In the end, we loved Panama. After our early exit from Costa Rica, we landed in the northwest without much of a plan and without any expectations, but Panama has turned out to be one long story of pleasant places, nice people, good food and, to top it off, a bona fide adventure on the high seas. What's not to like?
True, the sights of Panama are rather more low key than, say, Guatemala or Nicaragua. Bocas del Toro is a pleasant spot, but we've visited much more beautiful Caribbean islands on this trip; Boquete is enjoyable, but there's nothing particularly astonishing there; we didn't fall for Pedasí in the way we'd hoped we would, but the area is certainly pretty enough to warrant a detour; and the Panama Canal, while utterly unique and a must-see, wasn't quite as astounding as I'd thought it would be. Only the San Blas archipelago, with its strings of tiny palm-fringed islands, stood out for me as totally unique, and it's arguably the least Panamanian sight on the list, as the Kuna are effectively an independent nation.
But that's missing the point of Panama. It's a mature and relatively well-developed country that's easy to travel round, but it doesn't suffer from the rip-off nature of Costa Rica, and this means that simply travelling round the country is a pleasure. You can easily find good food here, which is such a relief after the dreadful cuisine we've had to endure on most of our Central American journey, and Panama City was wonderfully cosmopolitan and a welcome sight for those of us who like modern cities. Panamanian public transport is modern (if you ignore the chicken buses that are being phased out) and is good value for money (if you ignore the taxi scammers in the capital), and the shape of the country means you don't need to backtrack too much to take in the sights.
As a coda to our trip through Central America, Panama did the trick nicely. It's not one of those countries that I'll be raving about for years to come, but I've come away with some lovely memories, and that's a darn sight more than I can say about some of the countries I've visited.