Panama is a burgeoning destination that has much to offer, yet too few people know about its wonders. The Panama Canal celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014 with new locks, but outside of the landmark you studied in grade school, what do you really know about the country? Regularly named one of the best places to retire, it is always a top travel destination according to CNN, FOX, Forbes and many others.
There are plenty of things to see and do in this Latin American paradise so hop to it while you can still get luxury on a dime.
Opened in 2013, this new museum by Frank Gehry of Guggenheim fame is on everyone's radar. Showcasing the unique landmass that divides the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, it explains how the country changed the world through geology, biodiversity and conservation. The shifting of tectonic plates suddenly created the small country straddling two continents and ever since, Panama made a significant mark on the Earth.
Enbrace the Embera Village
Grab a quick cup of java and schedule an early morning adventure to the Embera Village via Gamboa Tours. The canoe trip upstream through the dense rainforest jungle on the Chagres River is memorable enough, but upon arrival, you will be met by members of the tribe that represent each generation on the island. You will be invited to dine, dance and dye with them as you get a feel for indigenous life. The women of the village are experts of natural pigmentation for coloring intricate basket patterns or you can get yourself dyed to leave with your own personal temporary tattoo drawn by a tribeswoman with a natural fruit called Jagus. Afterwards, enjoy a meal with the villagers of fresh fish and fried plantains (tostones style) that will make you wonder if you can return for lunch the next day. Whatever you do, don't forget your camera!
Refresh at the Spa
After all that excitement, it's time for a little relaxation. Lounge at the Renewal Suite at the Westin Playa Bonita to watch the boats line up to pass through the canal or if you're in the mood for a rub down, venture into the newly opened Sensory Spa by Clarins. Stay all day to enjoy a unique hydra-therapy room featuring a Raindance Rainmaker Experience Shower, Herbal Sauna and Amethyst Crystal Steam Room to aid your hydration and circulation. Not to be missed is the unique Pediluvio Stream where you walk through a current on round river stones to massage your feet.
Dine at Manolo Caracol
Venture into old town "Casco Veigo" for dinner in a colonial stucco building with décor that features local art and religious artifacts. Small plates and fixed menus are common in this region, but that's where the similarities end. The menu is created daily by Manolo, the chef inspired by the freshest items each morning at the market. You may want to brush up on your Spanish because this isn't a touristy restaurant; but fear not as hospitality is always on the menu.
Dance, Dance, Dance
Save some time and energy for a nightcap at the downstairs or rooftop bar at Tantalo in Casco Veijo. After gaining confidence from the world's best mojitos, it's time to put your dancing shoes on. Unique décor includes suitcase tabletops, stunning views and a cultivated live "green" wall. Make your way upstairs with the locals who define the term "dress to impress" and let the Panama breeze whisk you into the night.