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Panama

The 80km (50 mi) Panama Canal, transporting 12,000 ships a year between the two great oceans, is undoubtedly one of the world's greatest engineering feats. While the canal put the country on the map, there is another Panama few know about: sandy-beached islands on both coasts, steamy jungle rainforest cut by pristine waterfalls, and cool, misty mountain valleys spread with coffee plantations and framed by volcanoes.

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The narrowest point of a land bridge between North and South America, Panama shares the biodiversity of both, making for world-class birding and wildlife viewing. Steep, rugged mountains mean the white water is wild. And when you come up for air, Panama City may surprise you.

Both the canal and a thriving international banking industry brought prosperity, and the formerly US-controlled Canal Zone can feel more like Miami than Central America.

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