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Cosmopolitan and contradictory, Panama City is the most striking capital city in Central America, its multiple personalities reflected in the frenzied energy of its international banking centre, the laidback street-life of its old colonial quarter, its polished nightlife and the antiseptic order of the US-built Canal Zone. Located in the centre of the country, it is also a natural base from which to explore many of Panama’s most popular destinations, including its best-known attraction, the monumental Panama Canal. The colonial ruins and Caribbean coastline of Colón Province are also within reach of the capital. Southeast of Panama City stretches Darién, the infamously wild expanse of rainforest between Central and South America, while to the north, along the Caribbean coastline, Guna Yala is the autonomous homeland of the Guna, who live in beautiful isolation on the coral atolls of the Guna Yala Archipelago. West of Panama City, the Carretera Interamericana runs through the Pacific coastal plain, Panama’s agricultural heartland. This region lures travellers intrigued by the folkloric traditions and nature reserves of the Azuero Peninsula, also a major surf destination, and the protected cloudforests of the Chiriquí Highlands on the Costa Rican border. The mostly uninhabited Caribbean coast west of the canal meets Costa Rica near the remote archipelago of Bocas del Toro, a popular holiday destination thanks to its largely unspoiled rainforests, beaches, coral reefs, surfing hot spots and easy-going vibe.

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