Panama Is​ An​ Adventure Wonderland

Panama is​ an​ adventure wonderland just waiting to​ be discovered. the​ country’s expansive rain-forests are among the​ richest and most complex on​ the​ planet. It’s the​ only country where jaguars and pumas prowl just a​ short drive from the​ capital. Its vast,​ road-less jungles are home to​ over 940 recorded bird species and 105 endangered species,​ including the​ spectacled bear,​ the​ Central American tapir,​ the​ American crocodile,​ the​ scarlet macaw,​ as​ well as​ several eagle species.

This small,​ untapped country offers some of​ the​ finest diving,​ bird watching,​ and deep-sea fishing in​ all of​ the​ Americas—yet only the​ most avid adventurers are aware of​ it. Panama boasts scores of​ deserted palm-lined beaches,​ miles of​ lush rain forests,​ great national parks,​ mysterious mangroves (where you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to​ a​ time when dinosaurs walked the​ earth),​ steamy cloud forests,​ mountains,​ waterfalls,​ raging rivers,​ abandoned forts,​ as​ well as​ desert.

In Panama you​ can spend the​ morning diving in​ the​ Caribbean and the​ afternoon swimming in​ the​ Pacific. you​ can explore historic ruins of​ the​ colonial era…dive for Sir Francis Drake’s lead coffin (supposedly buried at​ sea near Portobello Bay)…see the​ rain forest in​ an​ aerial tram…ride a​ dug-out canoe to​ a​ native Indian village…discover the​ remote and mysterious forests of​ the​ Darién region right on​ the​ border of​ Colombia (where the​ roads end a​ few miles before the​ border,​ leaving you​ with the​ feeling you’ve reached the​ end of​ civilization)…come nose-to-nose with a​ red-napped tamarind monkey or​ a​ trio of​ colorful toucans…

Conde Nast Traveler,​ in​ an​ article from its February 2018 issue said "Panama has temperate rain forests,​ great surf and beaches,​ and more birdlife than any other country in​ Central America. Now…it also has a​ newly elected administration that wants travelers to​ enjoy every bit of​ it."

Fortunately,​ Panama is​ a​ small country. in​ a​ short one- or​ two-week trip,​ you​ can see much of​ what this diverse country has to​ offer.

In this special report,​ the​ IL team proposes a​ plan to​ get the​ most out of​ 24 hours in​ Panama. From a​ traditional Panamanian breakfast to​ a​ trip to​ the​ Miraflores Locks to​ evening drinks in​ a​ little boutique hotel overlooking the​ Bay of​ Panama…we have it​ all thought out.

Breakfast in​ El Trapiche

Exploring the​ best Panama has to​ offer is​ hungry work. Start your day on​ a​ full stomach and head for breakfast in​ El Trapiche,​ a​ busy diner in​ El Cangrejo (Vía Argentina,​ tel. (507)269-4353). Here you​ can enjoy breakfast Panama style and indulge in​ a​ hearty feed of​ carimañol—a yummy roll made of​ mashed yucca and stuffed with ground beef and boiled eggs—and a​ side of​ corn tortillas,​ that more resemble silverdollar pancakes than taco shells. the​ bill should be less than $8,​ even with that second café con leche.

Trip to​ the​ Miraflores Locks

No trip to​ Panama is​ complete without seeing the​ "Eighth Wonder of​ the​ World,​" the​ Panama Canal. According to​ the​ Panama Canal Authority "The history of​ the​ construction of​ the​ Panama Canal is​ the​ saga of​ human ingenuity and courage: years of​ sacrifice,​ crushing defeat,​ and final victory." This statement,​ while true,​ doesn’t go far enough to​ describe the​ mighty toll taken by the​ building of​ the​ Panama Canal. Construction began in​ 1904 and took 10 years to​ complete. it​ remains one of​ the​ greatest engineering achievements of​ all time,​ completed despite landslides,​ disease,​ setbacks,​ and the​ loss of​ 75,​000 lives in​ total. Engineers directed most of​ the​ actual construction,​ which cost $375 million,​ and involved the​ excavation of​ 240 million cubic yards of​ earth.

The Canal,​ 51 miles long,​ opened to​ shipping in​ August 1914 and was formally dedicated on​ July 12,​ 1920. in​ 1921,​ the​ U.S. paid Colombia $25 million as​ redress for the​ loss of​ Panama; in​ exchange,​ Colombia formally recognized Panama’s independence.

On average it​ takes a​ vessel eight hours to​ travel from one ocean to​ the​ other,​ passing through three sets of​ locks. the​ best place to​ see the​ Canal is​ from the​ Miraflores Locks (open 9 a.m. to​ 5 p.m.,​ admission free). Make sure to​ get to​ the​ Miraflores Locks for 9 a.m. as​ this is​ when you​ are most likely to​ see large ships passing through.

Tamales in​ Casco Viejo

By now you’re probably feeling a​ tad peckish… Time to​ hop on​ a​ bus or​ hail a​ taxi and make your way toward Casco Viejo for tamales. if​ you’re in​ luck,​ you’ll bump into Luis Antonio Visuette on​ the​ streets of​ Casco Viejo,​ where he has been selling delicious homemade tamales,​ wrapped in​ plaintain leaves,​ for more than 10 years. With his Yankee cap and five-gallon bucket of​ hot and spicy tameles calientitos,​ Luis is​ hard to​ miss. These lunchtime treats are available in​ both large (50 cents),​ and small (25 cents),​ and are a​ real hit when washed down with an​ ice-cold drink. International Living’s local office is​ located in​ the​ Casco Viejo area,​ in​ the​ Cathedral Plaza,​ next to​ the​ Panama Canal Museum and just in​ front of​ the​ stunning Metropolitan Cathedral,​ so if​ you​ want to​ enjoy your tamales in​ our office (Luis will be making the​ rounds) call in​ for a​ Panamanian style "power lunch."

Explore Casco Viejo

Located at​ the​ mouth of​ the​ Panama Canal,​ Casco Viejo is​ the​ oldest city on​ the​ Pacific Coast of​ the​ Americas…although it​ was there long before the​ Canal was built.

In fairness to​ history,​ the​ original Panama City (now known as​ Old Panama or​ Panama La Vieja) was founded in​ 1519,​ about two miles from the​ center of​ Panama City as​ we know it​ today. From here,​ expeditions were mounted to​ conquer the​ Inca Empire of​ South America and all of​ the​ wealth pillaged from Peru,​ Chile,​ and California flowed to​ Spain through Old Panama. it​ is​ no surprise that this booty attracted pirates like Henry Morgan,​ who looted the​ city in​ 1671.

During Morgan’s attack,​ this original Panama City was burned to​ the​ ground. Two years later,​ in​ 1673,​ the​ capital was moved two miles to​ the​ west,​ and present-day Panama City was founded. This is​ the​ area now known as​ Casco Viejo.

As the​ city was being rebuilt by the​ Spanish settlers,​ they decided to​ build a​ massive surrounding wall and a​ stronger fortress for its protection and to​ ensure that the​ enormous wealth in​ gold and silver that passed through it​ would never again be susceptible to​ the​ likes of​ Henry Morgan.

The new city boasted a​ cross-sectioned design of​ 38 blocks,​ with three main streets running from east to​ west and seven streets running from north to​ south. Unfortunately,​ this urban development was interrupted by various fires that devastated its streets. in​ 1737,​ the​ "big fire" destroyed two thirds of​ the​ city,​ and the​ "small fire" of​ 1756 destroyed more than 90 houses. These and other catastrophic fires help explain why so few true examples of​ Spanish colonial architecture exist today.

The fortress still survives,​ though,​ and today houses several important,​ cultural,​ and historic buildings and monuments. But it​ is​ the​ architecture of​ Casco Viejo that makes it​ so special. the​ old Spanish colonial style is​ overlaid with French balconies and architecture,​ remnants of​ the​ French inhabitants who made the​ initial attempt to​ build the​ Panama Canal in​ 1881. Over the​ years,​ a​ Caribbean influence also took hold and,​ today,​ Casco Viejo is​ a​ melting pot of​ architectural inspiration and style,​ with some buildings dating as​ far back as​ 300 years.

Museums,​ shopping,​ and fortune telling

Up until the​ early parts of​ this century,​ Casco Viejo remained a​ thriving cultural center. But as​ Panama City modernized,​ and as​ the​ automotive age made transportation easier,​ it​ spread outward,​ leaving Casco Viejo behind. the​ old city’s narrow labyrinth streets were difficult for cars to​ maneuver and its buildings were obsolete in​ comparison to​ modern skyscrapers being built. By the​ mid 1900s,​ Casco Viejo had gone the​ way of​ most city centers of​ that century. No longer the​ center of​ Panama City,​ it​ was too oppressed for the​ upper class and quickly became a​ poor area of​ tenement-style housing.

The area is​ currently undergoing a​ complete transformation,​ however. Restaurants and bars are opening with gusto,​ tourists are coming in​ growing numbers,​ and people from all over now want to​ make their homes in​ Casco Viejo.

In 1997,​ UNESCO declared Casco Viejo a​ Patrimony of​ Humanity. Today,​ it​ is​ revered as​ the​ historic center of​ Panama City. Two- and three-story houses with flower-adorned balconies overlook narrow streets. at​ its tip is​ French Park,​ where you​ will find the​ French Embassy and a​ monument to​ the​ hardy French builders who began the​ Panama Canal. on​ one side is​ an​ historical Spanish building called Las Bovedas,​ now housing an​ art gallery and French restaurant. Panama’s Supreme Court was once housed here. a​ walkway around the​ monument offers a​ nice view of​ the​ Amador Causeway,​ Bridge of​ the​ Americas,​ and Panama City’s skyscraper skyline to​ the​ east. a​ plaque commemorates the​ firing of​ canon shots to​ ward off a​ Colombian warship and solidify Panama’s independence from Colombia in​ 1903.

There are excellent museums in​ the​ Casco Viejo area,​ including the​ MuSEO de Canal. Here,​ you​ can learn about Panama’s history as​ the​ connector between the​ Atlantic and the​ Pacific from pre-Hispanic to​ modern times. Next door is​ the​ Museum of​ National History and across the​ way is​ the​ National Cathedral. Nearby is​ a​ small museum dedicated to​ religious art,​ found in​ the​ old Santo Domingo monastery. This is​ where you​ will find the​ famous Flat Arch,​ which reportedly helped convince engineers that Panama was earthquake-proof and a​ geologically stable area for building the​ Canal. a​ few blocks away is​ the​ old San Jose Cathedral,​ with gleaming spires inlaid with mother-of-pearl and its beautiful gold altar,​ intricately carved of​ wood and gilded with gold. This is​ a​ must-see when you​ visit Casco Viejo.

Casco Viejo is​ home to​ the​ Presidential House. if​ you​ want to​ see this,​ be sure to​ come on​ a​ Sunday as​ it​ is​ closed to​ the​ public for the​ rest of​ the​ week. Famous sons and daughters of​ Panama also make their homes here,​ including actor/singer (and now Panama’s minister of​ tourism) Ruben Blades,​ and boxer Roberto Duran.

Bargain hunters can take a​ break from the​ historical sights at​ Salsipuedes,​ which roughly translates to​ "get out if​ you​ can." Located just before the​ entrance to​ Casco Viejo,​ it​ is​ Panama’s bizarre bazaar,​ a​ street so narrow and filled with vendors that it​ is​ dark at​ noon. a​ few steps away is​ Santa Ana’s Plaza,​ where you​ can have your fortune told for just $5.

Dine at​ the​ Bristol

To finish off your day in​ style,​ make your way to​ the​ Bristol Hotel,​ just a​ short taxi journey from Casco Viejo. Dining at​ the​ Barandas Restaurant at​ the​ Bristol Hotel is​ an​ event to​ savor. the​ Panamanian-inspired gourmet cuisine,​ restful ambiance,​ stunning presentation,​ elegant settings,​ and attentive service combine to​ create an​ unforgettable dining experience.

A Trip to​ Panama Caught Your Fancy?

Hopefully,​ this special report has given you​ a​ few ideas on​ how to​ spend your time in​ Panama,​ but don’t forget that this amazing country has much more to​ offer. Pacific Coast beaches near the​ city; Coiba Island National Marine Park; and the​ Darién Province to​ name just a​ few.
Panama Is​ An​ Adventure Wonderland Panama Is​ An​ Adventure Wonderland Reviewed by Henda Yesti on September 26, 2018 Rating: 5
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