Panama is such a beautiful country with many wonderful sites to visit and growing ecotourism opportunities. It is a narrow country with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Pacific on the other, making it a strategic location that has been sought over by various countries throughout history. Today, it has its own independence and the people are very proud of their heritage and mindful of their history. Panama City is surrounded by jungles and mountains with strict restrictions on where populations can reside, so it is a city that is growing higher rather than growing wider. It is the perfect location to stay and to take advantage of all of the opportunities to take day trips to see the amazing locations that the country has to offer. These are the places that we visited and things that we did during our one week trip to Panama a little over a year ago.
Fort San Lorenzo – One of the most famous historical sites in Panama, Fort San Lorenzo is certainly a must to see when going to Panama City. It will bring visions of swashbuckling pirates when the ships travelled through the region loaded with riches. You also travel through a national forest on your way to visit the fort with plenty of wildlife to be found.
The Locks of the Panama Canal – The canal is still the greatest source of income for the country of Panama, but ecotourism is certainly on the rise. Watching the giant ships maneuver through the enormous locks as water rises or lowers to allow them to get from one ocean to the other is truly amazing. It is also important to understand the impact of building the canal on the country’s history and its people.
Casco Viejo – If you go to Panama City, it is important that you take time to visit Casco Viejo, which is the historic district in the city. Originally established in 1673 by the Spanish, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a variety of historic buildings, churches, restaurants, shops, and hotels. As you walk the streets of Casco Viejo you will find a wonderful mix of architecture that spans the almost 350 years of its history.
Monkey Island(s) – Located on Lake Gutan, which was created by damming the river to allow the large ships to make their way to the canal, are a series of islands that were created as a result of the flooding. The small monkeys were trapped on these tiny islands that were at one time just hilltops in the jungle. Although we generally don’t agree with humans feeding wild animals, it is actually the only way that these monkeys can survive. But make no mistake, they are still wild and can be unpredictable.
An Emberá Village – Visiting an indigenous village is always fascinating and if you go to Panama City there are tours that will take you to an Emberá village. The Emberá people are tribes that live in the Panama rainforest and still keep their traditional lifestyle. They make a living by hosting tour groups and selling their native crafts which include wood carvings, basket weaving, and jewelry. You can find these crafts being sold in Panama City, but purchasing them in the village will ensure that the money spent goes directly to the families that created them. They are very proud of their traditions and are happy to share them with the people who visit their villages.
The Metropolitan National Park – Located within the city limits of Panama City, the Metropolitan National Park is a wonderful way to escape into nature without having to go far. After spending several days on boats going from one region of Panama to another, visiting the park was a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon. In addition to seeing various wildlife, you will also have the opportunity to see amazing views of the city itself.
The Food of Panama – As one can imagine, seafood is an abundant option since the country sits between two oceans and the Caribbean sea. The food has also been influenced by the Spanish people who occupied the country, the French who started to engineer the canal, and obviously the United States as well. There are many wonderful restaurants to choose from throughout Panama City, but especially within Casco Viejo.
There are certainly other places to see during a trip to Panama, but these locations will give you an interesting sense of the entire country. The culture, history, and natural beauty of Panama are truly fascinating. Although we spent a week in Panama, it is certainly worth more time if you have the opportunity.