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Sure, the Panama Canal is a pretty cool site to behold, but as soon as you’ve seen it, get out of the city and make your way to the hundreds of Panamanian islands in the Caribbean sea and Pacific Ocean. Here are some of our favourites:
Isla Bastimentos National Park, Bocas del Toro: Looking for something that feels really exotic? You’ll love the soft sand of this beach, backed by a lush jungle. To add to the paradise-lost feel, the clear water holds an impressive display of coral that attracts hordes of fish (dn’t forget your snorkel!) The park’s main island, Isla Bastimentos, offers terrific beaches with clean sand and blue water, such as Red Frog Beach, Wizard Beach, and Playa Larga, which can be reached by a short walk or hike, or by boat during the calm-water season from August through October.
Santa Clara & Farallón, Pacific Coast: These two are the most appealing beaches along the Pacific Coast, and the best for swimming. Best of all, they lie within a 2-hour drive of Panama City. The beaches’ water is bluer and the sand cleaner and whiter than its neighbors closer to the city, and if you can get there on a weekday, you’ll avoid the crowds.
Las Perlas Archipelago: Close enough to Panama City for an easy weekend trip, the Pearl Islands are less well-known than the San Blas archipelago, and don’t attract as many tourists. An incredible place to go snorkeling, it’s also drier here during the rainy season. The nearby Isla Contadora offers lodging and day trips for fabulous snorkeling and visits to uninhabited beaches, and there is a luxury lodge, Hacienda San José, on Isla San José.
Las Lajas, Chiriquí Province: Because of strong currents, many of Panama’s beaches are not safe for swimming, but this spot is perfect for taking a dip or trying some bodysurfing. As a plus, the beach itself is 8 miles long, so you can really enjoy that romantic sunset walk.