Panama City, capital of the eponymous nation, is a large, modern city offering first-world facilities at developing world prices. Vibrant and multicultural, it boasts wonderful shopping, from high-end stores in gleaming malls to amazing bargains in outdoor markets, as well as plenty of Chinese, Indian and other ethnic shops featuring fascinating and exotic goods. Almost everyone speaks some English and the locals are renowned for their friendliness and approachability, making this one of the most engaging cities you will ever visit.
However, the highlight of your trip to Panama will be a leisurely cruise along the legendary Canal. Nearly 50 miles long, the Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and is one of the world’s busiest and most important waterways. Since 1914, it has permitted relieved sailors to avoid the often-treacherous passage around Cape Horn, and it will present you with a breathtaking and ever-changing vista of local life.
In contrast, Costa Rica is one of the world’s greatest nature reserves, with a magnificent array of national parks and protected areas covering almost a quarter of the entire country. Just 0.03% of the world’s landmass, Costa Rica is home to 5% of its biodiversity, with countless plant and animal species that you will never encounter elsewhere, including 1500 breathtaking styles of orchid. If you can tear yourself away, its beaches are equally glorious, with a year-round tropical climate virtually assuring wonderful weather.