PANAMA

DESTINATIONS CENTRAL AMERICA / PANAMA

FACTS / Panama is uniquely positioned. This slim, strip of land separates oceans – the Pacific from the Atlantic – as well as continents – North America from South. Its status as a global crossroads has ensured it is anything but homogenous. Go to its culturally diverse capital, Panama City, to see it at its most cosmopolitan and stylish. Here Mexican, European, African, Asian and indigenous cultures mix and mingle, and tightly packed skyscrapers loom over the thread of narrow, balcony-lined colonial streets. Outside of this metropolis, Panama’s natural beauty comes to the fore, with wildlife-rich jungles, volcanoes and paradisiacal beaches.

 

STAY /  It’s hard to get any further ‘away from it all’ than El Otro Lado. Located at the far edge of Panama on the fringes of Portobelo National Park, this design-focused resort is so secluded, it can only be reached by boat. With just five individually designed houses here, it feels less like a hotel than a luxurious private estate.  Small though it is, El Otro Lado is impeccably formed, with facilities that will you to unwind. Hang around the infinity pool, arrange to have a relaxing Caribbean-inspired massage or inject some color to your own holiday style with a manicure. With blissful beach and virgin rainforest on its doorstep, the opportunities for outdoor explorations are plentiful. Arrange to go kayaking, hiking or surfing, or take a daytrip to visit an indigenous tribe.

LEARN /  Frank Gehry’s striking sculptural designs never fail to make an impact. From the dazzling Guggenheim in Bilbao to the curved gleaming forms of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Gehry’s eye-catching creations have the power to transform a place. In 2014, Panama City’s own Gehry-designed gem, the Biomuseuo, opened. With its bold color scheme and bright metal canopies, it is difficult to miss. Inside, the exhibition spaces are devoted to Panama’s geological origins and its impact on the planet’s biodiversity.

EXPERIENCE /  The San Blas are a cluster of picture-perfect Caribbean islands with sands so startlingly white and waters so impossibly clear, they look like they’ve been touched up by Photoshop. For a weary nomad tired out from travel, the islands’ promise of sun, sand and easy-living is hard to resist. The archipelago is occupied by the indigenous Kuna Indians and developers have thankfully been kept at bay. Head to the more remote outer islands to find deserted beaches, where the biggest decision you’ll face is what bathing suit to wear next.

VIEW /  Panama is perhaps best known for two things: the Panama hat and the Panama Canal. The eponymous straw hat actually hails from Ecuador, but the canal is a true blue Panamanian, and is justifiably, the country’s prime tourist attraction. The history of the canal is appalling, and thousands of workers perished during the build, yet the canal itself is an awe-inspiring spectacle. It runs from the Pacific coast through to the Atlantic, and the most common spot to see it is at the viewing platform at Miraflores Visitors Center, just outside Panama City.

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