Why Panama is Underrated for Sustainable Adventure Travel

Panama Beach via Dropbox.

Dolphins dart between islands. Sea turtles nest on white-sand beaches. Monkeys chatter and howl in the jungle. 

Pleasantly worn out from a day of snorkeling, you lounge in your eco-lux, solar powered cabana and reflect on everything you’ve seen today while you wait for yet another jaw-dropping sunset. 

It’s a sustainable adventure travel dream, but if you were to Google “best ecotourism destinations” this country might not pop up in the top 10. It’s a gem that – because of the tides of the economy and government priorities – has remained hidden until relatively recently. 

You’re in Panama.

Why Panama is an Underrated Ecotourism Destination

Parrots in Panama via Dropbox.

Panama – with an area the size of South Carolina – is home to over 10,000 species of plant, almost 1000 species of bird, and hundreds of mammals and amphibians. Their homes include mangrove wetlands, coral reefs, rainforests, and many other habitats. 

Which raises a question: How has a country as biodiverse and adventure-worthy as Panama stayed out of ecotourism limelight? 

Let’s start with the numbers. In 2022, Panama welcomed just under 2 million international visitors. Pre-pandemic, the average was closer to 2.5 million. Not bad on paper, right? But until recently, most of those visitors never left Panama City, according to Sustainable Travel International. 

True, Panama City is a vibrant metropolis and real-estate hub. And it’s home to the Panama Canal, which is kind of a big deal.

In contrast, Panama’s beautiful rural regions were underdeveloped. Travel infrastructure simply didn’t exist, let alone marketing.

And this created a problem. Not so much for Panama’s overall economy (did we mention they have a big-deal canal?), but for the small economies in remote areas and Panama’s indigenous ways of life. For many small-town residents, abandoning tradition to move to the big city may have seemed like the best plan to avoid poverty.

But then, government goals shifted… Non-profits began working behind the scenes… and in the early 2020s, Panama’s tourism industry finally started to move toward sustainability.

The Rise of Sustainable Adventure Travel in Panama

Small Town in Panama via Dropbox.

Today, Panama is experiencing an exciting shift toward sustainable and adventure-based tourism. 

Pristine islands, miles of trails through rainforest, world-class surfing beaches (mind the sea turtles!), and stunning mangroves are becoming more accessible with each passing year. 

And the best part? It’s easy to make sure your travel dollars go to rural communities rather than large travel corporations, helping traditional ways of life continue to thrive in a modern world. 

(As an international Yoga Adventure company, we love sending groups to Panama, where your day-to-day excursion fees go straight back to locals in the island town of Bocas del Toro… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)

The shift toward sustainable adventure travel in Panama isn’t happening by magic – it’s a collaboration between a wide range of stakeholders including:

  • The Panamanian government
  • Nonprofit organizations 
  • Local community members

Let’s look closer…

How Panama’s Government Made Sustainable Travel a Priority

The Panamanian government never took much of an interest in tourism – until 2020, when the Panama Tourism Authority (ATP) launched its 5-year Sustainable Tourism Master Plan.

Discussing nature and culture-based tourism with Skift, former Minister of Tourism Ivan Eskildsen said: 

“Now we know there’s an opportunity to attract this demand, to bring in dollars to the country, but at the same time preserving our nature and our culture with involvement of local communities and helping to improve the lives and well being of communities.”

Basically, the government has noted that conscientious travelers across the world are excited to explore what Panama has (the sea-turtle beaches and lush rainforests really DO speak for themselves!), and are funding sustainable infrastructure to get there. 

But the government wouldn’t be making progress without…

Panama’s Nonprofits Transform Communities with Ecotourism

The Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism (APTSO) is a nonprofit organization on a mission to bring sustainable tourism to small communities across Panama. 

And not just because the country’s vibrant landscapes deserve to be seen and celebrated. APTSO has a much bigger vision. 

By working with rural businesses in the travel industry, they’re: 

  • Using tourism as a tool to end poverty and hunger.
  • Empowering women in leadership roles.
  • Preserving the environment and traditional ways of life. 
  • Improving access to healthcare and clean water. 

You can learn more about APTSO’s mission and all the awesome work they’re doing through intentional tourism on their website (en español!).

Traditional & Indigenous Communities Take Ownership of Travel

Last but absolutely not least? The locally-run small businesses across Panama, of course!

From tour guides to hospitality workers, locals offer a unique perspective on conservation and share centuries-old traditions. At the end of the day, they are the people who have made Panama an up-and-coming ecotourism destination. 

At The Travel Yogi, we have the privilege of partnering with several locally-run small businesses on the Panama Yoga Adventure, and the experience we create together is nothing short of life-changing. (Just ask National Geographic Traveller, who voted this trip one of 50 Epic Adventures of 2018!)

Inside Our Sustainable Adventure in Panama

If you’re looking for a sustainable, exciting trip packed with learning opportunities and cultural connections in paradise… And you want to avoid oversaturated ecotourism destinations…

Yup, you guessed it: Panama is the perfect place, and the perfect time is now!

A few highlights of the Panama Yoga Adventure include…

Shop Small in the Big City

Even when you’re chasing a sustainable adventure, historic Panama City is not to be missed! As you decompress from your international flight, you’ll taste your way through a fruit market and sip rum from a small-batch distillery. After a day indulging the senses, it’s time to leave the city behind!

Off-the-Grid Island Accommodations

Bathrooms at IP via Dropbox.

In Bocas Del Toro, pool-facing patios, open-air showers, sea-breeze cooling, and island style await – and it’s all solar powered! When you’re not lounging barefoot, you’ll be dining on freshly prepared meals starring produce grown on site.

Dolphin Cruise and Mangrove Snorkeling

Need we say more!? Actually, yes – your ride is a catamaran, and you might just spy a sea turtle through your goggles.

Visit Undeveloped Islands

You’ll tread carefully on the sands of the protected Isla Zapatillas and snorkel through crystal-clear water to the coral reef (looking, not touching, of course!).

Relax and Listen to the Monkeys

This trip isn’t about 24/7 adrenaline. We believe adventure is an (open, expansive) state of mind. Whether you’re practicing yoga poolside, chatting with new friends, or finally catching up on that book you’ve been neglecting, the smell of ocean air and the chatter of resident monkeys will remind you you’re in a world apart.

Sustainable Adventure Travel Awaits in Panama…

When you visit Panama, fertile jungles, bustling coral reefs, and endless oceans remind you that everything is connected. 

And you’re not just a spectator – you have a part to play, too. As a conscious traveler, you’ll support the remarkable collaboration between government, nonprofit, and local leaders to preserve Panama’s ecosystems and cultures for generations to come.


What could possibly make it better? 

We might be biased, but we’re pretty sure “soaking it all in with a daily yoga practice,” is the answer. 

Wildlife encounters, Earth-friendly luxury, nature-soaked relaxation, and the perfect touch of yoga wellness await. 

Learn more about the Panama Yoga Adventure & view available dates!