Panama has good potential as a vacation spot with its mountains, protected rain forests, fascinating wildlife, indigenous peoples, beaches and coral reefs, and opportunities for deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and surfing. Visitors can see historic sites and admire Panama's Spanish-colonial structures and Amerindian cultures.

The Panama Canal is another site of interest to many travelers, as it is among the most impressive engineering accomplishments of the 20th century. It is also a big attraction for passengers aboard the cruise ships and tour boats that float through the Canal. Landlubbers can watch a wide variety of vessels, among them some of the world's biggest ships, move through the giant locks. A new set of locks parallel to the existing locks is under construction and will permit passage by even bigger ships.

Panama has evolved its appeal for visitors since taking the reins of the Panama Canal in 1999. Travel infrastructure is improving, with an expanding offering of luxury accommodations, ecolodges and boutique-hotels. Roads in Panama are some of the best in Central America.

In numerous ways, Panama is more appealing as a travel destination than neighboring Costa Rica. And because Panama still sees fewer visitors than Costa Rica, travelers will find lower prices, fewer crowds and the feeling that they're discovering a well-kept secret.

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