Everyone knows about the canal but there is so much more to discover in Panama, from tropical rainforests, hiking and fantastic bird watching to white-water rafting, kayaking, pristine beaches and island hideaways.
Panama is beautiful in the “green season” and also has great rivers that benefit from the rainfall. Try your hand at kayaking or rafting in its rivers from Boquete.
Panama City is an extraordinary amalgam of modern metropolis, Spanish colonial and cosmopolitan diversity within easy reach of attractions such as Soberania National Park and Lake Gatun, the Sunday market at the mountain village of El Valle, Taboga Island or perhaps a journey via dugout canoe up the Rio Chagres to visit the indigenous Embera community in the Panamanian rainforest.
The Panama Canal is essentially a man-made water bridge which is used to lift ships at the locks at one end and lower them at the other as they transit between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is also surprisingly attractive with an abundance of bio-diversity and birdlife. Work started in 2007 to deepen and widen the entrances and add a third lane to allow the transit of larger ships.
Colon is just 50km north-west of Panama City and was founded in 1852 as the Atlantic terminus of the railway across the Panamanian isthmus which was then under construction and which was completed in 1855. An interesting day trip from Panama City visits the Miraflores Locks and Lake Gatun before taking the train from Colon for the hour’s journey back to the capital.
San Blas Islands:
This is one of the most stunning archipelagos in the world comprising some 378 islands covering an area of around 100 square miles along the coast of the Caribbean Sea. The majority of the islands are uninhabited but are visited by local Kuna Indians to gather coconuts. Many of the islands are tropical, with fine white sand and calm, translucent, water.
Bocas del Toro:
The Caribbean archipelago of Bocas del Toro is just 30 minutes from Almirante and consists of 9 islands, 50 cayes, and more than 200 islets with beautiful beaches. The most important island is Isla Colon where the main town, Bocas, is located. The archipelago is a veritable paradise with fantastic beaches, amazing birdlife, opportunities for snorkelling, sailing and diving, tropical forest, mangrove zones and nesting sites for 4 types of endangered turtles.
Portobelo was once the end of the Camino Real where silver, gold and treasure from the Inca Empire was carried across the isthmus and stored in fortified warehouses ready to be shipped back to Europe. Inevitably, where there is gold, there are rich pickings for pirates and ships were targeted by Francis Drake, William Parker and Captain Henry Morgan. In November 1739, during the peculiar War of Jenkins’ Ear, Admiral Edward Vernon captured the port.
Boquete is an attractive mountain village located in the highlands of the Chiriquí province about an hour and a half from David. The black volcanic soil which characterises the region is immensely fertile coupled with the advantages of being 1200m above sea level, making it ideal for the production of coffee, including the award-winning Panama Geisha coffee which was first introduced in 1963. Boquete is an excellent base from which to go hiking in the Volcan Baru National Park, riding, bird-watching and white-water rafting. There are hot springs at Los Pozos de Caldera.
El Valle de Anton:
The mountain village of El Valle, 120km from Panama City in the province of Cocle, is usually a quiet, peaceful place with a refreshingly cool climate, which springs to life at weekends for the colourful Sunday market. Panama’s best known pre-Colombian petroglyphs can be seen nearby. There is good hiking at Omar Torrijos Herrera National Park where jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarondi can be spotted. Other excursions include visits to waterfalls and canopy tours to the cloudforest which is habitat to the critically-endangered Golden Frog, under threat from the spread of fungus.
Panama is known as the crossroads of the world with its spectacular manmade canal linking the Pacific with the Atlantic. Due to its position it has always been a major shipping point to and from South and Central America and has been shaped ever since by the evolving world economy. Panama was explored by Columbus and settled by the Spanish in the 16th Century. After declaring independence in 1821, Panama became a region of Gran Columbia. Panama then became a protectorate of the United States due to their strategic interest in the construction of an Atlantic-Pacific link, which later became known as the Panama Canal. Construction finished in August 1914 and Panama remained under effective American control until 1939, when the United States finally gave up the legal right to use its troops outside the borders of the Canal Zone. In 1968, Omar Torrijos Herrera took control of the government and negotiated a treaty with the United States for Panama to regain control of the Canal Zone on 1 January, 2000.
Geography and weather.
Panama is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica. An almost impenetrable jungle forms the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia.
Panama has two seasons. The dry season lasts from mid-December to mid-April while the rainy season goes from mid-April to December. North of the mountains, on the Caribbean side of Panama, it rains all year round. It tends to rain less in February, March, September and October. Temperatures are typically hot in the lowlands throughout the year; days usually reach around 32°C. The hottest months are March and April.
Most nationals do not need a visa to enter Panama, but it is important to check the rules for your nationality with your nearest embassy or consulate. For some nationalities you need to buy a tourist card at the point of entry. Entry is granted on production of a passport valid for more than 6 months. You will also be given a tourist card which is issued for 30 days and is renewable at the immigration office in Panama. You may also need an onward flight ticket or evidence of one, and proof that you have funds to support yourself. As a tourist you are entitled to stay 30 days, however depending on the immigration official you may be allocated fewer days. Visitors exceeding 30 days will need an exit permit stamped in their passports before leaving.
You will probably be asked to fill out an immigration card. A copy of this card should stay in your passport until you exit the country.
The local currency is the Panamanian balboa, which is pegged to the US dollar. US-dollar notes and coins are legal tender and many prices are quoted in US dollars.
Some stores may be reluctant to accept $50 and $100 notes because of counterfeiting, so it is recommended to bring smaller denominations. It is also recommended to retain smaller denominations for boarder crossings etc. There is no restriction on the amount of foreign currency that you may bring into Panama however very large sums should be declared on arrival.Often the easiest way to obtain local currency is to use an ATM . There are ATMs throughout Panama. In Panama City there are ATM machines at branches of Telered, and Visa, Plus and Cirrus/Maestro are accepted in most ATMs in Panama City. Do not rely on your card as your only source of money. Always have a few back-ups with you.
Economy of Panama:
Panama, the smallest country in Central America, is known for its vibrant economy. Panama’s economy is largely fueled by its strategic location, which is the main driver of the country’s economic growth. Panama has the most advanced transportation and logistics infrastructure in Central America, making it an important hub for international trade. Panama’s economy is also fueled by its banking sector, which is the largest in Central America.
The country’s economy is built on a strong foundation of services, such as banking, insurance, logistics, and tourism. Panama’s tourism industry is growing rapidly, with more people visiting the country each year. The Panama Canal is a major attraction, as it is one of the main sources of revenue for the country. The canal is the main waterway through which goods are shipped between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Additionally, Panama has a growing manufacturing sector, with companies producing a wide range of products, such as electronics, textiles, and food products. Panama also produces a variety of agricultural products, including bananas, coffee, sugar, and cocoa.
In recent years, Panama’s economy has seen a steady improvement. Its GDP growth rate is among the highest in Latin America, and the country is expected to continue to grow in the coming years. The country’s government is also working to improve its infrastructure, which will help further grow its economy.
Overall, Panama’s economy is strong and has the potential to continue to grow in the future. With its strategic location, strong banking sector, and a growing tourism industry, Panama is well positioned to become an important economic force in Central America.