Central Panama is a strikingly diverse region. Heading west from Panama City the Interamericana runs along a narrow plain squeezed between the Pacific and the slopes of the Cordillera Central. Your bus will barely have hit top speed before you can hop off and spend some time sprawled on one of the abundant beaches just south of the Interamericana. Though they’re fine for a weekend escape from Panama City, they don’t compare with the offerings on the islands of the Golfo de Chiriquí, Bocas del Toro or Guna Yala. It is, however, worth heading north off the Interamericana to spend a night in the relative cool of El Valle, a popular weekend getaway for wealthy Panama City residents, before venturing further into spectacular mountain scenery round the village of El Copé and the Parque Nacional Omar Torrijos.
At the border of Coclé Province, 193km from Panama City, the road forks at Divisa: the Interamericana continues west to Santiago, the capital of Veraguas Province, but consider turning south down the Carretera Nacional into the Península de Azuero, which hosts some of the country’s most vibrant festivals in the colonial towns of Guararé and Las Tablas, contains some splendid surfing beaches, and has two fascinating islands – Isla Iguana and Isla Cañas – to explore.