Coast of Panama

by Lydia Schrandt for USA TODAY

Virtual Tour: Visit Panama from afar

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From jungles to beaches, skyscrapers to colonial villages, the Atlantic to the Pacific, Panama never ceases to impress.

Since its founding nearly five centuries ago, Panama City has become one of the most impressive capitals in Central America, all while holding close to its traditional roots.

Nowhere is the juxtaposition between old and new more evident than in Casco Viejo, Panama City’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic district.

The Panama Canal, an engineering marvel completed in 1914, facilitates the passage of some 14,500 vessels between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans each year.

Christopher Columbus named this area Portobelo, or "beautiful port," during his voyage in 1502. These days, the former Spanish port city has quieted to a lazy fishing village.

The province of Colon hosts the Festival de Diablos y Congos. This Afro-Panamanian folkloric dance depicts a mythic battle between the Congos and the devil.

The sombrero pintado (Panama hat) actually originates in Ecuador but was popularized in Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal.

The Pearl Islands, a picturesque archipelago of 39 islands and more than 100 islets, get their name from the black-lipped pearl oysters once found in its waters.

Among birdwatching enthusiasts, Panama is a bucket list destination. The country is home to nearly 1,000 species, including some 500 in Soberanía National Park.

Highlights on a birding trip might include spotting a macaw in flight, a quetzal in the cloud forests or an elusive harpy eagle (Panama’s national bird) soaring over the forest canopy.

The San Blas Islands, known locally as Guna Yala, comprise some 400 islands and unnamed islets in the Caribbean that attract the beach bum crowd with white sand expanses and colorful coral reefs.

The mola, one of Panama’s most recognizable textiles, originates from Guna Yala. Women of the Indigenous Guna community hand sew cotton panels to craft stunning blouses or decorative hangings.

Boquete, ranked among the prettiest towns in Panama, sits amid the coffee plantations and citrus orchards of the Chiriquí Highlands. The town has become a hub for outdoor adventure.

The pollera, the national dress of Panama, likely originated in Spain. Panamanian women adopted the dress of Spaniards during the colonial era and made it their own.

The word Veraguas means "see waters" – something you’ll certainly do when visiting Veraguas province. It’s the only province in the country to border both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

Turquoise waters and fine white sand beaches have made Bocas del Toro among the most popular beach destinations in Panama.

One of the most iconic critters you might spot in Panama is the red-eyed tree frog. This species can be found from Mexico to Colombia, living on bromeliads and palm fronds in the rainforest.

Volcan Baru rises 11,450 feet above sea level, making this dormant volcano the highest peak in Panama. Visitors who summit the volcano are rewarded with views that extend to both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

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