goat.

In Laguna Azul Ecolodge we provide daily tours to visit the Bastimentos National Park . Contact our Personal Concierge for more information

Tucked away in a tranquil bay on its own private island Laguna Azul offers unparallelled luxury, service, and value. Surrounded by clear-blue waters and surreal mangrove orchards, the entire all-inclusive lodge at Laguna Azul is built out over the water amongst a vibrant coral reef. Constructed by a local indigenous community this lodge was built to exist in perfect harmony with its surroundings. Laguna Azul uses the latest eco-technology to help help eliminate its environmental footprint.

Each of the six spacious rooms features either one comfy, hand-crafted, queen-sized bed or one queen and one double bed. The rooms also offer a sitting area, vanity, ample closet space, full bathroom with hot water, fans, and a private balcony with a stunning ocean view. In order to minimize their environmental impact Laguna Azul does not offer air conditioning but with the high-quality fans drawing the fresh-ocean air you won’t miss it.

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On the main floor of the lodge you can catch a movie in the entertainment room, relax with a book in the reading room, or just sit out on the giant deck and stare out at the serene natural environment. The enormous living room is stylishly decorated, surrounding you with art, music, and culture. It also features a wet bar, and cushy ratan furniture designed to make you feel at home.
Start your day with a proper full breakfast including fresh juice and fruit in the cheerful dining room. Here, you’ll also enjoy a unique, three-course, gourmet lunch and dinner, with generous portions of freshly caught seafood and other traditional accompaniments.

If you like to keep in shape while you’re on vacation, Laguna Azul offers a complimentary gym or you can grab some snorkelling gear and explore the reef right outside your door. Canoes and kayaks are also included with your accommodation.
Each day you’ll have the chance to tour different sites around Bocas. Spend some time on stunning, virgin beaches, enjoy a cultural experience with the Ngobe community, trek through pristine rainforests, or go dolphin watching. The staff at Laguna Azul can also arrange diving, surfing, and fishing trips.

See original article at Panama Travel Unlimited