Planning a 1-2 week Panama vacation? There’s plenty to squeeze in. While Panama has a lot to offer, the following itineraries are designed to create a relaxing vacation that minimizes your time spent in transit, and maximizes your time out exploring. We think the best Panama vacation is one that allows you to get to know part of the country deeply instead of having a “go-go-go” trip across too many locations.
Spend more time exploring Panama than in transit
This Panama vacation guide is aimed at adventure and nature enthusiasts: if you have highly specific interests other than sportfishing, then just use the advice below for part of your vacation. For example, if you really want a surf vacation, head straight to the Pedasi region, especially Playa Venao and Cambutal; if you are looking to dive for a week, either find a live-aboard near Isla Coiba or consider going somewhere other than Panama.
One Week: 1 night in Panama City, 1 night in Boquete, plus 5 nights at Isla Palenque
If you have a week or less to spend in Panama, then you’ll want to spend most of it at Isla Palenque. Spend no more than one night in Panama City, probably as a layover between one of your international and regional flight connections. The Chiriquí highlands town of Boquete is a great place to take a coffee plantation tour and see the high altitude cloud forests by zipline or on foot. This can be done as a long day-trip, or while spending a night in the town. We recommend spending the rest of your trip at Isla Palenque in the Gulf of Chiriquí, enjoying our tropical forests, our seven private beaches, and other nearby islands. Since both Boquete and Isla Palenque are accessible via a flight to David, this plan minimizes your time spent transiting Panama and allows you to focus on enjoying the country. Find out how to get here!
Isla Palenque – a private island sanctuary from civilization in Panama
Two Weeks: 3 nights in Panama City, 2 nights in San Blas, 2 nights in Boquete, and 7 nights at Isla Palenque
If you have two weeks, then spend a little more time in each of the places we recommend for the one-week vacation, and add some time in San Blas, the Kuna Yala’s comarca on the Caribbean side of Panama.
Isla Palenque truly does make a perfect location to experience most of what Panama has to offer: tropical forest filled with wildlife, pristine beaches and warm waters, and a location in the Gulf of Chiriquí with easy access to world-class sport fishing. There’s also plenty of culture to experience nearby such as a visit to the indigenous Ngobe-Bugle tribe. If you’ve got cloud forests on your bucket list, you can check it off with a visit to Boquete, conveniently accessible via the same flight to David.
Experience seven private beaches on Isla Palenque
Despite being one of the best Central American cities to live in and something of a shopping mecca for much of South America, Panama City doesn’t have too much to offer visitors with access to many of the world’s greatest cities. It’s best used as a quick base for visiting the main urban attractions during layovers between flights to Chiriquí or San Blas. If you have more than a week in Panama and/or are travelling through to get to multiple other locations, two or so consecutive days in the city is more than sufficient. Use your full day to make a trip to the Embera, or do a Canal Transit.
Panama City is a major shopping mecca and worth a quick stopover
Panama’s highlands are a fascinating place. As you rise in elevation, the temperature drops and you encounter cloud forests that would look almost Alpine if not for the palms and other tropical plants also in the mix. If this kind of environment interests you, Boquete makes a great base for exploring them. While Isla Palenque offers a day trip to Boquete to experience the town, cloud forests and coffee plantations, you can save yourself a good few hours of travel time by going there immediately before or after a stay on the island.
Boquete is famous for its coffee, cloud forests and quetzals
While Isla Palenque offers a perfect experience of Panama’s Pacific coast, if you have more than a week in the country, the Caribbean side is different enough that you should make an effort to experience it. If you do want to visit the Caribbean side of Panama, San Blas is the place to go (skip Bocas del Toro unless partying with twenty-somethings is your kind of fun). San Blas is in the Guna Yala Comarca (a semi-autonomous province) and its turquoise waters dotted with idyllic, palm-filled islands offer some truly spectacular snorkelling and swimming opportunities, as well as a chance to connect with the locals.
Most lodgings within the Comarca itself are very rustic, but there are some options nearby that offer a higher level of accommodations. Even better yet, get a room on one of the charter sailboat companies that tool around the islands.
While it is possible to drive between Panama City and San Blas, it is easier to take flights with Air Panama.
The San Blas islands offer the quintessential Caribbean expeirence