Destination of the week: Beach life in Panama

With more than 1,500 islands and swathes of sand along the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, Panama has no shortage of beaches, write Sara Humphreys - author of the new Rough Guide to Panama (£16.99). Even in high season it's possible to have stretches of sand, or an entire island, to yourself.

You can wallow in warm Pacific shallows only an hour's drive from the capital, but most visitors are drawn to the country's two contrasting Caribbean beach scenes. The bohemian vibe and Afro-Caribbean culture of the Bocas del Toro ("Mouths of the Bull") archipelago close to the Costa Rican border has long been a favourite of backpackers. They are lured by days soaking up deserted beaches, powerful surf and colourful coral, and nights partying under the stars. You could stay at the remote open-sided thatched beachside bungalows of Al Natural ( or the breezy hilltop ranchos of the La Loma Jungle Lodge ( Both are on Isla Bastimentos and have a nightly all-inclusive rate of around $200 double.

For a very different experience head east to Kuna Yala. This is a 400-island archipelago that stretches for almost 400km up to the Colombian border. You will find dazzling, white-sand beaches encircling tiny palm-topped islands. This is home to Panama's most culturally distinct indigenous people, the Kuna, and delivers a Robinson Crusoe experience: don't expect running water, flush toilets or electricity. Swing in a hammock with a good book, or snorkel in the surrounding turquoise waters before enjoying a simple seafood supper and a night in a cane cabaña, being lulled to sleep by the waves. The community-run cabañas on Digir (Isla Tigre) make a good starting point, or consider a six-day kayaking trip with Expediciones Tropicales (, who employ Kuna guides and explore Digir's surrounding islands and the rainforested mainland.

Warning of the week: Kenya visa rise

Earlier this year Kenya halved the cost of its visa-on-arrival, from $50 (£33) to $25. Four weeks from today, the cost reverts to $50. Added to November's increase in Air Passenger Duty, government fees for a trip to the East African country will have risen by £41 in two months.

Bargain of the week: Venice in style

Thinking of taking the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express but want a deal? Catch the first inbound service of next year and the company will throw in two nights at the Hotel Cipriani in Venice. That alone is worth around £500 per person, making the £1,690 price of a one-way trip look good value. You also get a special champagne reception on the train and transfers from the Hotel Cipriani to the station. You need to quote code VMAL when booking (020-7960 0500;

Tip of the week: Reunion on foot

The spectacular French territory in the Indian Ocean is difficult and expensive to reach, but it is a new addition to the range of hiking trips offered by Exodus (0845 863 9601; Two weeks of trekking across the volcanic landscapes costs £2,169 including flights and accommodation in mountain gites. Departures next year are 21 April, 2 June and 7 July. The other notable new arrival is Yellowstone National Park, with a new wildlife trek departing 25 June and 9 July, price £2,299.