With a year-round tropical climate and so much diversity from the mountains to the beaches, Panama is a perfect setting for incredible outdoor adventures. Whether you prefer to travel independently or with a group, there is no shortage of things to do at all skill levels. Here is a list of some of the most popular to choose from. A few of these are real adrenalin rushes and not for the faint of heart. One is a bit out of the ordinary!
1. Canopy Zip-lining
Zip-lining is a sport that is growing more popular in Panama and can be found in many areas of the country including El Valle, Gamboa, and Boquete. Safely strapped into a harness on a steel cable, gravity propels you in this incredible journey over lush jungle tree canopies. You soar high above and through the trees from platform to platform, above waterfalls, streams, and wildlife not always spotted from the ground. Invigorating!
2. Whale & Dolphin Watching
Many people don’t realize that Panama is the only place in the world where Humpback whales from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres come to breed and give birth. This is an adventure for all skill levels and something you’ll never forget! Whale watching season in Panama is from about July through October. Many species of Dolphins make Panama their home year-round. Please choose a tour company that practices responsible whale watching.
3. Sport Fishing
World-class offshore sport fishing is some of the best in the Chiriqui Bay, on the Pacific Ocean side of Panama. Hannibal Bank, near Coiba Island, is world-famous. There are several options for fishing tours, from day trips to all-inclusive stays. Whether you prefer deep-sea fishing for Tuna or Marlin, bottom fishing for Snapper or Grouper, or freshwater fly fishing for Peacock Bass in Lake Gatun, Panama is rich with the ‘Catch of the Day’!
4. Mountain Biking
There are many different types of terrain on which to explore the country of Panama via pedal power. In Bocas del Toro, bikes can be rented anywhere and the island’s various beaches toured along paved and dirt roads. Boquete and El Valle also have bike rentals to test your strength and endurance on beautiful, lush mountain and hill trails. For city dwellers, Panama City has popular biking routes along the Amador Causeway where you will see bikers decked out in super cool bike gear, some preparing for the Triathlon. Be prepared to sweat in the city!
5. Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
Panama offers clear blue waters for snorkeling and diving on both the Pacific Ocean side and the Caribbean side of the country. On the Pacific Ocean there is Coiba National Park, identified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2005, which includes 38 islands and the waters surrounding them. Scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute say this is an unparalleled destination for discovering new species. You’ll see lots of big fish here and a unique dive environment. In Bocas del Toro, on the Caribbean side of Panama, you’ll find Bastimentos National Marine Park. There are many excursions available to the Zapatillas Cays, where the diving is spectacular and the beaches pristine. There are a wide variety of corals and reef fish here, as well as spotted rays and sea turtles.
6. Jungle Hiking
Hiking tours are available for just about any skill level. Did you know the Panama rain forest is the second largest in the Western hemisphere, after the Amazon? You’ll find so much bio-diversity from the lowland tropical forest of Soberania National Park near Panama City to the highland jungles of one of Central America’s largest nature preserves, La Amistad International Peace Park, near Volcan Baru. As you explore, keep an eye out for exotic birds, three-toed sloths, monkeys, iguanas, and a wide color assortment of little frogs. Be sure to bring your camera for amazing photo opportunities.
Yes, there is surf in Panama! In fact, recent discovery of the fabulous surfing available here has led to International surf meets being held throughout the year. For now, you can often find you have nobody else in the water to fight for wave position with – they are all yours. There are several places that offer surf and stand up paddleboard lessons for those who are new to the sport. Panama is a country where you can surf on both the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic in the same day!
8. River Rafting
In the province of Chiriqui there is white river rafting available at all skill levels, from mild and gentle to wild and crazy class V’s. The scenery is breathtaking as you drift or plunge up and down the flowing waters. Closer to Panama City there are class II and III rapids in the Chagres River located in Chagres National Park.
9. Bat Cave Exploration
On the island of Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro, is the Nivida Bat Cave, a massive cavern that is swarming with Nectar Bats and even has an underground swimming hole if you want to cool off after the hike getting to the cave. About 2 hours from Panama City, in the town of Cañita, is Lake Bayano and another spectacular bat cave to explore with enormous limestone rock formations lining the path. A follow-up swim in a clear lagoon awaits you at the end.
10. Jet Pack Dolphin Man
Looking for a different kind of adrenalin rush? I witnessed this odd sight off the beach at a recent visit to the Sheraton Bijao, Playa Santa Clara, while I was shadowing a Panama Relocation Tour. I saw what looked very much like a dolphin man jumping completely out of the water over and over again, following a jet ski. Turns out, this is an adventure tour with a jetpack strapped to your feet. The jetpack let’s you jump out of the ocean into the sky, and then dive back in the water like a dolphin. Two of my friends were brave enough to try it and said it was a blast!
11. Bird Watching
With more than 1000 species of birds, Panama is a birders paradise. During many of the jungle hikes you will see exotic birds. There are also specific tours for birders. The famous quetzel bird is seen in Chiriqui province and throughout Panama.