Contributed by: Don WinnerThe Canadian Press - Many people see the scenery of Panama only in passing, from the deck of a cruise ship passing through the Panama Canal. But if you take the time to visit, you'll find even more scenic countryside, tropical birds and plants, and reefs for diving. Panama's official Tourist Bureau - http://www.visitpanama.com/ - (click on the tiny U.S. flag for the English version) offers a Destination of the Month, promoting spots such as the Anton Valley, an area of wildlife, villages, festivals and long-distance hiking. If you're more interested in the coast, look under "Where to Go" for "Islands, Coasts ..." in the category drop-down menu for information on spots such as La Barqueta beach, for kite surfing, or Boca del Drago, for scuba diving. Open up the menu again for "Mountains" and places including the Baru Volcano, Panama's highest elevation. (more)
But maybe you should back up a bit to the main page and pick up some basics under "General Information" including currency, history and culture, and "Services" for directories of places to stay ranging from hotels to campgrounds, and "albergues," or hostels.
What is there to see? The biggest and best known landmark is the Panama Canal - http://tinyurl.com/9uexed - where the Miraflores Visitors Center gives you a close-up view of ships. Try "Virtual Tour" for a half-dozen panoramas and several photos, and click on "About ACP" in the upper left for history and Frequently Asked Questions. Then browse through the online Canal History Museum - http://www.canalmuseum.com/ - and its collections of documents and photos. And for an extra visual kick, sit down with YouTube to watch a brief, speedy Panama Canal Timelapse - http://tinyurl.com/2bj3z7 - shot from a ship passing through the locks and crossing the isthmus.
Also on YouTube, take in a video tour - http://tinyurl.com/6vb4q2 - showing highlights of the scenery with selected wildlife.
Panama is the home of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute - http://tinyurl.com/9x7uv3 - with several research centres that also show visitors the natural side of the Panamanian Isthmus. Click on Barro Colorado, Culebra, Galeta and Bocas del Toro for photo galleries and visiting information.
For a bare-bones outline of other popular spots to see, visit Nuevo Mundo-http://tinyurl.com/9g5rbc - for locations of national parks and the San Blas Archipelago. If you want a quiet destination, Turquoise Net - http://www.turq.com/panama/index.php - suggests Coiba Island with plentiful wildlife, sandy beaches and the largest coral reef in the western Pacific.
Want someone else to handle details of your travels once you get there? Go to your favourite web search engine and type in "Panama Tours" for directories of numerous companies like Panama Tours - http://www.panamatours.com/ - the Virtual Tourist Center - http://www.panamatours.com.pa/ - or Panama Adventures - http://www.extremepanama.com/ - all of which that will take you places, with or without guides, that you might not find on your own.
Take a minute to check some basics at Facts for Travelers - http://tinyurl.com/874l44 - along with your passport, you need a tourist card. They also say the main tourist season is December to April, when the weather is drier.
Finally, you definitely need to visit the International Travel Information section of the U.S. State Department - http://tinyurl.com/9ch7v4 - for safety and security tips, and medical information including a link to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.