Unpretentious and picturesque, Pedasí’s streets are lined with tiled colonials where inhabitants greet evening as they have for generations – rocking on the porch. For years, this sleepy retreat bloomed only at festival times. But outsiders are discovering the big appeal of small-town life and wilderness beaches.
Although it feels more like a country town, David is Panama’s second-largest city and the capital of Chiriquí Province. Think more major agro industry than cultural hub; you will be disappointed if you have museums, clubs and fine dining on your mind. Yet, with a powerful wave of foreign capital flowing into Chiriquí, David is rapidly gaining wealth and importance.
Comarca de Kuna Yala
The Comarca de Kuna Yala is a narrow, 226km-long strip on the Caribbean coast that includes the Archipiélago de San Blás, which stretches from the Golfo de San Blás to the edge of the Colombian border. The islands are home to the Kuna, who run San Blás as a comarca (autonomous region) with minimal interference from the national government.
The secret about one of Central America's top surf spots is out. With a number of beach breaks, the right and left breaks of Santa Carolina are comparable to Oahu’s Sunset Beach on a good day. The fishing village has a laid-back feel, with one good outdoor pizzeria that forms the nexus of the dining and nightlife scene.
One of Panama’s oldest settlements, the hot city of Chitré is hardly geared toward travelers, but it’s an agreeable stop on the way to the peninsula. Though it has mostly cement structures, a handful of ornate red-tiled row homes hark back to the early days of Spanish settlement. Colonial records indicate that there was a village here as early as 1558.
Around Panama City
No visit to Panama City would be complete without taking a day trip to its famous waterway – though just remember that the Canal Zone is much, much more than just the canal. The rainforest surrounding the canal is easily accessed and one of the best places to view a variety of Central American wildlife.
The provincial capital of Coclé Province is a bustling crossroads city with a rich history. Founded in 1581, Penonomé blossomed so quickly that it served as the temporary capital of the isthmus in 1671 after the destruction of the first Panama City (now known as Panamá Viejo) and until Nueva Panamá (now known as Casco Viejo) was founded a few years later.
Las Tablas is ground zero for the street dancing, booze-soaked celebrations and all-out mayhem associated with the festivals of the Península de Azuero. Home to the country’s most famous Carnaval, Las Tablas is the best place in Panama to let go of your inhibitions, sample some seco and seriously cut loose.
Isla Contadora (Counting House Island) was once the accounting center for pearls before they were shipped to Spain. While multimillionaires once made their island their refuge, a government crackdown on tax evasion is embittering the once-sweet deal. Many empty mansions are now rented to vacationers.
Archipiélago de Las Perlas
Named for the large pearls found in its waters, the Pearl Islands comprise 90 named islands and over 100 unnamed islets, each surrounded by travel magazine–worthy, white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. Home to the palatial mansions of the rich and powerful, Isla Contadora is the best-known.