Central / South America

Panama City: Increasingly Popular!

Panama City by night | Photo credit: Visit Panama

Panama (Spanish: Panamá) is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Panama.

Situated along the Pacific Ocean at the south-western extreme of the Panama Canal, few cities in Latin America can match the diversity and sophisticated feel Panama City.

Panama City was founded in 1519 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias de Ávila. The city was the whey point of expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru (1532), and a stopover point of one of the most important trade routes in the history of the American continent.

Considered by many to be one of the world’s most culturally vibrant cities, Panama City is quickly becoming a popular tourism destination. And for a variety of reasons … Panama and Panama City, as the year’s progress, has become an international travel hub. As Copa Airlines, the flag carrier of Panama, grows and develops, the country is becoming more and more accessible. Panama’s Tocumen International Airport, the largest and busiest airport in Central America, handles daily flights to major international destinations.

And given the remarkable history, the vibrancy of this mature city, and the dramatic nearby outdoor adventure activities, it’s no wonder that some one million plus people find their way here each and every year. Panama City has a history as an international crossroads, so its people are accustomed to visitors and are some of the most friendly and helpful in the world.

Panama City is a conurbation of the historic and the modern, the international and the Latino. Gazing at the Manhattan-like skyline, visitors typically comment that they had no idea that there was such a modern, beautiful capital city in Central America.

Newsweek Magazine says of Panama City: “To escape to sunnier shores, there’s no hotter destination than Panama City. Best known for being home to the architectural feat called The Panama Canal, this lively Latin American city is just a stone’s throw from some of Central America’s richest rain forests…”

There are actually “three” Panama Cities that you will want to aquaint yourself with: the modern, the Colonial-era Casco Viejo, and the ruins of the original Panama City in Panama Viejo.

The “first” Panama City is Panama Viejo (Old Panama). Founded in 1517, Panama Viejo was the first city built on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. It was built to the transfer of riches the Spanish plundered from the Incan Empire of Peru to Spain via the Isthmus of Panama. In 1671, it was destroyed and burnt as a result of an attack by the English pirate Henry Morgan. You can visit the Panama Vieja Museum which features exhibits including artefacts discovered during the ongoing excavations.

Altar de Oro or the Golden Alter in Casco Veijo  | Photo credit: Visit Panama

The “second” Panama City, the Casco Viejo sector, dates from the 17th century Spanish era. Numerous noteworthy historical buildings dot the area including 17th century churches and convents and handsome 18th and 19th buildings which reflect Panama City’s long history as the crossroads of the Americas and the world.

The “third” Panama City is the modern city – the “Business Hub of the Americas”. Set on a beautiful bay, the modern Panama City has a business district, a first-rate infrastructure, a lively nightlife, restaurants, attractive residential neighbourhoods and the only rainforest in the world within city limits in the Metropolitan Park.

Panama City has always thrived on commerce; its unique position along the world’s trade routes and the economic opportunity this presents has attracted businesses from across the world. With nearly a third of the country’s population living in the urbanized corridor between Panama City and Colón, the capital’s metropolitan melting pot is a study in contrasts. East and West, ancient and modern, wealth and poverty: they all have a place in Panama City.

Of course, once you are settled in your hotel, one of the first things you are going to want to do is visit the canal. The Panama Canal is a unique experience which can’t be reproduced anywhere else in the world. You will see vessels rise and drop more than 50 feet as they make their way across Panama from one ocean to another, and learn about the history and future of this marvel of modern engineering. Seeing and learning about the canal is best done with a local tour operator.

The city has numerous tourist attractions. Particularly interesting to visitors are historical sites located in the old quarter.

History buffs appreciate Panama as the crossroads of the Spanish empire, the target of history’s most famous pirates. Panama City’s main historical sites are Panama Vieja (the original Panama City) and colonial Casco Viejo (Old City) sector and the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal | Photo credit: Visit Panama

Some of the highlights include the 17th century churches including the Church of the Golden Altar, the ruins of 17th century convents and residences, original dungeons, a French monument to the 22,000 who died building the Panama Canal and the Panama Canal Museum.

And you will not want to miss traversing the Amador Causeway. With its spectacular views of Panama City’s skyline, the Bridge of the Americas, and of the Panama Canal, the Amador Causeway is a great place to walk, bike and dine. The one mile causeway was created by the Americans by connecting four small islands with rocks excavated from the Panama Canal and served as a breakwater to the Pacific Coast entrance to the Panama Canal. Today, these small islands, swept by pleasant sea breezes host fine restaurants, scenic bicycle and walking paths (You can rent bicycles), a Smithsonian Institute of Tropical Research aquarium, a cruise port and a yacht marina.

And from Panama City, you can arrange several day-trips and see the country.

You will want to visit The Parque Natural Metropolitano (Metropolitan Nature Park), the Centro de Exhibiciones Marinas (Marine Exhibitions Center) and the Parque Nacional Soberania (Sovereignty National Park). Also not be be missed is a visit to the Embera Indian Village.

And time permitting, you may want to book the historic Panama Canal Railway, which was inaugurated by an American company in 1851 as a route for the 49ers (gold seekers on their way to California) who wanted to get across the continent without getting killed by Indians on the American Plains. You can take the same ocean to ocean train ride on the scenic 80 kilometre stretch from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. The ride travels tracks along the Panama Canal and through a rainforest.

So think about this when you are considering a trip to the ever-increasingly popular destination: First, make your arrangements soon and before the rest of the world’s population discovers Panama, and … where else can you swim in the Pacific and the Caribbean in the same day …

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