Panama travel

Our previous blog post pointed to our story on the hot real estate market in Panama City, but what if you just want to visit?

Panama has always been an also-ran when it comes to tourism, with the bulk of their inbound arrivals coming for business, not pleasure. The national tourism bureau has not done much to reach out to travel writers and editors and most of their budget has seemingly gone into wacky ad slogans and “special advertising sections” that nobody reads.

The situation is getting better though. The new ad slogan is a big improvement. Panama: Where the World Meets actually makes sense and is unique. The official tourism website is updated regularly and makes you want to visit. Here are some new developments:

* The hotel situation in the capital has improved drastically in the past few years and more notable upscale projects are going up soon, including a Westin just outside the capital and a Waldorf-Astoria in the center.

Copa Airlines keeps adding new flights and new destinations from their Panama hub, with Brasilia being the latest. You can get to Panama direct from six U.S. airports plus Toronto. If you are flying somewhere else through Panama, you can stop off for a few days with no extra charges. You need to book it on the phone though—this doesn’t work online.

* KLM, Iberia, and Condor now offer direct flights to Panama from Europe.

* Panama’s airport gets better each time I visit. The first time it came off as a dingy shopping mall past its prime. The next time it looked like a clean shopping mall with no place to eat. On my most recent trip, it was starting to feel like a real international airport, with an ample executive lounge, a bar, more than one place to get a bite to eat, and Wi-Fi. Sure, the duty-free shops still dominate, but that’s what a lot of Latinos want: this is a place where they can get electronics and designer goods at prices close to what they are in the U.S., which is a rarity in Latin America. See more at their website.

* Here’s a big weight off your shoulders: all visitors to Panama get a card at the airport which gives them free health insurance for 30 days. Simply show your passport if you get injured and you’re covered (up to $7,000).  See the details here.

* Boquete has a new golf course. The 18-hole championship course Cielo Paraiso opened this past May. At 3,000 feet and surrounded by greenery of a mountain slope, this will be a big draw for the area.

See tour stories, luxury hotel reviews, and real estate round-ups in our luxury travel in Panama section.