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TRAVEL Q&A

Panama's Other Treasures

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By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 16, 2008

Q. My wife and I want to take our children and grandchildren to Panama. Are there any good places for families to stay and any special places to visit other than the canal?

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Morton Lebow, Washington

A. There's a lot more to Panama than its famous canal, although as one of the candidates for eighth wonder of the modern world, it is definitely worth a visit. About 14,000 ships a year make the delicate maneuver through its three sets of locks between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. At the visitors center in Miraflores you can learn about the locks system, pressure valves, tow ships and more, and watch transiting vessels in action.

But don't stop there. The country is an up-and-coming eco-destination known for its great natural beauty and bountiful wildlife, and it's much less touristed than, say, Costa Rica. Your family can take a jungle cruise or go white-water rafting, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, birding, surfing or sport fishing. If you're not feeling adventurous, you can chill on one of the many white-sand beaches. And of course there's always that tropical-rain-forest staple, zip-lining under the nearest tree canopy.

Consider staying at an ecolodge that combines adventure excursions with family-friendly amenities. Gamboa Rainforest Resort (877-800-1690, http://www.gamboaresort.com), for example, has swimming pools, a butterfly farm, reptile displays and more, and runs its own jungle cruise. Its Family Safari package for two adults and two children includes four days' accommodations, breakfasts, guided tours and airport transfers, for $1,270 through Dec. 15, $1,660 thereafter.

For more info on Panama: Panama Tourist Bureau, http://www.visitpanama.com.

Next year's World Canals Conference is in Serbia, and we need help planning some sightseeing while we're there. Perhaps a riverboat ride on the Danube or hiking in one of the national parks? Can you recommend a travel agent who is familiar with the country?

Linda Lightfoot, Arlington

A canal conference sounds kind of dry (sorry), but the landscape of Serbia is anything but. To whet your appetite, check out the stunning photography on the Web site of the National Tourism Organization of Serbia, http://www.serbia.travel. Jelena Cukic Matic, press counselor at the Embassy of Serbia in Washington, says you're on the right track with a Danube cruise and national park hikes but also recommends checking out the night life in Belgrade and visiting one of the country's ethnic villages, such as Sirogojno.

For help planning your trip, try Danny Travel (800-565-8553, http://www.dannytravel.com), based in New York, or Kutrubes Travel in Boston (800-878-8566, http://www.kutrubestravel.com). Both specialize in travel to the Balkans and can arrange hotels, transportation and guides.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&;A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.


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