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5 Reasons to Explore Panama & Costa Rica

August 4, 2016

Both man-made and natural spectacles await travelers to Central America’s southernmost region. Here, the Panama Canal is just a boat ride away from vibrant coral reefs, rainforests filled with monkeys and birds, and long golden beaches. Lindblad-National Geographic expeditions bring you to all these places—and many others.

Panama Canal

1. Panama Canal — Ancón, Panama

The Panama Canal is a mind-boggling feat of human engineering. The canal’s series of mechanized locks, extending almost two miles in length, move some 26 million gallons of water every time a freight ship passes through (up to 40 per day), allowing their safe passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Traveling through the canal on a ship—and being lifted 85 feet above sea level—is a singular experience.

While daytime tours of the Panama Canal draw crowds, few travelers get the chance to see the locks dramatically lit at night.

costa rica

Photo: aaslex

2. Peninsula De Osa — Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Set on Costa Rica’s verdant Osa Peninsula, the Corcovado National Park is one of the most bio-diverse spots on the planet. The 161 square miles here encompass old-growth lowland rainforest, mangrove swamps, cascading waterfalls, and 23 miles of Pacific-coast beaches—and too countless bird, animal, and plant species. Travelers here are almost certain to see toucans, macaws, spider monkeys and white-faced capuchins; it’s also still possible to glimpse tapirs, and, very rarely, jaguars.

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3. Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

White-faced capuchin monkeys thrive in the rainforest national parks of Costa Rica, including Corcovado and Arenal—and are some of the most entertaining wild creatures to spot here. Daytime foragers, they can often be seen in small groups, darting and swinging among tree branches; mother monkeys move about with their sleeping babies slung like knapsacks across their backs.

Peninsula de Nicoya

Photo: Jeff Moore

4. Peninsula de Nicoya — Guanacaste, Costa Rica

The Nicoya Peninsula, on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, is lined by some of the country’s loveliest golden-sand beaches. Surfers love them for their gnarly offshore waves, but wilder species converge here, too—including several endangered sea turtle species (who, during nesting season, come in droves to lay their eggs). In early mornings, visitors to beaches like Playa Caletas (who often explore on horseback) may hear howler monkeys in the trees edging the shore.

Parque Nacional Coiba

Photo: Scott Ableman

5. Parque Nacional Coiba — Panama

The miniscule, idyllic island of Granita de Oro (meaning “little grain of gold”) is one of 38 small, wild islands that comprise Panama’s Isla Coiba National Park, in the Gulf of Chiriqui. The cyan-blue waters here swarm with a jaw-dropping array of sea creatures—not just coral reefs swarming with tropical fish, but moray eels, manta rays, sharks, and sea turtles. While snorkeling and diving are the most obvious pursuits here, many travelers enjoy just kayaking, sunning, and picnicking on the powdery beach.

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Want to experience these unbelievable places for yourselves? Join us on our Jungle Life Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica with Brook Cheatham this January 15–21, 2017 or our Panama Unplugged Yoga Retreat this February 26–March 4, 2017.

AFAR inspires and enables those who travel the world seeking to have deeper and more fulfilling travel experiences. AFAR's platforms include the award-winning AFAR Magazine; AFAR.com, recently named a Top 10 Site That Makes Travel Easier; the non-profit foundation Learning AFAR; and the immersive travel series AFAR Experiences.

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