Peaceful little Portobelo on Panama’s Caribbean coast with its unrivalled sea views, secluded white-sand beaches and backdrop of lush, tropical jungle should be a busy tourist spot. It remains, however, a tranquil town with an African art and music scene whose roots lie in Congo. It’s hard to imagine that this was once one of the busiest ports in the Americas, a major trading hub, and the embarkation point for gold and silver, which was brought by mules from Peru and Bolivia and was destined for the Spanish Main. Vestiges of cannoned fortresses endure and watch over the spot where Sir Francis Drake came to rest in 1596.
In contrast to the West-Indian influenced Bocas del Toro islands, the archipelago of San Blas hosts the indigenous culture of the Kuna Yala indians, who have enjoyed autonomy since the 1920s. The string of 400 islands includes tiny islets with a just few coconut palms to over forty which are inhabited. The Kuna Yala maintain a deeply traditional, communal lifestyle based at their bamboo, palm-thatched residences, surviving from fishing and agriculture. These conservative people welcome sensitive visitors to their gorgeous palm-dotted beaches; a few days here is a unique experience.