For the man or woman without a plan or a canal, the city of Colon, on the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal, offers basic amenities and serves as a base for wider exploratory adventures. Most visitors don't linger in the sometimes unsafe downtown environs, but set out to penetrate lush interior forests and sparkling waters off the coast of Colon Province.
Anyone interested in engineering feats won't want to miss a trip to the countries' famous canal. Watch looming ships squeak through the Gatun or Miraflores Locks if you're not spending the 8 to ten hours sailing the waterway. Trains zip from Colon to Panama City in an hour, for those interested in getting a feel for Panama's capital.
With very advance reservations, join a group visiting the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island, and take a guided walk through this carefully preserved environment.
For easier access to the outdoors, make the trip to Soberania National Park, watching for monkeys and toucans amidst the tangled foliage. Then turn your attentions to coastal attractions, like the protected waters of Portobelo National Park, for some of Panama's best scuba and snorkeling sites. Isla Grande, the largest of several offshore islands, is dusted with a rim of sandy beaches and pleasant seas.
Wander the crumbling ruins of old forts, built to fend off pirates, in the easy atmosphere of fishing village, Portobelo, when you come up for air and return to the mainland.
Panama is south of Costa Rica. Colon is an hour northwest of Panama City by train.