Panama guide I spent three months in country going from coast to coast and north to south. It was tropical, it was cultural and mostly hassle-free. And I found dozens of places to love.
Take Portobelo. A Caribbean sliver christened by Colombus in 1502, it is known as the seat of Congos, blacks who stuffed it to their colonial masters by a temporary retreat to the hills to survive. Their traditions of speaking in code, pulling trickster acts and dress of clashing rags live on, alongside cool festivals like Diablos & Congos, featuring mad reels of dancing and drumming.
Another cultural icon in Portobelo is Sandra Eleta, an internationally-acclaimed Panamanian photographer who ditched the society life decades ago to document the traditions of this old community. Visitors can tour the studio she set up for local artists or rent her cool waterfront bungalow (pictured below), La Casa de la Bruja. It's the perfect base for snorkling around the Spanish canons in the bay or kayaking the Río Claro (see first photo).
It's also a short boat ride to dream worlds like the untrimmed jungle beach adorned with a ribboned swing. That's not to say that Portobelo is a resort--far from it. Though it has dive shops and drumming studios, 'eating out' refers to that one place that's open. But it is a living community among the ruins of Spanish forts and shipwrecks, one whose destiny may be shaped as it finds power in the arts.
Panama has one Portobelo, but dozens of rich spots to stumble upon, to lose and find yourself at once.
More about Portobelo and Panama are, you guessed it, in the new guide book.