The indigenous Kuna Indians, inhabiting the San Blas Islands off the coast of mainland Panama, maintain many of their culture's ancient customs despite their proximity to an important banking and commerce center, Panama City. Fishing has always been crucial to this region -- the country's name means "abundance of fish" -- but the Kuna people don't use modern fishing technology. A canoe and a net are the preferred tools here. Living in thatched huts and carrying on their ancestors' colorful fabric weaving are elements of a culture persisting despite changes in the world around it.

The Kuna people are a good illustration of Panama as a whole; despite its importance as a trade capital and cultural crossroads throughout history, the country has preserved many of its natural gems and much of its cultural heritage. Lush rain forests, pristine beaches and stunning peaks remain largely unspoiled here, making it an ideal place for nature enthusiasts and those wanting a less tourist-laden vacation spot. Wildlife is abundant, home to such creatures as sloths, various monkeys, sea turtles, dolphins and whales. Bird-watchers delight in the colorful array of birds in the area -- more than 900 species of bird have been recorded here.

The Panama Canal is the main draw of this region. Remnants of the country's colonial past surround this feat of engineering. Visitors can observe the canal's locks, used to raise and lower ships into the canal, which are at three different locations: Miraflores, Pedro Miguel and Gatun.

Enduring indigenous culture, rich biodiversity, intriguing history -- along with a stable political climate and friendly locals -- make Panama a captivating travel destination.

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