From LAX, Copa offers nonstop service and Copa, American, Delta and Mexicana offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip fares begin at $530.
To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 507 (country code for Panama) and the local number.
WHERE TO STAY:
Hotel El Panama, 111 Vía España, Panama City; 215-9000, fax 269-3309, vwww.elpanama.com. Historic, tropical-style hotel where salsa singer Rubén Blades gave his first professional performance, centrally located in the banking district. Doubles begin at $125, including continental breakfast.
Gamboa Rainforest Resort, P.O. Box 7338, Zone 5, Panama City, 314-9000, www.gamboaresort.com. This full-service resort, just 30 minutes from downtown Panama City on the banks of the Chagres River within Soberania National Park, offers a spectacular natural getaway featuring an aerial tram over the jungle canopy. Doubles from $175.
Hostal La Casa de Carmen, Calle 1ra No. 32 El Carmen, Panama City; 263-4366, vwww.lacasadecarmen.com. Billed as Panama's first bed-and-breakfast. The budget hostel is in a quiet neighborhood just one block from Via España. Doubles begin at $30, including continental breakfast.
WHERE TO EAT:
Manolo Caracol, Avenida Central y Calle Tercera, Casco Antiguo, Panama City; 228-4640. This trendy fusion restaurant in the historic quarter offers art exhibitions and a fixed-price menu with up to 11 courses, all for $16.
Parrillada Jimmy, Via Cincuentenario, Panama City, 226-1323, www.parrilladajimmy.com. Across from the Atlapa Convention Center and the Tourism Ministry headquarters, this casual family restaurant is a favorite lunch spot for Blades. Known for its steaks. Entrees $4.50-$15.50.
Restaurante Miraflores, Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal. Food is passable. Dining on the outdoor patio watching huge ships pass through the locks only yards away: priceless. Most expensive item $15.
TO LEARN MORE:
An extensive website, vwww.panamainfo.com, with information on travel, investment, retirement and more.
Official site of the Instituto Panameño de Turismo (the government's tourism ministry), vwww.ipat.gob.pa.
-- Agustin Gurza