Destination: visit Panama
Known as the “Crossroads of the Americas”, Panama is the southernmost country of Central America. It is south of Costa Rica and North of Colombia; it has coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Situated on the isthmus that connects North and South America, it controls the Panama Canal, one of the most important shipping routes in the world, that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
The territory is characterized by a mountain chain in the west, moderate hills in the interior, and a low range on the east coast. In the Caribbean area there are extensive forests.
The capital and largest city is Panama City with 1,272,672 inhabitants.
Although Spanish is the official language, many Panamanians are bilingual and speak English.
Panama has used the US dollar as its only currency since 1904, although Panamanians often call it Balboa. Although the US dollar is the currency, Panama mints its own coins in the same weights and sizes as US coinage, but with Panamanian stampings.
Panama has a tropical climate, with high temperatures and little season variation. Temperatures rarely exceed 32°C. Temperatures on the Pacific side tend to be a little lower than the ones on the Caribbean side. Like all tropical regions Panama has only two seasons the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season usually runs from April to October but can vary in length from seven to nine months. The ideal time to go to Panama is December through March, because there is almost a 0% chance of rain.
Rodrigo de Bastidas in 1501 was the first European to explore Panama. In 1502 Columbus established a short lived settlement in the area, and in 1513 Balboa was able to show that Panama was indeed the path between the seas. Panama quickly became a major shipping point to and from South and Central America in colonial days. In 1821 when all the colonies declared their independence from Spain, Panama joined Colombia and became one of its departments. Two major attempts were made to secede: one in 1831 and again during the Thousand Days' War of 1899-1902. Panama finally declared its independence in 1903 with the support of the USA. The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was signed with the US. It granted sovereign rights to the US in the area where the US would build a canal. The canal was completed in 1914 and in 1977 a treaty was signed giving Panama gradual control of the canal, phasing out US military bases, and guaranteeing the canal's neutrality. Panama's first directly elected president Nicolas Ardito Barletta, was inaugurated on October 11, 1984. In December 1989 Noriega was named “maximum leader”. In December 1989, US troops seized control of Panama City and in Jan 1990 Noriega surrendered himself to US custody. Guillermo Endara was installed as president. In 1999 control of the Panama Canal was officially handed over to Panama.
Panamanian cuisine is characterized by the unique mix of Spanish, African, and Native American ingredients and dishes. Many dishes are based on corn, coconut rice (rice made with coconut milk) and beans, and fried green plantains called patacones. A lot of Panamanian food is fried, even breakfast can be made with a selection of fried meats and breads. A typical breakfast often comprises fried corn tortillas with eggs. Coffee in Panama is a must, since the country is known for its high quality coffee.
Some typical dishes include: bollo, tamales made out of tender corn kernels wrapped in corn leaves; wheat turnover, fried empanadas stuffed with meat, chicken or cheese; hojaldre with sausage, a sweet fried bread; gallo pinto, beans and rice; seafood gaucho, the Panamanian take on risotto and seafood paella; sancocho, the national dish of Panama. It is a chicken soup with ingredients like Yuca, and Culantro; patacones, fried green plantains. Panama's most famous drink is seco, a sugar cane distilled alcohol produced in Herrera and commonly served with milk and rice.
While in Panama City you can't miss the four must do list: the Panama Canal, Panama Viejo, Casco Antiguo, and the jungles surrounding the Canal area.
The Panama Canal is a must see. You can experience the canal in many ways: you can cross it, either partial crossing that takes about 4 hours, or complete crossing that takes 8 hours. You can also travel its length by train or visit the museum dedicated to it.
Panama Viejo was the first city of Panama founded in 1519;
Casco Antiguo, a UNESCO protected site, is a vibrant city with styles ranging from Caribbean to French and even Art Deco.
Parque Soberania, Parque Chagres and Parque Metropolitano are located fifteen minutes away from Panama City. Here you can do birdwatching at Gamboa's Pipeline Road, visit the caves at Madden or go fishing at the Gatun Lake.
Bastimentos Island National Park. This is an archipelago of islands, one of the few protected areas that preserves coastal, island, and marine ecosystems within the same territory. This area provides habitat to manatees and more than 200 species of tropical fishes. The crystalline waters make it a great spot for diving.
Coiba National Marine Park is often described as the Galapagos of Central America for the number of rare species that live there: 23 different species of dolphins and whale have been identified here.
El Valle is a charming little town that is nestled in the second biggest inhabited volcanic caldera in the world.
Barù Volcano National Park. The Barù volcano, the highest peak in Panama, is located in this 14,322 hectares park. The volcano is surrounded by a tropical rainforest.
The orchid known as the Flower of the Holy Spirit (Peristeria Elata) is Panama's national flower. A small white dove with open wings seems to appear in the center of the orchid's petals.
Panama houses over 10,000 different plants species, including 1200 varieties of orchids, 678 ferns, and more than 1500 varieties of trees.
The country shelters more birds than the United States and Canada combined.
Panama is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise in the Pacific and set in the Atlantic.
Panama has also the second largest duty free zone in the world.