It has its own unknown, unspoilt paradise

You could be forgiven for thinking that the iconic Panama City is all Panama has to offer to tourists. However, located a 5-hour drive to the west of Panama City are the beautiful Bocas del Toro islands.

Picture azure waters lapping over perfect white sands; accommodation ranging from rustic beach huts to luxury resorts; with activities such as snorkelling or surfing to keep you busy. The diverse ecosystem and beautiful landscape make the islands a haven for walking and nature enthusiasts while the crystal clear waters make it ideal for divers ranging from the amateur snorkeler to the experienced diver.

The Bocas del Toro islands are an unspoiled, quiet paradise just a car rental drive away from the capital city.

In Panama, you can see the sunrise and set on two different oceans

Because of Panama’s unique geographical position, it is possible to see the sunrise on the Pacific Ocean and set on the Atlantic Ocean. The narrowest part of Panama, which is 80km, separates the two oceans from one another.

Panama is the only place on the planet where you can experience this unique phenomenon, so it is certainly worth visiting!

It has more beaches than you might think…

Panama has 5,637 kilometres of coastline and is made up of 1,518 islands. So, as you might expect, Panama has a lot of beaches to choose from. From the tropical, deserted beaches in the west of the country, to the built up, busy beaches of Panama City, Panama has you covered on the beach front, whatever kind of beach-dweller you are.

Panama has a staggeringly diverse eco-system

Panama has the most diverse eco-system in Central America; the country is home to both North and South American species. Panama is also home to more species of birds than the United States and Canada combined, with 940 avian species native to the country. Given this staggering piece of information, it is perhaps of little surprise that Panama is considered one of the best bird watching locations in the world. Cana, considered the best bird watching site in the country, is located in the easterly most part of the country, at Parque Nacional Darien, where you can spot four different species of macaw, golden-headed quetzals and black-tipped cotinga.

In addition to Panama’s bird-watching accolades, the country also houses 218 different species of mammal, 226 species of reptile and 164 amphibian species. The country is also home to 125 species that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet, making it one of the most diverse and rich eco-systems in the world and a country not to be missed for nature enthusiasts!

Take a cruise on the Panama Canal

At 77km, the Panama Canal links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans together. When it was opened in 1914, the canal revolutionised trade by saving traders from making the arduous journey around the tip of South America. More than 60 million pounds of dynamite was used in the initial construction of the channel, and over 26,000 workers lost their lives during a manic  production process.

All ships that pass through the canal must pay a toll based on their weight. The most expensive toll paid was $330,000 by a Disney Cruise ship in 2008.  Conversely, American explorer Richard Halliburton swam the length of the canal in 1928, and was made to pay 36 cents in toll.

Today, the canal transports 4% of worldwide trade and 16% of U.S trade. Between 12,000 and 15,000 ships pass through the canal annually, with the United States, Japan, Chile and North Korea using it the most.

There are several companies that run cruises up the Panama Canal, which offer a unique chance to learn more about this fascinating and unique testament to human engineering ingenuity.

It’s the best place in the world to retire

Aside from the tropical climate, unique Latin culture and sun-kissed beaches, the Panamanian government offers several extra incentives for the retired, which make it one of the best places in the world to retire.

Retirees with a pension of $1,000 a month or over can apply for the ‘Pensionado’ pension scheme. The benefits of this scheme include 50% off entertainment, 30% off bus, ferry and train fares and 25% off domestic airline fees. Pensioners can also expect 30-50% off hotel stays and 15-25% off at restaurants. In addition, 10-20% reduction of medical expenses and 50% of closing costs for home loans are part of ‘Pensionado.’

For all these reasons, and more, Panama has become a hotspot for expatriates to come and spend their twilight years.

Panama hats don’t actually come from Panama

Panama hats, as made famous by Teddy Roosevelt, don’t actually come from Panama. The former United States president was spotted by the Panama Canal wearing a straw hat that became synonymous with Panama, despite the fact it didn’t actually come from Panama.

So, if you’d like to bring back an authentic souvenir, skip the hat stalls and look at the crafts made my locals. Different tribes are known for creating a plethora of different souvenirs; The Ngobe-Bugle, in the north, make and sell beautiful jute bags and bead works. While the Embera people of the south are known for woodcarvings and baskets, made from palm and chunga.

It had its own Alcatraz

Operational from 1919 to 2004, Panama had a penal colony on Isla de Coiba. The prison housed some of the country’s most dangerous prisoners until the surrounding waters became a UNESCO World Heritage Site when the prison was disbanded in 2004.

It is still possible to stay at the ranger station on Coiba Island. The station has six air-conditioned bunks, with electricity and private baths. The shallow azure waters are perfect for snorkeling and are also home to rare Scarlet Macaw.