panama

SUITCASE Advertorial | Lufthansa + Visit Panama

From sampling invententive cuisine from trailblazing chefs, losing yourself in the trippy Frank Gehry-designed BioMuseo or sailing the archipelago of tropical islands, there are countless ways to experience Panamanian culture.

Whether you’ve dedicated a solid two weeks to exploring the country or have just about factored in Panama City as an extended stopover en route to your next rolic, Lufthansa offers convenient flight schedules directly to Panama City – an ideal point to start your journey. Those who can’t sit still – a little like Italian travel influencer Brahmino and epic travel photographer Josh Perrett – will buzz off the challenge of packing three weeks worth of exploring into just five days. In partnership with Lufthansa and Visit Panama, this adventurous pair travelled by helicopter from the capital to the Lost Waterfalls, then on to the beaches of Bocas del Toro and Red Frog Island before scaling Volcàn Barú – all in less than a week.

Get the most of your trip by mimicking their tour supplemented by our curated checklist, packing in as much as possible by travelling with Lufthansa.

1. Be charmed by colonial Casco Viejo

Paint-chipped facades of Spanish and French colonial buildings stand in stark contrast to the skyscraper skyline across the bay in Casco Viejo. While a touristy tick box to some extent, Casco Viejo’s vibrant historical buildings – from beautiful churches to the national institution of culture – are worthy of a second look, trust us. As the city’s UNESCO-designated historic district (and unofficial bohemian hub) Casco Viejo is a catchall spot for hipsters wandering the capital’s labyrinthine streets.

2. Make like Sophia Loren in Cantadora

In the late 1970s, the tiny island of Contadora was the place to be. Once a mecca for Hollywood stars and international jetsetters, John Wayne, Sophia Loren, the Kennedys and Christian Dior all visited Contadora. This small paradise in the Pacific Ocean some 40 miles off the coast from Panama City is now in disarray, but for those with a predilection for the pre-loved, the island remains a must-visit.

3. Bed down at the American Trade Hotel

Housed in a restored 1917 building, this hotel is part-owned by Atelier Ace (of Ace Hotels). Situated in Casco Viejo – the coolest neighboured in Panama City (see above) – this is an on-trend option for those who like their comfort with a side of urban edge. Contemporary style meets colonial charm in the bedrooms, while the lobby area buzzes with well-dressed freelancers. Communal dining and fusion food is how they do it here, and the Unido Café (the hotel’s on-site coffee shop) keeps guests and grafters caffeinated from dawn to dusk.

4. Feast on rainforest-to-table fare at Maito

Chef and restaurateur Mario Castrellón is breathing new life into traditional Panamanian cuisine by recontextualising it for the gourmet crowd. At his primary restaurant, Maito, dishes recount Panama’s many culinary influences while infusing more contemporary tastes. Bringing indigenous fare to the fine-dining scene, ingredients like pixbae (a starchy peach palm fruit) and ñame (a root vegetable) are commonplace on his menus. Order slow-roasted pork, octopus empanada and the stuffed calamari with black risotto – and don’t scrimp on sides.

5. Float around the archipelago of tropical islands

Grab a water taxi or hop on a 45-minute flight with Lufthansa from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. This cluster of nine islands located off the country’s Caribbean Coast retains a strong West Indian influence and is all dense rainforests and wild beaches. A day trip to the archipelago’s secluded caves is a popular excursion – with some of the best scuba diving and surf breaks around, it’s an unsurprisingly easy sell. For a castaway experience, however, try the outer islets – rugged Bastimentos Island is our favourite place to get washed up – while busy Isla Colon is a partygoer haven.

6. Marvel at the Frank Gehry-designed BioMuseo

This jarringly bold building bears striking resemblance to a macaw and houses an exceptional natural-history exhibition. Architectural enthusiasts will fawn over its rainbow-coloured structure created by the inimitable Frank Gehry, an architect renowned for his abstract, conceptual designs. Opening in 2014, this is Gehry’s first project in Latin America. Operating in a loop, the path is designed to guide visitors through eight galleries, each incorporating interactive dioramas for a truly immersive experience. Trippy.

7. Order another round at Ochoymedio

Great for breakfast, lunch and tea – but even better for evening drinks – Ochoymedio is a brasserie-type garden in the heart of the old town of Panama City. Grab a table on the vine-strung patio, adorned with mismatched chairs, exposed light bulbs and a mural of a sanguine Virgin Mary. The glass-flanked courtyard is laden with plants and the only place to be slurping on a Seco Sour (made with sugarcane rum) on a balmy Panama evening.

8. Delve into Panama’s indigenous roots

A visit to the Emberá tribe is neither easy nor direct. It is, nonetheless, worth the hell-or-high-water excursion. You’ll drive out of the city, traverse labyrinthine dirt roads and paddle a dugout canoe through low-slung forests (where scheming monkeys will snatch anything you’ve not taped down) before reaching Emberá village, home to one of nine major indigenous groups in the country. A valuable and educating experience for those looking for a grassroots view of the region, use a local guide for a gift-shop-free experience.

9. Taste the world’s most expensive coffee in Boquete

Waking up to the smell of coffee is one thing; peeling open sleep-heavy eyelids to discover a landscape of coffee plantations is quite another. Grab a quick Lufthansa flight to Chiriqui and head straight to the pretty mountain town of Boquete – a place literally built on coffee – is a trifle more authentic than the Shoreditch hipster bean scene. Located in the foothills of the Baru Volcano in the Chiriqui Highlands, take a hike or a plantation tour and taste some of the world’s most exclusive blends. The region is home to some of the best coffee growers in the world, including the most expensive brew on the planet, Café Geisha.

To see more of @brahmino’s Panama adventure, check out his video.

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