Looking for a vacation destination in the months of December and January? Look no further: Let Panama be your vacation destination!
But why visit Panama when there are so many other amazing places to visit in the world? The answer is easy. Panama is a vibrant country, filled with a passion, spirit, and comfort that is almost palpable.
Although Panama is known mainly for the Panama Canal, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (which is one of the seven wonders of the modern world) there is so much more to Panama waiting to be explored by the adventurous traveler! However, a visit to see such a wonder is worth the trip alone!
A nice alternative to cold and snowy winters, Panama is warm and tropical during the December and January months. When visiting during December and January, just make sure to pack light. The average temperature in December is 79°F (26°C) and in January the average temperature is 81°F (27°C). Although, it would be prudent to bring an umbrella, seeing as how Panama is a tropical climate and you’re likely to get caught in a few rain showers (albeit warm ones!)
Panama is great for people who want to fill their trips with activities. For example, if you’re an avid hiker then visiting Panama during the dry season would be your best bet. The dry season lasts from mid-December until May. Enjoy the experience of hiking in gorgeous rainforests teaming with wildlife in places such as Boquete, El Valle or Cerro Punta. Due to the altitude, however, slightly warmer clothes are recommended.
Or, if you’re a bit more of an adrenaline junkie, December is also a good time to go whitewater rafting in the Chiriquí Province due to the fact that it will be the tail end of the off-season, when rivers are high.
Perhaps you’re more of an ocean person? Once you get tired of reading on the beach, you can try your hand at scuba diving or snorkeling. Perhaps you’re keen for a bit of surfing? For the best results and most fun, it is advisable to participate in these activities in the dry season (between December and April) when visibility in the water isn’t interrupted by rain.
Specific Places to Visit in Panama:
The eclectic nature of Panama enables travelers to have experiences that are truly once in a lifetime and provides numerous “can’t miss” opportunities to create unforgettable memories. Here is a list of some amazing activities and trips that would be sure to pique any traveler’s interest:
- Panama Canal Railway Ride: The Panama Canal Railway is comprised of an old-fashioned locomotive and runs from Panama City, on the Pacific Ocean, to Colón, on the Atlantic Ocean. It is historically significant due to the fact that it is the original and world’s first trans-continental railway! During the approximately 90 minute ride, visitors are able to enjoy views of the Panama Canal, Gatun Lake, and surrounding tropical rainforest from numerous vantage points along the railway cars.
- Monkey Island: Monkey Island is located in Soberania National Park. Soberania is not just home to monkeys, however, it is also known for its plethora of various bird species. In fact, the Audubon Society’s annual bird count once spotted over 500 species in 24 hours! Soberania National Park is full of wildlife and is a wonderful place to watch for a menagerie of animals including monkeys, sloths, eagles, and plenty more. But let’s not forget what caught your eye. The monkeys! You will take a boat to Monkey Island – where you will (most likely) view a variety of different species of monkey. There are reviews of monkeys being extra comfortable cozying up to people, beautiful landscapes, and even crocodile sightings!
- Embera Indian Village Tour: The Embera tribe is comprised of incredibly friendly people who love to show visitors their way of life. They will make you feel welcome in their village and introduce you to their traditional food, music, and dance. You can even hang out for a bit and go for a swim…under a waterfall! And no need to worry about souvenirs, you will also have the opportunity to buy handmade gifts from the townspeople. Reaching the Embera Village is an adventure in and of itself. This involves traveling up the Chagres River in a canoe and then trekking through the rainforest. The benefit of such a trek is that you will be up close and personal with all of the gorgeous splendors that the rainforest of Panama has to offer.
- Portobelo: This unassuming little town has a pretty awesome origin story! It was first given the name “Puerto Bello” aka “Beautiful Port” by Christopher Columbus in 1502. As some things do over the course of time, the name Puerto Bello morphed into Portobelo. This fort has had quite the history with pirates! Rumor has it that Francis Drake was buried in a lead coffin near Portobelo Bay after dying of dysentery in 1596. The two most famous pirates to have captured Portobelo were privateer William Parker, who attacked and captured the city in 1601, and Captain Henry Morgan, who captured the fort in 1668. Unsurprisingly, the 18th-century fortifications one sees today were built by the Spanish to protect their gold from pirates. Along with Fort San Lorenzo, the fortifications have achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
- Barro Colorado Island: Barro Colorado Island is a unique wonder that no one should miss out on if given the chance to see! The island is run by the Smithsonian Institute of Tropical Research and is a living tropical research laboratory! Now is your chance to see 381 bird species, 102 mammal species and 1,316 plant species, some of which you will not see elsewhere, in a protected habitat, by tour operators with knowledge that far surpasses anything you can imagine. Previously only research scientists were allowed on the island, but now tour operators can take tourists on day trips along its nature trails. Don’t miss out on this rare opportunity!
One particular jewel in Panama is Casco Viejo, which was founded in 1671, after the Governor at the time, Juan Perez de Guzman, ordered much of the original city to be burned to the ground upon hearing of the imminent arrival of the famous pirate Sir Henry Morgan, who was intent on pillaging and looting the city.
Casco Viejo is a traveler’s paradise. Not only does it hold great cultural and historical significance, but it is also a thriving hot spot of ingenuity and rebirth in Panama City. One could consider it the heart of Panama. In fact, UNESCO officially recognized it as a World Heritage site in 1997 due to its historical value, significance, and tenacity. While there, one can witness an unusual mixture of Spanish, French, and early American architectural styles that one need not be an architectural buff to find captivating.
One can immerse themselves in the rich history of Panama by staying in one of the hotels in Casco Viejo. One hotel that is particularly impressive is the Magnolia Inn. The Magnolia Inn is a repurposed French Colonial mansion in the heart of Casco Viejo, its foundations dating back to the 18th century and owned by one Señora Rosa Icaza de Briceño, with the final structure being completed in the early 1900s. Feel free to let your imagination run wild with fantasies of what could have been. Panama Viejo, Casco Viejo’s predecessor, was left a raging inferno, compliments of Sir Henry Morgan, a pirate given free rein to pillage and plunder Spanish holdings due to a “letter of marque” from the King of England.
The history of the Magnolia Inn is not the only breathtaking characteristic about the hotel. Despite being located in the historical district, it has all of the modern amenities one could desire. But the real selling point of Magnolia Inn is the remarkable view. The Magnolia Inn is located on a street corner with a balcony that gives one an amazing view of art and architecture which comprise Casco Viejo. It’s truly a sight to see!
A famous saying with regards to Panama is, “The only thing Panamanians take seriously are their holidays.”
Luckily for those traveling to Panama during the month of January, several festivals make the experience worth it!
The Flower and Coffee Festival takes place in Boquete every year in mid-January. This festival is one of the most robust celebrations of flowers in the world! It draws thousands of people to Boquete for 10 extravagant days of lush flower displays, tasty food stands, live music, amusement rides, and booths filled with handmade crafts. It would be wise to book hotel rooms in advance.
Located in Panama City, Jazz Festival takes place in late January, extending over one 3-day weekend. During this time, Panama City is alive with vibrant jazz performances by renowned international musicians. Tickets to see all of the performances cost a fee; but there are some events which are held outdoors that are open to the public. In order to receive more information about this event, please log on to www.panamajazzfestival.com.
For more information about specific events throughout Panama, please call the ATP tourism board at tel. 800-962-1526, or check out their website at www.visitpanama.com, for more information.
Panama is a country which contains an adventure for everyone! You simply can’t go wrong with choosing to visit Panama for your next vacation during the December and January months; whether you want to relax on the beach and read a book, hike in the rainforest, go whitewater rafting, have the pleasure of meeting indigenous people and experiencing a culture different from your own, make friends with monkeys, or explore ruins once pillaged by pirates. To make your experience more memorable, you can even stay in one of the historical sites that give Panama its rich and flavorful culture people know and love the world over!