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Fly to Panama City, where you’ll be staying in a lovingly restored landmark building in the Casco Viejo, poised between the ancient and modern parts of the city.
On your second day you’ll be treated to a guided tour of the Panama Canal, including a presentation by the Canal Authority and sightseeing at the Miraflores Locks and Visitor Centre, before returning to the city to explore the ruins of Old Panama and the 17th century Casco Viejo compound. You can even climb the cathedral tower for fantastic panoramic views of the city.
Stay: Two nights in a Cuarto Chico room at the American Trade Hotel.
Now you fly off to Playon Chico and the San Blas Islands where you’ll be staying in a picturesque overwater cabin and have plenty of time to relax on the white sand beach, bathe in turquoise waters, go snorkelling over coral reefs and trek through rainforest to discover mangroves, hidden waterfalls and rivers. You can take boat rides to visit local Kuna communities, go island-hopping, paddle traditional Kuna canoes and fish for your supper.
Stay: Two nights in an overwater cabin at Yandup Lodge.
A short internal flight takes you back to Panama City, ready for your transfer to the wonderful setting of Portobelo Bay. You’ll be staying in a luxurious resort nestling between the sea and the National Park of Portobelo. You can spend your time lazing on the perfect beach, but surely one of the high points of your stay will be the visit to an Embera village tucked away in the jungle surrounding Gatun Lake.
Here you’ll be welcomed by the indigenous people and given an interesting insight into their history, traditions and current way of life, including their music and dance. Of special interest are their masterfully woven baskets and masks, carved tagua – vegetable ivory – and wood figures.
Stay: Three nights in a sea or forest cabin at El Otro Lado.
After returning to Panama City you’ll fly to David, then travel on to Boquete, set high on the eastern slopes of Volcan Baru. This charming mountain village is known as the centre of production for Panama’s sweetest oranges and best coffee – the hillsides are cloaked in picturesque plantations that are worked by local people. The sustainable farming practices mean the region is rich in exotic birdlife.
On day two you can take a guided hike along the famous Los Quetzales Trail, venturing into the National Park Baru to see quetzals, hummingbirds and numerous animals. Your final day takes you to a highland coffee plantation where you’ll learn about the whole production process – from tending and harvesting by indigenous Ngobe Bugle Indians to tasting the finished product in an old mill.
Stay: Three nights in Finca Lerida.
A journey of between two and three hours takes you through spectacular countryside to Boca Brava; an almost deserted island just off the Pacific Coast. Here you’ll be staying in a luxury bungalow perched high on a rocky promontory with great views and a natural soundtrack that includes crashing waves, birdsong, geckos and howler monkeys.
Time will pass quickly here, with snorkelling over wonderful reefs, horse riding along deserted beaches, kayaking through mangroves, hiking through the rainforest with a Ngobe Bugle Indian guide and looking out for wildlife that includes jaguars, ocelots, racoons and ant eaters. Out to sea you may spot whales, dolphins, sea turtles and colourful tropical fish.
Stay: Three nights in a bungalow suite at Cala Mia.
Returning to Panama, your last evening will be spent in a prestigious hotel in one of the city’s foremost areas. So you’ll be able to take advantage of a wide range of shopping, dining out and sightseeing opportunities.
The next day you’ll fly home from Panama in the evening.
Stay: One night in a tower executive room at the Bristol Hotel.
What was particularly impressive was the way in which Catherine listened to what we like to do and combined all of this in a destination we would not have considered - a truly terrific effort.- OL, Caribbean