A country with a lot of historical influence.
Still off the radar of most travelers, Panama – sandwiched between the Pacific and the Caribbean, right where Central America meets South – is as lush, mountainous, and wild as neighboring Costa Rica (or even the Amazon) but with much more elbow room. Start in Panama City, hoof around the Havana-like cobbled district Casco Viejo, and then see the famed Panama Canal. The sea’s always nearby in slender Panama, but inland adventures should not be overlooked, particularly rafting trips and mountain hikes in the coffee country around Boquete in the Chiriquí Highlands. On the Caribbean coast, Bocas del Toro is a popular constellation of half a dozen islands with beaches, diving trips, and sea turtles – and increasing numbers of condos. Over on the Pacific, far quieter Santa Catalina is Panama’s premier surf spot with five-dollar beach cabanas and local fishers offering snorkel trips. Those bent on real adventure – but not of the type found in druggy port town Colón – can consider perhaps the hemisphere’s most intense trip into the rugged Darién Gap, which borders Colombia. With a guide, boat trips navigate puma lairs along thickly jungled canals – book a tour or arrange a boat in La Palma, reachable by air from Panama City. That’s as "out there" as you can get.