Costa Rica's lesser known neighbour & your port to Columbia by boat, Panama is your destination for mountain towns, overnight buses, and colonial architecture.
when: summer (January-April)
If diving or hiking is of interest, prioritize summer (dry season) during the first half of the year. Wet season (May-December) will fulfill your waterfall dreams, but torrential downpours will drown out your tan.
From Columbia, the Darien Gap is not available for safe land travel - you can boat/cruise on the Atlantic coast through the San Blas islands. There are two land border crossings from Costa Rica, I would recommend the one between Puerto Viejo and Bocas. You can arrange bus/private transport on either side that will take you straight to the border.
Hitchhiking is doable in smaller areas to get you to hike spots or hot springs if private vans haven't monopolized the area. Public transit is fun with many "chicken buses" around the country - think bright & metallic painted school buses. Larger tour style buses will take you between towns, with many running overnight.
Check out each stop guide on the map for my recommended hostels.
duration: 7-28 days
A few days in the city at most, or head out right away for the mountains. A week for some waterfalls & hikes and then you're hanging out island-side in the Bocas! Blink twice and you might get stuck here.
currency & cost: US Dollar (USD)
save - utilize overnight buses to combine your transport & accommodation in one
electrical outlets: 110V, 60Hz (US Type A/B)
Panama uses a two (A) or three (B) type outlet, as seen in North America.