This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)
It’s more than just a canal…. much more. And what you find in Panama depends on what you are looking for. And if you’re not quite sure what that is, don’t worry. Look what Vasco Nunez de Balboa found in Panama — the Pacific Ocean.
Since then, visitors have been making discoveries about this very special country.
For many the discovery could be the casinos, the Atlantic (or the Pacific) Ocean, the mountains, the girls, the jungle, the fishing, the rhythm, or, of course, the Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal is number one on the sightseer’s list. The world knows no engineering work of comparable magnitude, designed at the turn of the last century, operating since 1914, that copes so well with the chesty demands of 21st century shipping.
In this brief introduction, a few statistics are in order: Panama’s population tops three million people of diverse origins: descendants of Spanish settlers, of the black Cimarrones, Indians of coast and mountains, West Indians who came to dig the Canal, North Americans, emigre families of European stock, Chinese and East Indians, and a large number of people (about 72%) whose origins have been serenely blended into what, in Spanish, is called Mestizo.
The country offers scenery as varied as its people – majestic rain forests, sweeping hill country and valleys formed by slumbering volcanoes, peaks towering to 11,000 feet, and about 2,000 islands. And beaches, from select island resorts in the Perlas Islands through the powdery sands of Isla Grande on the Caribbean’s Costa Arriba to the reefs of San Blas and the infinite, empty strands of the Azuero Peninsula. These, then, are some of the Panamas to discover.
Panama is between 50 and 120 miles wide and is bounded by 477 miles of Caribbean coastline and 767 miles of Pacific.
The sea-level temperature is around 80-85 degrees F. ( 27 degrees C.) most of the year, cooling down freshly in the evenings. We talk of “dry season” approximately between the months of December to April but although there is a higher rainfall during the other months of the year, it is a rare day that the sun fails to show.
COLONIAL PANAMA: Old Panama, Portobelo and Ft. San Lorenzo are tolerating tourist cameras and flashes with serene equanimity. In earlier days, beaten upon by the likes of Sir Francis Drake, Sir Henry Morgan and Admiral Sir Edward Vernon, they experienced noisier flashes.
CASCO ANTIGUO PANAMA: New Orleans South, minus Basin Street. The balconied, narrow-streeted Old Compound, so named for having once been behind the city wall, shares the mixed Spanish and French heritage of New Orleans. The French Connection, in this case, was Ferdinand de Lesseps’ scandal-shattered attempt to repeat France’s Suez accomplishment here.
INSTANT PANAMA: Hotels, office blocks, condominiums and homes are sprouting faster in Pamama City than in Latin American capitals many times its size. Architecture is often imaginative, sometimes nostalgic.
LAS VEGAS PANAMA: Some hotels and shopping centers have casinos. The other hotels are within dice-throw of these casinos. If they had been in operation when Morgan travelled here, he could have gotten his money without burning the place down.
PANAMA, SHOPPING CENTER OF THE AMERICAS: A trading post is what the Isthmus has always been. The point about being the shortest crossing between the Atlantic and the Pacific is that commerce shall use the route. Hence Panama City’s many shopping malls and the Colon Free Zone.
ISLAND PANAMA: The Pearl Islands, Contadora, San José, San Blas Archipelago, Taboga, Coiba, Isla Grande, John Wayne Island, Bocas del Toro. Islands all, and all different in their offerings of sun and sea resorts.
BEACHES PANAMA: The Pacific beaches. Choice of glistening white sand or sparkling black sand. Vast acres of it. For swimming from, surfing from, running or jogging on. MOUNTAIN PANAMA: This idyllic seashore land of the tourist brochures is blanket and fireplace country when you take to the proudly-farmed mountain slopes of Chiriqui province near the Costa Rican border.
PRE-COLUMBIAN PANAMA: The term connotes archaeological artifacts and mysterious rock carvings from a lost culture. But consider the Atlantic shoreline of the province of Veraguas and the Darien wilderness. Columbus would find them as daunting now as then. Nothing has changed, not even the tapirs.