As a backpacker destination, Panama is less-trod than other Central America countries like Guatemala and Costa Rica. That's a good thing. Though Panama backpackers will find prices higher than the Central America average, backpacking Panama is still affordable – and so worth it. A geographical and cultural land bridge between North and South America, Panama is one of the most diverse countries on earth, in every single sense. Its capital city is as modern as many U.S. cities, and yet, many of its remote islands and rainforests remain wholly unspoiled. Check out some our favorite Panama backpacker destinations!
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Without a doubt, the Bocas del Toro archipelago is the number one Panama backpacker destination. It's located near the Costa Rica border, which is convenient for backpackers intent on exploring both countries. Bocas del Toro consists of ___ islands. The largest, Isla Colon, is home to the largest Bocas Del Toro settlement, Bocas Town. Most Bocas del Toro hostels and budget hotels are located here, as well as restaurants, nightlife and tons of travel services. It's easy to visit other island attractions from Bocas Town, such as the Zapatillas Cayes, and Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos, which is strewn with tiny red tree frogs (and plenty of backpackers).
Panama City might be known as Central America's most cosmopolitan city, but that doesn't mean it's not ideal for the budget traveler. Hostels are plentiful in Panama City, particularly in the Casco Viejo/Old Panama City district. There's plenty to do on the cheap—stroll through Casco Viejo and down the picturesque Amador Causeway, take a bus to the Miraflores locks and glimpse ships passing through the Panama Canal
, hike Parque Natural Metropolitano
. Eat where the locals eat and drink where they drink, and you'll be living it up in a fantastic city while spending very little
For Panama backpackers seeking an experience truly off the beaten path, the Kuna Yala archipelago (formerly known as the San Blas archipelago) is one of my top recommendations in all of Central America. The Kuna Yala region is almost entirely pristine, populated by Panama's indigenous Kuna Yala people. The islands themselves have to seen to be believed—hundreds of tiny white sand cays, with vibrant green palms and water so prismatic it'll make your heart ache. Luxury travel this isn't; travelers typically stay in basic huts on small, private islands, and eat whatever the fishermen drag in that day. The ultimate castaway experience, for sure. For an even wilder experience, voyage by sailboat through the archipelago all the way to Cartagena, Colombia
(book a trip from any large Panama City hostel, such as Luna's Castle).
Boquete has a well-earned reputation as a retirement mecca for ex-pat Americans, but that doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile stop for Panama backpackers, too. Truly, the lush, vast Boquete valley is one of Panama's most stunning destinations. Its elevation means it's quite a few degrees cooler that the steamy coast, which is an extremely welcome respite for tired travelers. Boquete is Panama's coffee mecca as well, and tours through the scenic coffee farms
are worth a little splurge.
David is a city in Panama's Chiriqui province in the Pacific west, about an hour and a half from the Costa Rican border and an hour from Boquete. It's a worthwhile travel stop offering plenty to do, from enjoying hot springs and other outdoor activities, to gambling the day away at one of several casinos, to hanging with the locals at David's numerous nightlife spots. There are several hostel options in David, including Babmu Hostel
and The Purple House International Backpacker's Hostel
6. Santa Catalina
Santa Catalina is emerging as one of the top Central America surfing destinations
. As a result, the tiny coastal village's tourism is swiftly growing, with more attractions for Panama backpackers and surfers cropping up each year. Best to visit this beach sooner rather than later.
7. DariénDarién is Panama's final frontier; Panama's largest province, but a destination visited by only the most intrepid backpackers. The tiny town of La Palma marks the start of the Darién Gap, which is the only place the Pan-American Highway breaks in both Americas. It's a land of indigenous communities and nearly impenetrable rainforest, and the drug trade – and the nastiness that comes with it – is alive and well in the jungles of Darién National Park, which borders Colombia. However, this is Latin America at its most pristine, a superlative some travelers just can't resist.