Why Visit Panama: 15 Reasons To Explore This Underrated Country

When I proposed the idea of a Panama trip to my boyfriend Tim, he responded with “Why visit Panama though? Aside from the canal, what is in Panama?” The answer to that question is a lot more than we thought! 

Panama might be a small country but there are plenty of reasons to visit. Known as the ‘Crossroads of the World’, the country is hugely important in terms of global trade, largely thanks to the Panama Canal. Alongside this, Panama is home to incredible hiking trails, breathtaking nature and some of the world’s best beaches.

If you’ve been considering a trip to this largely overlooked Central American country, read on. I’ll tell you exactly why you need to make sure your next trip is to Panama!   

Read more: (opens in new tab)

Is Panama Worth Visiting? 15 Reasons To Convince You!

This post contains affiliate links. If you use them, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

1. Geographical Diversity

Panama is located in Central America, between the countries of Costa Rica and Colombia. It is one of the world’s only countries to have access to two oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic. This, combined with its location in the tropics, means that despite being a relatively small country, it is immensely varied.

Panama City high rises
Panama is an amazingly diverse country.

With bustling cities such as its capital, postcard-perfect island archipelagos and epic mountains in the Chiriqui Highlands, the country is enormously varied. If you’re someone who likes exploring a range of environments, Panama is definitely a country you should check out. 

2. Exotic Wildlife

With a diverse landscape, comes a wealth of exciting wildlife. Although overlooked in favour of neighbouring Costa Rica when it comes to wildlife, Panama is actually home to 255 species of mammal, 222 species of amphibians and a whopping 972 endemic bird species

Panama is home to incredible wildlife!

You don’t have to go very far to see wildlife either. Even in small pockets of the most unlikely destinations, wild animals can be found, making Panama a paradise for photographers. If you’re visiting Panama City, don’t miss the walk up to Ancón Hill and keep your eyes peeled for sloths! 

Also read: Amazing animals to spot in Panama.

3. Simple Currency Conversions

Did you know that Panama has two official currencies? The Balboa and the United States Dollar are equivalent in value and are both commonly distributed. This makes it very easy to work out the exchange rate, helpful when you need to stick to a budget. 

USD United States Dollar
Even I was able to cope with the currency conversion in Panama!

4. Easily Accessible

Continently located between North and South America, Panama is easily accessible. Many airlines fly direct from Europe to Panama City’s Tocuman Airport, making it a cost-effective destination to reach. Flights from North America can be pretty short too – Miami is only 2.5 hours away! 

Panama is easy to reach from all over the world.

In Panama City, there is also another airport that caters mainly to domestic flights. This means that if you are arriving from Europe or North America, it is very easy to catch an onward flight to other popular destinations in Panama, including Bocas del Toro or David. 

5. Small Size

At just shy of 76,000 km², Panama is a small country. In fact, it is even smaller than Scotland! This is hugely positive for travellers as it means that journeys from place to place rarely take long and many of the most popular destinations are served by buses, a cheap method of transport!

Bocas del Toro bus
Panama’s size makes most journeys a breeze!

6. Tropical Climate  

Owing to its tropical location, Panama benefits from warm weather and sunny days year-round. Although some areas of the country are cooler (for example, Boquete in the Highlands), temperatures rarely get cold.

Bocas del Drago
Panama is generally hot and humid year-round.

The Atlantic side of the country also referred to as the Caribbean Coast, is generally hotter than the Pacific side but both can be humid. Don’t forget to bring your suncream if you’re planning a bit of beach time! 

7. Largely Off The Radar

Panama is regularly overlooked by tourists in favour of other Central and South American destinations. It really shouldn’t be though! The plus side of the comparatively few tourists is that attractions tend to be less crowded and parts of Panama still feel quite wild – a huge draw for those who don’t like their holidays to feel too manicured. 

Casco Viejo Panama City
A rugged corner of Casco Viejo, Panama City.

8. World-Class Beaches

No matter whether you’re talking about the surfing hotspot of Santa Catalina, the black sands of Playa Venao or the palm-fringed islands of the San Blas, there is no denying that Panama is home to some truly stunning beaches.

Walk to starfish beach
Panama is known for its breathtaking beaches.

With beaches perfect for surfing, spotting wildlife and, of course, relaxing, I would go as far as saying that Panama is home to some of the best beaches in the entire world! Trust me when I say you need to see them for yourself.  

Also read: A guide to visiting Starfish Beach, Bocas del Toro.

9. Exciting Cuisine

While I’ll bet good money you don’t know much about Panamanian cuisine at the moment, this will certainly change after you visit the country. Boasting fresh seafood and warming broths, the food in Panama is varied, filling and tasty. 

Fish market food
A sample of fresh seafood on offer in Panama.

And the best thing? The price! While the tourist scene is still very much up and coming in many areas across the country, Panamanian fare is likely to be the only thing on offer in many places. Catering to the locals also means that prices stay low. 

Top tip! Don’t miss the excellent geisha coffee – the quality comes through in every sip. 

10. Low Cost of Living

Although Panama is one of the more expensive countries in Central America, the cost of living in this country is much reduced when compared to life in the US or Europe. This means that travellers coming from these places will see their money go further. This is one of the factors that make Panama such an appealing destination for digital nomads

Panama City street
Panama is reasonably priced for those coming from the US or Europe.

Also read: Things to do in Panama City for budget travellers.

11. Amazing Hiking Trails

Before visiting Panama, I had no idea that it was such an appealing destination for hikers. From trails through enigmatic cloud forests to dirt track slogs up to epic volcanoes, Panama is a wonderful place for hikers.

Hiking up to Baru
Making the final scramble up to the top of Volcan Baru.

Many of the country’s trails can be tackled independently provided you have access to something like maps.me or AllTrails. Just remember to pack hiking clothes to withstand the heat – Panama is super humid so you’ll want to wear breathable clothes when you’re on the trail! 

Also read: Panama packing list.

12. Paradise Islands

More than 1,600 islands belong to Panama, meaning that there are plenty of idyllic spots to while away a few days. Although it can be hard to choose between them, I’d strongly encourage you to make some time to see the San Blas Islands (Guna Yala). 

San Blas Islands
Panama is home to over 1000 idyllic islands!

This archipelago has a different island for every single day of the year and they are all unique and different. Many of these islands are little more than tiny rocky outcrops whereas others are home to growing communities. To get the most out of visiting San Blas, head off on a multi-day tour so you can explore as many of the coconut-clad islands as possible. 

Also read: How to get to the San Blas Islands, Panama

13. Rich Culture

Panama is home to a melting pot of culture and tradition which is still evident today. A blend of Panamanian, Spanish and African cultures has influenced the entire country, from food to clothing. 

Panama culture
A painting depicting traditional dress for the Kuna ladies.

Today there are seven indigenous peoples of Panama within the country, the Emberá, the Buglé, the Bri bri, the Naso Tjërdi, the Wounaan, the Ngäbe and the Guna. The latter is the most famous as they govern the popular tourist destinations of the San Blas Islands. 

14. Incredible Infrastructure

You may be surprised to learn that Panama is actually home to some of the best infrastructure in the whole of Central America. High-speed internet is available pretty much country-wide and the capital is home to the epic Panama Canal, a trading heavyweight. 

Punta Pacifica, Panama City
Panama has some of the best internet infrastructure in Latin America.

As well as this, Panama is a free-trade zone with a burgeoning banking scene, high-end hotel market and excellent real estate. 

15. An Adventure Playground

If you’re someone who is always searching for the next buzz when you travel, Panama may well be your dream destination. The opportunities to get your blood pumping are endless here, from diving and surfing on the coast to hiking, zip-lining and rafting in the cloud forest.

Canopy zip-line
If you’re an adventurous traveller, you’ll love Panama!

Far better than the question “why visit Panama?” is “why wouldn’t you?” This small but mighty country offers world-class attractions, all in one tiny and eminently accessible package. While it might not be the first destination you had in mind, it is sure to leave a long-lasting memory. 

Have you visited Panama before? What was your experience?