A stay in Panama City is complemented by a journey across the isthmus, if only for cultural contrast. You can reach the Caribbean coast by bus or car, but the most enjoyable way is on the Panama Canal Railway, which spirits passengers from coast to coast in just one hour.
It’s easy to reach the stunning Caribbean archipelago of Guna Yala (previously known as Kuna Yala, also known as San Blas) from the capital with flights to several islands. Alternatively, you can take private overland transport to Carti and go from there. The Guna maintain strict control over their semi-autonomous territory and it can be complicated getting around without your own boat. After a few days lolling on the beaches, snorkelling in coral reefs, eating fresh seafood and exploring interesting indigenous villages, most visitors find they need to fly back to Panama City.
From Panama City, head west to the Caribbean coast and the province of Bocas del Toro, where you’ll be rewarded with a string of stunning Caribbean islands. Unwind on the beaches, go searching for neon frogs, snorkel, scuba dive or visit the intrepid communities of the indigenous Naso and Ngabe – it’s up to you.