Bocas del Toro
Concierge.com's insider take:
The archipelago of Bocas del Toro, on the northwestern coast, is one of the country's most popular ecotourism destinations—but it's still relatively untrammeled. Isla Colón, which has the island group's only real town (and airport—it's an hour-long flight from Panama City), is sparsely inhabited, but if you need even more seclusion you can escape to dozens of smaller islands. Here you'll find accommodations ranging from seaside shacks to luxury cabanas.
Diving and snorkeling enthusiasts shouldn't miss Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park. This underwater reserve, which surrounds an island near Isla Colón, is the best place in the archipelago to see waving sea fans, blossoming corals, and more than 200 varieties of tropical fish. The most popular areas in the park are the waters around Cayos Zapatillas, two islets where scientists study the life cycle of sea turtles—but there are dozens of other sites. Starfleet Scuba, based on Isla Colón, runs regular day-trips to the park; you can arrange to visit as many sites as you like (507-757-9630; www.starfleetscuba.com).
Bocas is also popular with serious surfers, although they must bring their own boards (there's no place to rent them). The best breaks can be found on the north shore of Isla Colón at Bluff Beach and Paunch Beach. Panama Surf Tours runs multi-day surfing trips to these spots as well as others on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts (like Santa Catalina and Cambutal in the south); tours include transport, basic lodgings and some meals (www.panamasurftours.com).