When most people are asked about Panama, typically they can name the famous canal that connects the East and the West for trade, but aside from that, the small Central American nation is a well-kept secret. When I was asked by my good friend Adam Rosenberg to come photograph his new hotel and experience the country, I had no idea what I was in for. During my first night at Adam’s luxury hotel, Tantalo, he and I brainstormed a list of the most important aspects of Panama involving history, relaxation, and adventure. The result was my Top 3 Things To-Do in Panama: tour the Panama Canal, visit one of Panama’s 360 islands, and spend a day at Nitro City Extreme Sports Resort. I only had a week to check off every item on my list so the following day I started right away with Nitro City.
The resort is nestled in Punta Chame about an hour outside Panama City. Once there, I realized it is the equivalent to an adult playground where you can learn kite surfing, wake boarding, surfing, BMX, motocross, or skydiving; I even saw some pro athletes training while I was there. Each room of the resort is theme decorated of X-Games athletes and has its own private deck and hot tub. It was such a fun getaway from Panama City, but close enough to do as just a day trip.
Next came a tour of the Panama Canal. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was really amazing to have lunch there while watching the enormous ships and how the canal locks work. The locks act sort of like “water stairs” to lower or raise the ships to the appropriate sea level of their destination. Each ship takes an incredible amount of man power and about forty-five minutes of maneuvering to get it through with only inches of clearance on either side of it. Seeing how the canal works, learning its history and how it has affected the country in the past and present was something I’m glad I didn’t miss.
The last item on my list of to-dos was to visit a few of Panama’s nearby islands which are great for snorkeling, surfing, or fishing. I decided to see Panama City’s three closest islands: Maos, Perico, and Flamenco. A causeway connects all three islands to the mainland and is a short bike or taxi ride away. I had dinner and walked around to see all the amazing yachts parked in the marina. If I had a few extra days I would have loved to go to the San Blas islands off the Carribean coast of Panama; the islands are owned by the Kuna Indians who take visitors to their islands by private boat and cook you the fresh fish they caught that day. The San Blas are also known for some of the most stunning beaches in the world, as well as beautiful coral reefs for snorkeling. The options really do seem endless since Panamanians boast that there is an island for almost every day of the year.
I am so thankful to have been able to experience all that I did in Panama, but I also realized that there is so much more the country has to offer. One week was definitely not enough time, and I am already excited for another trip!