The Pacific coast of Panama is a relatively wild region as yet little visited by tourists but no doubt that will change as condos, hotels and second homes are encroaching on what were pristine shores. The beaches around Boca Chica promise excellent surfing. Just 50km offshore, the Pearl Islands compose an archipelago of over 100 tiny islands, mainly uninhabited. Traditionally popular with anglers in search of Pacific mackerel, red snapper and marlin these islands have grown in popularity due to the crystal clear water, stunning beaches, good diving and sailing.
Panamanians refer to the Azuero Peninsula as the ‘heartland’ of their country, with its mix of indigenous heritage, vibrant contemporary Spanish-inspired culture and cattle-raising. The region certainly sits slap bang in the centre of the country, on the Pacific side, and as such is often overlooked by those visiting the capital, canal or highlands of the west.
The Azuero has a rich history dating back to pre-Columbian indigenous groups, as testified by the many artifacts and ceremonial sites uncovered by archaeologists. Pottery discovered here is among the most intricate of all pre-Columbian craft, with brightly coloured bird and reptile designs. The indians did not survive the Spanish invasion though, and nowadays there is a distinctly Hispanic tradition, which is best observed in the region’s festivals and colonial architecture. The city of Chitre, the peninsula’s largest, hosts a number of important and popular fiestas, notably at Carnival. The historic villages of Parita and Las Minas are worth a visit, as is the Sarigua National Park, which has an important archaeological site but which is now almost a desert following the decimation of its forests.
The Pacific coast tends to be drier than other parts of the country, but its remote beaches are some of the best in Panama.
The Azuero Peninsula can be added to any Panama holiday or makes a great cultural addition when visiting neighboring countries. For an example itinerary see the Panama's Cultural Heartland - The Azuero Peninsula extension to our Signature Panama: Canal, Wildlife and Beach holiday.
Panama City and the canal region (6hrs’ drive), a few days at a rural retreat in Boquete ( 5-6 hrs scenic drive) with a visit to a coffee farm; Boca Chica – 3hrs’ drive to the west along a scenic road on the Pacific coast - the gateway to the Gulf of Chiriquí Marine National Park with its many luxuriant green islands, palm-tree-fringed white beaches and a variety of wildlife.
Getting local currency
The national currency, the balboa, is at parity with the US dollar, and only US banknotes are used. (There are some local coins equivalent to US cents). There’s an ATM in Chitre where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts may be limited. You are best advised to acquire dollar bills before travelling to the province. Panamanians are sometimes reluctant to accept US dollar notes of higher denominations.
At the moment (2015) there are no domestic flights by light aircraft from Panama City to Chitre although there is a usable airstrip there; by road it’s a journey of about 3hrs.
Chitre: Carnival (Mardi Gras) with dancing and water flights; Fiesta de San Juan Batista, patron saint of Chitre, 24 June with bullfights (no killing); city foundation 19 October, with parades and costumes.
Parita: Corpus Christi, with masked dancers;
Ocu: Festival de Manito, August, a 3 day festival dedicated to the maintaining the region’s traditional cultures, with folklore groups; Festival of saint Sebastian, Ocu’s patron saint, January 20-23 approx, with folklore programmes and an agricultural fair.
Spanish, English and native tongues.
GMT -5 hrs.
When to go
Situated within the tropics, the peninsula has a balmy climate with high temperatures (over 30°C) all year round. Although there is plenty of sun the drier months tend to be Feb-Mar and Sep-Oct. The region lies outside the main hurricane belt.