credit: Kaye Holland
The waistline of the Americas, Panama flies under the radar - in part because it's overshadowed by its more developed and better known neighbours, Costa Rica and Colombia.
But if you want azure waters, confrontingly good cuisine, colonial secrets, heritage sites, nightlife and affordable adventures, Panama delivers. And then some.
The traditional travellers’ route into the country is via Panama City. Latin America’s most cosmopolitan capital is a teeming metropolis, chock full of chi chi clubs and casinos, steel skyscrapers and super-sized shopping malls.
That said it is possible to step back in time in the old city centre of Casco Viejo - which was built after an Englishman, Captain Henry Morgan, ransacked the orig-inal Spanish settlement back in 1671. Film buffs will recognise this UNESCO world heritage listed barrio (neighbourhood) from the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace and The Tailor of Panama starring Pierce Brosnan - both of which were shot here.
Stroll the quaint cobblestone streets, stopping to admire the pastel-coloured co-lonial buildings - Panama’s past is reflected in its architecture - before shopping for a few souvenirs (you can’t very well visit Panama, without picking up a Panama hat…)
Yet Casco Viejo’s real selling point is its street life - best sampled at Coca Cola cafe (Avenue Central). Something of a neighbourhood institution, Panama City's oldest cafe is where locals head to play chess or watch the latest soccer game, while tucking into hearty portions of rice and beans.