With every important match being televised and broadcast on radio, both European and Latin American football (soccer) leagues have a broad fan base and are closely followed in Panama, but baseball (beisbol) is Panama’s official national sport. There are twelve teams in the national league, and home teams are sacred to their impassioned fans, making the experience of attending a game lively and culturally rich (see wfedebeis.com.pa). The season runs from January to April. Panama City’s stadium, 8km northeast of the city centre – and named after Major League Baseball Hall-of-Fame player and Panamanian native Rod Carew – is never full, other than during the play-offs; tickets cost around US$5.
Hiking, rafting, surfing and diving are probably the most common and easily accessible of the outdoor activities. Boquete, in the Chiriquí Highlands, provides an ideal departure point for hikes up Volcán Barú, Panama’s highest point, as well as for rafting trips down ríos Chiriquí and Chiriquí Viejo. Isla Coiba is a world-renowned dive site for experienced divers, while Bocas del Toro also has a good reputation, with trips ranging from all-day snorkel tours to underwater exploration of shipwrecks and spectacular reef walls. Bocas can also have excellent surf, though it is seasonal and less consistent than on the Pacific coast, where Santa Catalina has the most popular break, and is considered world class. wwannasurf.com lists the best breaks.
Panama is also one of the world’s top destinations for birdwatching; areas in the former Canal Zone and the Chiriquí Highlands, for example, are home to numerous colourful exotic species. It’s well worth engaging the services of an expert on birding trips; local Spanish-speaking guides charge around US$30/half-day, not including transport. You’ll pay up to three times that for a bilingual naturalist guide, though the price will usually include use of a telescope and private transport.