In Panama, the preservation of cultural and natural heritage sites is of prime importance for the country that puts scientific research, conservation and exploration at the forefront of its national identity. With five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one of which — Casco Antiguo (also known as Casco Viejo or the historic district) — commemorating its 20th anniversary as a designated site this year, Panama is the perfect choice for travelers who wish to explore meaningful experiences. Here are some top recommendations to ensure the most impactful World Heritage Site itinerary through Panama.
Archaeological Site of Panamá Viejo and Historic District of Panamá (2003)
- Celebrating the 20th anniversary of its inscription as a UNESCO site, the district dates back to 1673, and features vibrant plazas and picturesque brick-paved streets surrounded by colorful buildings.
- Walk Avenida A, the street from Plaza Herrera to Plaza de Francia to enjoy boutiques and artisanal stores.
- Visit the main square, Plaza Mayor, and stop by the Metropolitan Cathedral of Panama City to uncover religious history
- Enjoy pristine views of the city skyline and bay at Paseo Esteban Huertas
- Visit the Panama Canal Museum to learn more about the famous waterway and The Mola Museum to enjoy the history of the Guna’s art craft
- The Historic District is also at the heart of the gastronomy scene in Panama City, which has been dubbed a UNESCO Creative City in Gastronomy since 2017. Enjoy outstanding restaurants and other Panamanian delicacies like Geisha Coffee tasting, rum tasting, the artisanal process of making chocolate from local cacao beans.
Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo (1980)
- Located along the coast of the Province of Colón sit four fortresses, including Portobelo and San Lorenzo, which were developed by the Spanish Empire largely between the 17th and 18th centuries to protect trade routes. Enough of the forts remain to allow visitors to visually imagine what life would have been like during those times.
- Experience breathtaking views of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean as it enters the Panama Canal.
- Transport yourself back to the 17th + 18th centuries and picture the scene: pirates, staunch military personnel, and the metallic ting of clashing swords.
- Experience the traditional art and dances of the Congo, a culture declared Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Coiba National Park and its Special Zone of Marine Protection (2005)
- Coiba National Park is one of only 50 UNESCO Marine World Heritage Sites, and it protects 38 smaller islands and the surrounding marine areas within the Gulf of Chiriqui. Coiba’s Pacific tropical moist forest maintains exceptionally high levels of endemic animals, birds and plants due to the ongoing evolution of new species.
- Dive the Bahia Damas Reef, the largest reef on the western coastline of the American continent; or for surfing enthusiasts, catch some incredible waves off the coast.
- Experience life among the giants of the ocean by taking a tour to spot whales and dolphins.
- Hike through the island’s untouched rainforest and look out for over 147 bird species, including the Coiba Spinetail, found only on the island, as well as monkeys, crocodiles and iguanas.
Darien National Park (1981)
- The largest protected area in Panama spanning 1,420,000 acres along the Southeast, Darien National Park is a Biosphere Reserve and the focus of many conservation efforts in Panamá. Home to a variety of habitats that foster rich biodiversity containing remarkable wildlife including rainforests, mountain ranges, swamps, coasts and more.
- Visit Santa Cruz de Cana. Once a mining town where the Spanish discovered gold in 1665, it’s now one of the most pristine outdoor areas in Panamá. As a top spot in the country for birdwatching, travelers will see colorful macaws, tanagers, manakins, eagles and hummingbirds.
- On the other side of Cerro Pirre, sits Pirre Station—a hiking destination inside the great jungle. Bring your own camping gear to enjoy being at the center of lush nature and an abundance of wildlife like woodpeckers, monkeys, tamarins and sloths.
Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves / La Amistad National Park (1983, 1990)
- With most of the land covered by tropical rainforests spanning the rugged mountain landscape, La Amistad National Park is home to an incredible array of species including over 10,000 flowering plants, 215 species of mammals, 600 species of birds, 250 species of reptiles and amphibians and 115 species of freshwater fish have been documented.
- Hike the multitude of trails with a hiking guide to see big cats such as pumas, jaguars, margays and ocelots, as well as sloths, monkeys and the endangered tapir, plus 600 other bird species.
- Enjoy panoramic views of Baru Volcano—Panamá’s highest point.