When it comes to the public perception of Panama, there’s one waterway that tends to dominate the conversation, but this storied country is far more than just a convenient location for a canal. Serving as a land bridge between North and South America for millions of years, Panama is equipped with a particularly fascinating array of destinations to explore, ranging from lush rainforests to idyllic islands to vibrant villages — and for those wishing to explore all three in one trip, the southern Azuero Peninsula is the perfect destination.
Pedasí: The Azuero Peninsula’s Vibrant Seaside Getaway
For newcomers wishing to experience the beauty of the region without straying too far from the provincial capital, the town of Pedasí is an ideal base. Located roughly 4.5 hours south of Panama City by car — or just 25 minutes by charter plane — this idyllic village is renowned for its top-tier surfing and high concentration of charming inns. For new arrivals, Hotel Casa de Campo is a particularly suitable spot for a few days’ stay, equipped with an outdoor pool, open-air terrace and on-property restaurant showcasing the flavorful seafood found across the Azuero Peninsula.
While it may be tempting to spend your day relaxing by the pool, one essential destination for wildlife lovers can be found just a few miles north of the Pedasí coast. Known as Iguana Island, this remote nature preserve is a hotspot for coastal flora and fauna, offering lengthy hiking trails and infographics highlighting the many creatures that call the area home. After a 30 minute chartered boat ride, visitors can stroll along the sand in search of hermit crabs and black iguanas, while birders can spot American oystercatchers and magnificent frigatebirds soaring above the surf. As an added bonus, those visiting between July and October have the opportunity to spot breaching humpback whales during their journey to and from the island.
The eastern reaches of the Azuero Peninsula are packed with wildlife, and in addition to the native fauna, the region is also home to a fascinating cultural heritage that can be discovered during a day trip to Finca Agroturística Pamel. Just an hour north of downtown Pedasí, this bucolic family farm showcases a vast array of livestock mingled with seasonal crops — but there’s a lot more to the surrounding area than just its agricultural prowess. Guests can pay a visit to the property’s cultural museum for a closeup look at the region’s detailed polleras (ornately-decorated skirts) or trek up Cerro Juan Díaz, a small hill that’s rife with archaeological remains that date back to 200 B.C.E.
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The Pristine Southern Shore of Panama
Pedasí provides an illuminating perspective on the surrounding region, but the more remote southern depths of the peninsula play host to some of the region’s most pristine rainforest landscapes. These verdant jungles are absolutely teeming with native birds, reptiles and primates, and when it comes to offering cozy accommodations while operating in harmony with the local wildlife, it’s tough to find a better resort than Eco Venao.
With more than 346 acres to explore, this sprawling ecolodge complex is a major force in conservation, equipped with rows of solar panels, a permaculture farm and an ambitious reforestation program that’s replenished close to 80 acres of tropical dry forest. For seasoned outdoor adventurers, the Cascada Trail is perfect for catching a glimpse of Panama’s native howler and spider monkeys, while the property’s sandy shoreline is perfect for surfing, horseback riding or just relaxing with a pour of Abuelo rum at La Barca Beach Bar — but for a truly memorable experience, there’s a wealth of attractions to explore past property limits.
Measuring in at more than 80,000 acres of protected habitat, the iconic Parque Nacional Cerro Hoya is the crown jewel of Azuero ecotourism, offering some of the finest trekking and wildlife-viewing in the region — and while it’s not particularly easy to gain access to the park, there’s one local tour company that’s perfectly equipped to facilitate your journey.
Discovering the Wildlife of the Azuero Peninsula
Based in the tiny subdivision of Cambutal, Azuero Adventures specializes in a wealth of outdoor adventure activities ranging from waterfall tours to horseback riding, each one highlighting the pristine beauty of the southern Azuero Peninsula. For Cerro Hoya visitors, the trip kicks off with a 75-minute drive from Eco Venao to Los Buzos followed by an hour-long boat ride, granting guests the opportunity to spot sea turtles and shorebirds before landing on the sandy outskirts of the park. Upon arrival, the tour kicks off with a journey through the tangled rainforest streaked with rushing rivers, ultimately arriving at one of the park’s many waterfalls. After a picnic lunch and a refreshing dip in the waterfall’s natural pool, the return trek provides a chance to spot native Panamanian birds ranging from spectacled owls to scarlet macaws.
Cerro Hoya is certainly spectacular to witness in person, but if the lengthy journey and intensive trekking seems a little bit too ambitious for your tastes, there’s one equally-fascinating wildlife experience that takes place just twenty minutes from Eco Venao. From July to October, massive groups of olive ridley sea turtles arrive on the sandy shores of Isla Cañas to lay their eggs — a phenomenon that local company Isla Cañas Tours has been highlighting for years. After a short boat ride from the mainland, guests can stroll along the beach — or take a horse-drawn carriage ride for a little extra flair — until the first turtle is spotted. Once she’s crawled ashore and dug her nest, participants can get an up-close look at the egg-laying process while a certified guide offers insight into the life cycle of these iconic reptiles.
Whether you’re planning to trek through verdant jungles, join in on the annual Carnaval festivities, or surf to your heart’s content, the Azuero Peninsula offers an incredible opportunity for all types of traveler. Though not quite as popular as destinations like Panama City or Bocas del Toro, this storied region is equipped with a truly fascinating blend of culture and nature that can be found nowhere else on earth. As you plan your next vacation, don’t miss out on this fascinating — and incredibly underrated — piece of Panamanian paradise.
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