Having lived in Panama a couple of years and written the novel The Bookshop of Panama people often ask me about it. “That’s where the hat comes from, isn’t it?” or “There’s a canal in Panama, right?” In fact, it’s often surprising how little people know about Panama and how off the tourist radar it is, but in the last few years the country is starting to get more attention and for 2019 it was even ranked number four in Lonely Planet’s top ten destinations. So why is interest in this crossroads of the Americas starting to pick up and why should anyone consider a holiday to Panama?
A fiesta of tropical biodiversity – For such a small country, Panama is packed with many treasures – from white sandy coastal beaches to remote lush Islands, from tropical rainforests to misty highlands and coffee plantations – Panama is breathtakingly beautiful. Not only, Panama is unique in that it has both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines to explore and enjoy. Visit the Frank Gehry museum of biodiversity in Panama City at the start of your trip to get a good sense of the natural wonder of this tiny country.
Fascinating history – from the sacking of the old city ‘Panama Viejo’ by the pirate Sir Henry Morgan in 1671, to the construction of the most famous canal in the world, Panama has an extraordinary history to tell making it ‘cat nip’ for anyone with a curiosity for the past. You can still wander the ruined streets of Panama Viejo today and a visit to the canal is a must, where you can take a boat tour or have lunch at the Miraflores Locks – a truly unique experience.
An Oceanside capital with a glittering skyline – Panama City is a rival to the likes of Miami. With a throbbing nightlife full to the brim of salsa rhythms, jazz bars and everything else besides – and boasting a wide range of international cuisine – from delicious $2 street Tacos to 1 Star Michelin restaurants – There’s something for everyone. Try a regional favorite - a fresh seafood ceviche made from fish marinated in lemon and wash it down with an ice cold locally brewed Balboa beer.
The UNESCO Heritage protected ‘Casco Veijo’ – the atmospheric, ‘Havana style’ old town in Panama City - is worth a standalone shout out. It’s tranquil and languid by day and buzzing by night. It’s ideal for a stroll, souvenir shopping and bar hopping. Make it your base at the start and end of your trip and spend a night or two in one of the many beautifully restored colonial style hotels -– such as the fabulous American Trade Hotel (as featured in Condè Nast). This hotel was recently restored from a ruin previously used as a hold-out for local street gangs and is packed full of beautiful design features.
For the less seasoned traveler, Panama is a relatively easy destination – Many airlines now fly direct to Panama from Europe including KLM and Iberia. English is widely spoken, and the currency is the US dollar. Compared to many other countries in Central American it’s generally safe. Not only that but Panamanians are super friendly, and you can have a great holiday on a tight budget. The best time of year to visit Panama is in the dry season (the winter in the UK making it a great way to bust the winter blues) but you can visit all year round. Panama is not troubled by hurricanes or earthquakes.
So book your flight and pack your bags. And don’t forget to take a copy of The Bookshop of Panama with you.
The Bookshop of Panama – By Suzanne Hope – is set in Panama and is the perfect summer holiday read.
About the book:
Kate Lewis, burned out charity worker and self-described stick-in-the-mud is left high and dry in Panama by her UN action man boyfriend. Thankfully all is not lost as just around the corner is an oddball bunch of ex-pats, a random encounter in New York and a cocktail called Electric Lemonade. Is there any possibility of going back to her old life in London? Only Kate can decide…
Available on Amazon now.