Panama is a small country with a big history. Panama is a bridge between worlds in many ways. While the Panama Canal provides a trade bridge between North & South America, Panama is also a key reason behind the rich bio-diversity of the Americas. It provided a route for flora & fauna to migrate between the Americas. Panama was also the bridge used by Spanish to transport Gold from Peru to Spain. With 400 coconut clad islands, white sand beaches and crystal clear Caribbean water, Panama is bestowed with Nature’s bounty. You can even take a weekend getaway to a volcanic crater at El Valle! With 7 Indian tribes still living their life in the traditional style, Panama will appeal to Culture Tourists as well.
Now that you are in Panama, the obvious place to start would be the Panama Canal! The Panama Canal is one of the world's most recognized and respected engineering marvels and a crucial link in the global supply chain. The Visitor centre at Miraflores Locks is where the action is. The visitor center has 4 stories with 3 stories of museums and a theater playing an educational film about the canal. The 4th storey is where the Observation Deck is located and gives you a good view of the shipping operations that go in the locks. Don’t forget to carry a binocular!
Amador is one of the most scenic spots of Panama. The Amador Causeway connects the three islands of Perico, Naos and Flamengo. A museum on Panama’s biodiversity is being constructed here. You can learn about how the Isthmus of Panama rose out of the sea and divided the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. What’s interesting to note is that Panama is a key reason behind the rich biodiversity of the Americas, as it provided a route for flora and fauna to migrate between North& South Americas.
While at Amador you can also have a look at Figali Convention Center. This is where the Miss Universe Pageant was held and hosts concerts by musicians like Santana, Alanis Morrisette, and The Red Hot Chilly Peppers.
A walk in El Casco Viejo, the old French quarters of Panama City is a great way to experience the local culture and history. It was plundered by the pirate Henry Morgan in 1671. The ruins here are a great example of French and Spanish architecture. I would recommend Casa Blanca for Tapas style food and a great Mojito. Another recommendation is a snow-cone from Julio. Casco Veijo also has a thriving night life. Platea Jazz bar is popular on Thursdays for its salsa nights and on Fridays for Jazz.
The unmistakably Panamanian sounds and smells that fill the Casco Viejo air, will linger in your minds long after your trip ends!
San Blas Islands is an archipelago of more than 400 islands managed autonomously the by the Kuna Indians with little interference from the national government. In fact the inhabitants used to trade in coconuts as currency till as late as 1990s! There are many lodging options available here. You can stay in any lodge run by the local community and spend some time fishing with them. Other popular activities are swimming or just lounging on hammocks in the several un-inhabited islands around Carti.
One of the most exciting trekking trails in this part of the world is the Quetzals Trail, located in the Volcan Baru National Park. The trail skirts the Baru Volcano on its north face and can be hiked in any direction, starting in Boquete and ending in Cerro Punta, or vice versa. The 9.6 km trail will take you anywhere between 4 to 7 hours depending on your fitness. It is also a botanical paradise with several orchid species and unique flora such as the magnolia and giant oak trees some of which are 900 years old. If you have a keen eye, you might be privileged to spot an iridescent green resplendent Quetzal, considered to be the most beautiful bird of America. Starting the Quetzals Trail around sunrise enhances your chances of spotting exotic birdlife.
El Valle is a fertile volcanic valley and a perfect getaway from the heat of mainland Panama. You can find some exotic local animals like the Golden Frog at the El Nispero Zoo. If you happen to be here on a Sunday morning then the local market at village would be a great place to find handicrafts such as wooden bowls, paintings on wood, hammocks, molas, baskets and ceramics. The hot thermal springs in the village are a perfect way to rejuvenate your selves after an eventful day. Make sure you indulge in a therapeutic volcanic mud bath before leaving!
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