Enjoy the freedom of the open road on this 17-day self-drive journey through Panama. Discover dazzling diversity, from lush national parks and mountainous regions to the buzz of Panama City and the dreamy beaches of the Caribbean and the Pacific. Along the way, you'll hike to waterfalls, zipline through cloud forests, visit coffee farms, relax on tropical beaches, and sail to pristine island paradises.            


  • Explore Panama City's historic Old Town
  • Hike to waterfalls in El Valle de Anton
  • Zipline over the cloud forests of Boquete
  • Escape to a Caribbean paradise on Isla Bastimentos
  • Spot dolphins & sea turtles in the Gulf of Chiriquí

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Panama City Panama City
Day 2 Explore Panama City Panama City
Day 3 Drive to El Valle de Anton Valle de Anton
Day 4 Slot Canyon Waterfall Excursion Valle de Anton
Day 5 Drive to Playa Venao, Paradise on the Pacific Playa Venao
Day 6 Free Day at Playa Venao Playa Venao
Day 7 Drive to Santa Fe National Park Santa Fe
Day 8 Santa Fe National Park Hiking Excursion Santa Fe
Day 9 Drive to Boquete Boquete
Day 10 Ziplining & Coffee Tour in Boquete Boquete
Day 11 Drive to Bastimentos Island & the Caribbean Coast Bocas del Toro
Day 12 Visit Zapatilla Cays Bocas del Toro
Day 13 Free Day at Bastimentos Bocas del Toro
Day 14 Drive to the Gulf of Chiriquí & the Pacific Coast Golfo de Chiriquí
Day 15 Gulf of Chiriquí Sailing Excursion Golfo de Chiriquí
Day 16 Drive to David, Fly to Panama City Panama City
Day 17 Depart Panama City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Panama City

Panama City's modern skyline

Welcome to beautiful Panama! Upon arrival at the Panama City International Airport, you'll be greeted and transferred to your accommodations. Get settled in, then head out to explore the city at your leisure.

Panama's iconic capital city and commercial center is like nowhere else in Central America. Here big business and giant skyscrapers meet cobbled colonial streets and a mix of cultures formed by centuries of immigration and trade. It can seem chaotic at times, but there's plenty of fun to be had, especially around the vibrant UNESCO-listed old town of Casco Viejo, where many of the best bars, restaurants, and hotels are found.

Day 2: Explore Panama City

Tour Panama City's historic highlights

Enjoy a morning tour of Panama City's Old Town with a local guide, taking in famous plazas, stunning colonial architecture, and the original city compound at Casco Antiguo, before visiting the famous Panama Canal. From the Miraflores Locks, you'll witness huge ships transiting the canal, and learn about the incredible story of its construction. In the afternoon you'll travel to Ancon Hill for a panoramic city view, before spending some free time at Naos Island and the fascinating Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute at Punta Culebra.           

Day 3: Drive to El Valle de Anton

Your road trip stats today, as you pick up your rental car and set out toward El Valle de Anton, just 2.5 hours away from Panama City. With a cool, spring-like climate throughout the year, lush forests, and a relaxing small-town atmosphere, "El Valle" has plenty of appeal. Most striking of all are the panoramic mountain views that surround the town, which sits inside one of the world's largest inhabited volcanic craters. Visitors can take advantage of some excellent hiking routes, cycling, and adventure sports, as well as world-class birdwatching and some great local restaurants.                    

Upon arrival, get checked into your idyllic B&B and spend the rest of the day at your leisure.

Day 4: Slot Canyon Waterfall Excursion

Hike through the cloud forest to reach hidden waterfalls

This morning takes you on a jeep tour through the stunning countryside of El Valle de Anton, enjoying mountain views and traveling through the beautiful cloud forest on the way to Slot Canyon. After a short hike into the forest, you'll have time to relax and cool off in the three different waterfalls and natural pools here, so don't forget your bathing suits!  

The remainder of the afternoon is free for you to continue exploring the area, or relax back at the B&B.     

Day 5: Drive to Playa Venao, Paradise on the Pacific

The sweeping sands of Playa Venao

Get back on the road today for a scenic, four-hour journey to Playa Venao. This beautiful stretch of volcanic sand beach is situated on Panama's Pacific Coast, only a short drive from Pedasi. Famous for its surf breaks and with an attractive backdrop of hills and forests, Venao has become popular with both tourists and locals in recent years, providing a relaxed vacation spot with plenty of activities and some lively bars and restaurants. As well as surfing, you can arrange kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling, diving, and even whale watching during late spring and summer.    

Check into your lodge nearby, and spend the rest of the day enjoying the beach.    

Day 6: Free Day at Playa Venao

Sunset over Playa Venao

Today is free to discover Playa Venao's many watersport options, or just relax at the beach. 

If you're feeling adventurous, join a team of local surf guides and explore the coast. Whether you're an experienced surfer or a complete beginner, the excursion will be tailored to suit your level, with the guides knowing all the best spots for catching big or easy waves.

For a slower pace, explore some of the hidden treasures surrounding the beach by paddleboard, along with an experienced local guide. As you glide along the coastline, you can admire the stunning landscapes and spot wildlife in its natural habitat. You can expect to see a number of different bird species, owls, and even some caiman swimming.     

Plan your trip to Panama
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 7: Drive to Santa Fe National Park

Visit a local coffee farm for a memorable dinner

Strike out towards the pristine Santa Fe National Park today, driving four hours across Los Santos and Herrera provinces to reach the famous Veraguas province. Located in the heart of the Veraguas mountain range, the spectacular national park stretches as far as the Pacific and Caribbean coasts and is home to wild rivers, waterfalls, and forests. The park protects around 300 species of birds, along with plenty of other wildlife, and various hiking trails make it a great place for nature lovers to explore.  

This evening, you'll get settled into a family-run inn and then head to a coffee plantation on the outskirts of Santa Fe town, which offers breathtaking views across the national park. Take a short walk through the farm to see the coffee, plants, and fruit grown here, before enjoying an authentic family-style dinner at the rancho, made with locally grown and fresh ingredients from the farm.                

Day 8: Santa Fe National Park Hiking Excursion

Hike to waterfalls on today's excursion into Santa Fe National Park

Enjoy a two-hour backcountry hike in the beautiful Santa Fe National Park this morning, accompanied by an expert naturalist guide. The trail takes you through the lush rainforests, with wildlife all around, and along the river to a secluded waterfall where you can enjoy some free time and a dip in the water before heading back to your accommodations in the afternoon.

Day 9: Drive to Boquete

Views across the lush mountains of Boquete, to the Barú Volcano

Drive 4.5-hours west today to reach Boquete, a mountainous area of Panama surrounded by cloud forests and coffee plantations. Set on the edge of the beautiful Barú Volcano National Park, this picturesque mountain town boasts a cool climate and a welcoming small-town atmosphere and makes a lovely break from the busy cities and the heat of the coast. The area is an outdoor lover's dream, with a variety of nature trails to explore, as well as opportunities for climbing, rafting, and canopy tours. The rich, volcanic soil around the town results in some wonderful local produce to enjoy, including one of the world's most sought-after coffees—Geisha.

After checking into your hotel—a beautiful inn on the banks of the Rio Pianista—the rest of the day is free for you to explore.

Day 10: Ziplining & Coffee Tour in Boquete

Soar through the rainforest canopy today

See the stunning landscapes around Boquete from a different perspective today, as you take to the sky for a canopy tour through the treetops. You'll be picked up by 4x4 and driven to the foothills of the Barú Volcano, before strapping in for your zipline ride. Glide through the forest with rivers and waterfalls below you, spotting monkeys, exotic birds, and perhaps even a rare resplendent quetzal in the trees.

The canopy tour is around 1.8 miles (3 km) in length, split over a number of cables, and you'll have full safety equipment along with trained guides. If you prefer something a little more sedate, you can also explore a trail of scenic hanging bridges that lead through the canopy.                    

In the afternoon, you'll set out on a tour of a local coffee farm (or finca). Learn about the whole process behind coffee production, including a little insight into the famous Geisha variety. Depending on the season you might be allowed to try your hand at roasting the beans, and of course, you'll be able to taste the delicious coffee straight from the source. 

Day 11: Drive to Bastimentos Island & the Caribbean Coast

Drive to the Bocas del Toros archipelago today

Drive three hours north towards the Caribbean Sea today, reaching the town of Punta Robalo. Here you'll leave your car in parking and board a boat to Isla Bastimentos—your base for the next three nights at a secluded eco-lodge.

Just a short journey from Bocas del Toro's main town, Isla Bastimentos is wild, beautiful, and undoubtedly one of the highlights of the archipelago. The island is home to the indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé tribe, and around the coast you'll encounter palm-fringed beaches where sea turtles nest, mangrove forests full of wildlife, and protected coral reefs that provide amazing snorkeling and diving opportunities. 

Day 12: Visit Zapatilla Cays

Views across the archipelago

Take a boat journey to the spectacular Zapatilla Cays today, two uninhabited, white-sand islands protected by Bastimentos National Marine Park. Upon arrival, you can enjoy a walk through rich and biodiverse forests like coconut palms, tropical hardwoods, sea grapes, almond trees, bromeliads, ferns, and orchids. On the pristine beaches and reefs, you'll find snappers, barracuda, and colorful tropical fish.

Upon return to Isla Bastimentos, the rest of the day is free to relax in your island paradise or join one of the lodge's many activities and excursions. 

Day 13: Free Day at Isla Bastimentos

Explore the island's underwater worlds

Make the most of your final day on the island with one of the many excursions and activities on offer. Options include:

  • Join a guided kayaking and snorkeling trip to a nearby jellyfish lagoon. Follow your guide by kayak and try out your snorkel skills as you search for marine life above and below the surface, with a focus on the upside-down jellyfish. 

  • Pay a visit to Green Acres Cacao Plantation for a guided tour of one of Bocas del Toro's primary chocolate farms. After a short boat ride across Dolphin Bay, you'll explore the lush gardens and learn about the history of the farm, before seeing the cacao process first-hand—all the way from bean to chocolate bar. You'll be able to taste the final product directly from the source, and a delicious lunch will be served in the garden before you travel back to the lodge.

  • Take a 15-minute boat ride to a local indigenous village, where you will spend some time visiting with the community and learning about their daily life. Along the trail to the village, enjoy the dense rainforest full of tropical plants and wildlife, such as white-faced monkeys, sloths, green iguanas, lizards, poison dart frogs, butterflies, and diverse exotic birds. On the way back to the lodge, you can stop for a refreshing swim or snorkel.

Day 14: Drive to the Gulf of Chiriquí & the Pacific Coast

Transfer to the pristine beaches of the Gulf of Chiriquí

Bid the Caribbean farewell today as you board the boat back to Punta Robalo and pick up your car. Today's drive takes you three-hours south across Panama to the Pacific and the beautiful Gulf of Chiriquí

The Gulf of Chiriquí is one of the highlights of Panama's Pacific Coast, encompassing 25 islands across both the Coiba National Park and Golfo de Chiriquí National Park. The area is home to a unique maritime ecosystem, with some 19 coral reefs in the surrounding waters, and snorkelers and divers can spot dolphins, sea turtles, starfish, and even humpback whales throughout part of the year.

Your destination is the small fishing village of Boca Chica, looking out over the estuary to the Pacific Ocean, where you'll get settled into your boutique hotel for the next two nights. 

Day 15: Gulf of Chiriquí Sailing Excursion

Board a sailboat to explore more of the Golfo de Chiriquí National Park

Spend this morning sailing through the stunning islands of the Golfo de Chiriquí National Park, enjoying beautiful landscapes and spotting diverse wildlife along the way. During your four-hour cruise, you'll visit deserted white-sand beaches and have the chance to snorkel over the coral reefs dotted around the islands. These waters are home to dolphins, sea turtles, and stingrays, while humpback whales also migrate along this coast between July and October. With a little luck, you'll encounter some of these amazing animals.                    

The rest of the day is free to unwind at the beach and savor your final day on the coast.

Day 16: Drive to David, Fly to Panama City

Visit any historic highlights you missed in Panama City

Say your goodbyes to the paradise of Chiriquí and head back inland to the city of David, about an hour's drive away. Here you'll drop off your rental car and catch a quick flight back to Panama City.  After a transfer to your hotel, the rest of the day is free to see any of the sights you might have missed earlier in the week. Stock up on souvenirs at one of the city's artisan markets or climb Ancon Hill for sweeping views of the city. In the evening, explore the food scene and indulge in a celebratory dinner on the last night of your trip.  

Day 17: Depart Panama

Twilight over Panama City

Your adventure draws to a close today, as a transfer takes you to the airport to catch your departing flight. Hasta luego!

More Great Panama Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Panama? Check out these other Panama itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 


Map of Panama Self-Drive Adventure: Coast to Coast - 17 Days
Map of Panama Self-Drive Adventure: Coast to Coast - 17 Days