Beyond the Zone

Isthums Time: Mapping Your Course Between Two Oceans and Two Continents

   

When To Go: Panama's dry season starts in December and lasts through April, but it's not the only time to visit. Temperatures remain fairly constant all year, with lows in the midseventies and highs in the low nineties. Pacific regions get far less rain than Caribbean areas, where downpours threaten year-round but rarely last long. Panama is thankfully out of the hurricane track that devastated Central America last year. The best advice: Pack a breathable rain jacket and waterproof shoes and go whenever you can.
Getting There: You can fly nonstop to Panama from Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Miami for fares starting at $500 round-trip. From Panama City, the country's four commercial airlines offer affordable domestic flights; round-trip to Bocas del Toro, for example, costs less than $100.

Lodging: The Canal Zone's Rainforest Canopy Tower is well worth the splurge ($145 per person, including three meals and two nature tours; 507-264-5720). In Bocas del Toro, Cocomo-on-the-Sea boasts terraces with hammocks (doubles, $45, including breakfast; 507-757-9259). Within the highlands' La Amistad park, Caba±as los Quetzales charges $100 for kitchen-equipped chalets that sleep five to 14 guests; just down the road, in the village of Guadalupe, high-ceilinged, airy doubles at Hotel los Quetzales (507-771-2182) cost $40.
Outfitters: Panama's premier tour operator, Ancon Expeditions (888-888-4106), employs excellent nature guides, including Hernßn Ara"z, who specializes in Darien treks. Rates range from $50 to $100 per person per day, depending on the activity. Bocas Water Sports (507-757-9541) charges $35 for one-tank dives. Chiriquí River Rafting (507-720-1505) offers one-day whitewater trips for $90 per person; starting in November, Nantahala Outdoor Center will run nine-day kayak trips (about $1,400 per person; 888-662-1662).
Readings: David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas (Simon & Schuster, $17) is an absorbing account of the canal's construction. Take along the Lonely Planet Panama Guide, by Scott Doggett (Lonely Planet, $17), and A Guide to the Birds of Panama, by Robert Ridgely and John Gwynne Jr. (Princeton University Press, $40).

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