Everyone knows about Panama’s iconic Canal, but there is so much more to see in this wildly diverse Central American country.
Panama’s Casco Viejo is a great place to base for a Panama Canal visit. Once that’s ticked off your list, there are plenty of adventurous directions to head in, within and just outside of the city.
To get your hike on, head to Soberania and Chagres National Parks. If on Las Cruces Trail (Camino de Cruces), which dates back to the 16th century, in Soberania, you’ll share the trail with 525 species of birds and 105 mammals. Hiking to the top of Boss Mountain (3,000 ft.) in Chagres on a clear day, you get a view of Panama Canal and you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.
For island adventures, the San Blas Islands is a great getaway from the city. Make a day or several days of it by visiting any of the 365 islands and keys. For urban adventure, get an authentic and inspirational look at this hip little city on a tour led by ex-gang members. Fortaleza Tours is run by Esperanza Social Club, which rehabilitates the gangs. (www.esperanzasvc.org/fortaleza-tours)
Located in Panama’s northwest Chiriqui province along the Costa Rica border, Boquete offers the best whitewater rafting in the country on the Chiriqui Viejo river. For serious trekkers, head to the nearby Baru Volcano. Panama’s tallest peak can be reached in a single day summit. While heading back down to the Pacific Coast from Boquete, the Chiriqui Marine National Park is a great drop off for sea kayaking, snorkeling or simply kicking back on the uninhabited Isla Gamez.
Custom made Panama tours can be arranged by Panama Vacations. (www.vacationtopanama.com)
Yes, Machu Picchu is the obvious must do, but if heading in that direction, consider the road less traveled.
Aside from celebrating their 10 year anniversary, Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) (www.mountainlodgesofperu.com) has several reasons to celebrate. They were recently recognized by Travel & Leisure’s World’s Best Awards, awarded 4th place as World’s Best Tour Operator. At the Adventure Travel World Summit in Alaska, they were the first place winners of 2016 “Adventure in Motion” award for ATTA’s adventure film contest. The film and the trek on the Salkantay Trail is otherworldly.
If you want to star in your own epic adventure, make your way to Machu Picchu’s off-the-beaten path trails with MLP. The Lares Trail is another lesser known route to Machu Picchu. Lares from Cuncani to Huancahuasi, across the Cruzcosa Pass, is a four-hour trek where you will see no one except a villager or two. The scenery is stunning and serene, punctuated with wild horses, llamas and dogs. As the sun sets, it’s a dead run to the Huaca Huasi Lodge. In between piscos and the fresh cuisine at dinner, go for a mind-blowing massage to prep you for the next day’s nine-hour trek. The staff are locals, guides impeccable and experience is authentic and intrepid.
Once out of the mountains, head for the water. The Amazon is the most biodiverse place on the planet, with more than 400 species of mammals, nearly 1,400 birds and some 3,000 fish. Hop on Aria’s (www.aquaexpeditions.com/luxury-cruise-ships/aria-amazon/) luxury riverboat, featuring sixteen 250-square foot suites with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, perfect for taking in the wilds. Similar to a safari schedule, you will see monkeys, sloths and an endless array of birds - from macaws to parrots, toucans to hawks. You may or may not see a jaguar and an anaconda, but you are sure to see the famous pink dolphins on your twice-daily skiff excursions. Sundowners involve a quiet bob on the river with chilled champagne in hand.
The Galapagos has long been attracting intrepid travelers to Ecuador. There are several companies cruising in that direction today. Some companies do it better than others.
Natural Habitat (www.nathab.com) has the best guide-to-guest ratio in the islands. With a small group of no more than eight to ten travelers, their immersive week-long itinerary on any of their four privately chartered yachts will have you snorkeling with sea lions, sunbathing with iguanas and scouting for whales. With Natural Habitat you can go for ultra-luxurious or classic and comfortable. Either way, your trip is 100-percent carbon-offset--Natural Habitat is the world’s first carbon-neutral travel company.
Located in the heart of the Central Andes of Ecuador, surrounded by impressive volcanoes, Tierra del Volcan (www.tierradelvolcan.com) adventure tour operators offers multi-day mountain biking, horseback riding and trekking trips, including lodge to lodge treks. If on horse you will ride through the Andes, the Hacienda Hills and Cotopaxi National Park. On bike, expect to shred Metropolitan Park, El Tambo Trail and Cotopaxi. The Volcano treks have you hitting Pasochoa Volcano trek and Cotopaxi National Park. The impressive snow capped Cotopaxi is the world’s tallest and most active volcano. You are in safe, yet adventurous hands with Tierra del Volcan, which was recognized by Men’s Journal for having one of the top adventures worldwide.