Editor’s note: Welcome to the Hispanic Heritage Month “A Trip to” series here on Latinaish. Join us as we virtually visit different Latin American countries through the photos and words of people who live there, have lived there, or have visited and have a lot of love for that particular place. Today Scott of Everything Learning Spanish shows us around Panama!
The beach on Taboga Island, a half hour boatride from Panama City
Panama is a beautiful country in Central America that has been influenced culturally by both South America and the Caribbean. It is a rather small country, but (at least in the city) it doesn’t feel small, and it’s growing rapidly. Throughout the economic crisis, Panama’s economy has been growing. Immigration to Panama comes from neighbors such as Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, and from faraway places such as Nigeria, Pakistan, and Nepal. The Panama Canal is one reason for this booming economy, and right now the canal is being expanded to accommodate the largest ships in the world. Other important sectors in Panama’s economy are banking, ship registration, tourism, real estate, and construction.
Bay of Panama and the city skyline
Food is excellent in Panama, as many great ingredients are local and fresh. Fruit of all types grow on the isthmus including: mangoes, plantains, papaya, oranges, limes, avocados, cashews, and much more. With access to two oceans and freshwater lakes and rivers, seafood is also abundant and common in Panamanian cuisine. Ceviche, fried fish with patacones (twice fried plantains), and sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) are all delicious and fresh. Food is also relatively cheap compared to the United States. Panama’s currency is the dollar, which makes travel for Americans easy. Excellent restaurants are everywhere! One can easily find restaurants serving Panamanian, Colombian, French, Greek, Middle Eastern, and many other cuisines. Eating is one great pastime in Panama, but it’s certainly not the only thing!
Filete de corvina con patacones, Seabass filet with twice fried plantains and slaw
Panama city has a great variety of things to do. The causeway is a man-made bridge that connects three islands in the Bay of Panama. It is loaded with restaurants, souvenir shops, ice cream stands, bicycle rental places, and all with great views of the sea, the bridge of the Americas, and the city skyline. Another great thing to do in the city, at least in the morning before it gets too hot, is to visit the Cinta Costera, an enormous park that stretches along the coast in Panama city. Cinta Costera includes walking/biking trails, playgrounds, basketball courts, skate parks, food stands, and more! You can find lots of vendors of raspao, or shaved ice topped with sweetened condensed milk, which is very delicious and refreshing on a hot day! Another great thing to do in the city is to disappear into nature, right in the middle of the city. Parque Metropolitano Natural is a great big park that is basically a forest right in the middle of the city. Complete with trees, wildlife, and trails, this is a wild adventure that is super convenient from anywhere in Panama city.
View of Panama City skyline from the hotel Torres de Alba
The city also has many kid-friendly activities. There are two Smithsonian museums (biodiversity and tropical research), both located on the Causeway of Amador with excellent educational activities for children. Another one of the city’s great green-spaces is Parque Omar, a very large park scattered about with playgrounds, the national library, tennis courts, workout areas, street vendors, and much more! All of the malls have ample indoor playgrounds, some have carousels and other rides. Panama city certainly offers enough experiences to keep the whole family busy for the whole vacation, but that’s not all there is in this Central American jewel.
Starfish at the Smithsonian tropical research institute museum
Entrance sign at Punta Culebra – The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Museum
There is a lot more to Panama than just the city! If you’re seeking an escape from the tropical heat, El Valle de Anton, about an hour and a half away from Panama city is usually about 10-15 degrees cooler. El Valle is a volcanic valley. There are hot springs, a zoo, restaurants, and an artisan market. A nice, quaint village surrounded by natural beauty. Panama also has many beautiful beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. There are lots of all inclusive resorts, the beaches are excellent and surrounded by great tropical foliage, and the ocean water is invitingly warm. Eco-tourism also abounds, with eco-hotels ranging from bed and breakfast all the way to complete luxury experiences. There are great accommodations and exciting activities to be found in the entire country!
Church in El Valle de Anton, a quaint tourist town, and cool retreat from the searing hot temperatures of the city, a little more than an hour away
A beach resort on the Pacific coast, about an hour away from Panama city
But all of what I’ve written so far neglects the best part of Panama, its people. Panamanians are so friendly and welcoming! I am very fortunate to have married a Panamanian, and to have been welcomed into her family. We are doing everything we can to celebrate our children’s Panamanian heritage, including letting them stay with my in-laws in Panama for two extra weeks after we’ve left. We most certainly want such a rich culture to be an important part of their upbringing.
Panamanian culture is rich with heritage from Europe, Africa, the Caribbean (specifically Jamaica and Barbados), South America, North America, and Native American peoples that still live their life according to their customs and traditions. The culture is still evolving and changing through new immigrants that go to Panama for economic opportunity and security. All of this combined makes for one incredibly vibrant, exciting and diverse place. You can see this diversity in everything Panamanian: The music, the dance, the food, the art, and much more. Panama, like all of Latin America has vast cultural riches and beauty. All I can close with is, go there and experience it for yourself!
The author of this guest post with Panamanian boxing legend Roberto ‘mano de piedra’ Duran
Editor’s note: Did you enjoy this guest post? If you have some nice photos of a Latin American country you’d like to share as we did here with some short descriptions, please email me to be a part of this special travel series!