Panama's expansive, semiarid Azuero Peninsula juts into the Pacific Ocean 150 mi/240 km southwest of Panama City. It is a sharp contrast to the lush greenery found elsewhere in Panama, partly because of devastating deforestation for cattle ranching.
What sets Azuero apart even more is its string of colonial-era towns and villages preserving exquisite whitewashed churches ringed by structures in quintessential Spanish style. Life there generally revolves on a slow hub and many folkloric traditions remain strongly embedded in local culture. Several communities are known as centers of craft—the manufacture of pollera dresses and straw hats is centered on Azuero, and it also hosts the majority of the nation's folkloric festivals.
The Azuero Peninsula region also has several interesting museums, including one in Villa de los Santos. This little town in Los Santos Province merits a visit to see the Church of San Anastacio, built in the 1700s, and the small history museum, where Panama's Declaration of Independence was signed in 1821. There are good beaches 7 mi/11 km northeast of the town. There's also fabulous surfing on remote beaches, and a series of coastal wetland habitats that are prime sites for birding.
Off the south shore of the peninsula, Isla Cana is Panama's only arribada site—a place where olive ridley turtles go ashore en masse (several thousand may make their way ashore on any one night) to lay their eggs in the sands. It is remote and accommodations are basic. Adhere to local regulations while viewing nesting turtles (rules include no flashlights, which can scare off the turtles).
Turtles also go ashore to nest on Isla Iguana, a tiny but beautiful island about 3 mi/5 km east of Pedasi. This national wildlife refuge is a major nesting site for frigatebirds; a short trail leads to the nesting site from the ranger station, which is situated beside one of the most beautiful beaches in Panama.
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