The Azuero Peninsula
The Azuero Peninsula, located in south central Panama, is a densely populated, yet somewhat isolated place, home to approximately 13 percent of Panama’s residents. Frequently referred to as “Panama’s Heartland,” Azuero is known for its wide, secluded, white sand beaches, its colorful handicrafts, and as home to Panama’s national drink, the powerful sugarcane liquor called “seco.”
The Azuero Peninsula is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Gulf of Panama to the east. The region is made up of three provinces: Herrera, Los Santos, and the narrow province of Veraguas. The area hosts many colorful festivals throughout the year, including the four-day carnival celebration that precedes Lent.
Sightseeing in Azuero
In addition to the secluded beaches and provincial charm, visitors to Azuero will enjoy seeing the Cathedral de San Juan Bautista in Chitre, a humble yet moving example of 19th century architecture. Also in Chitre is the Museo de Herrera, a little museum dedicated to the history of the region from prehistoric days to the present. La Arena is a small town known for its pre-Columbian pottery designs, and the town of Parita offers excellent examples of Spanish colonial architecture and design.
The Beaches of Azuero
The east coast of the Azuero Peninsula is home to some of Panama’s best beaches. Unlike those surrounding Panama City, Azuero’s beaches are secluded and unfettered by rows of condos, restaurants, and other signs of the 21st (or even the 20th) century. The beaches are wide and long and feature excellent diving and snorkeling among the coral reefs, just offshore.
The National Parks
Azuero has eleven national parks and refuges, including Sarigua National Park in Herrera, a 1000-acre desert park with a salt-water marsh. This interesting wildlife habitat is home to armadillos, green and black iguanas, and a variety of other creatures. Just off the mainland are Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge and Isla Canas. Iguana Island boasts a beautiful seashore and is a popular daytrip from the mainland. It is also home to an array of sea birds, including pelicans and frigate birds, as well as sea turtles. Although the island does not have electricity or running water, it offers excellent diving and snorkeling on the coral reef that surrounds the island.
Cana Island is home to Panama’s best surfing beach, Playa Venado. The island also boasts the largest coral reef in the Gulf of Panama. Like Iguana Island, Cana Island lacks facilities for an overnight visit, but makes an excellent and scenic day trip.
Fishing in Azuero
Sportsfishing is a major tourist draw to the Azuero Peninsula. The “Tuna Coast” on the peninsula’s east coast is famous for its tuna as well as its amberjack, wahoo, dorado, and African Pompano, among other species. A number of operators run multi-day packages, with accommodations at rustic fishing lodges along the coast.
A trip to the Azuero Peninsula is like a step back in time. The beaches are free from rows of condos, the people are friendly, and the lifestyle is relaxed. The region is accessible from Panama City by car (about four-six hours) or by small plane to Chitre (about 40 minutes.) However you get there, you’re sure to enjoy the friendly, uncomplicated people and the charming provincial towns in Azuero.