By Meret Schueschke
This is a question I often hear. My family asked, my friends, people I barely knew.
“What’s in Panama? Why would you go there?”
I have been asked this so many times, I think it is time to answer it once and for all. I could think of a thousand reasons to go to Panama, and I discover new ones every day, but here are the five main ones:
There is an incredible number of animals living in Panama. Roughly 230 types of mammals sound impressive? Try 950 bird species for comparison! And then we still have not counted the reptiles, amphibians and insects…
And many of those animals are really not that hard to find. There are butterflies as large as my entire hand. I can see Iguana from my office window. I watch pelicans catch fish in the bay on my way home from work. There are sloth, monkeys, toucans and who knows what else living within the boundaries of Panama City. So imagine what you might encounter in more remote spots…tiny brightly colored frogs, ocelots, anteaters, multicolored birds, you name it! The biodiversity here is amazing, and, nicely enough, dangerous or venomous animals are extremely rare.
The cultural diversity
Panama is home to several different native tribes, and they all keep their distinct cultures and traditions alive. Add to that Caribbean and Latin American flavors and the influence of the Spanish conquistadores. And then, after nearly five hundred years of European, Native American and African cultures intermingling, the Canal came, and with it the North Americans, the French, the English, and sailors from every corner of the globe. Today, the country’s original population has Chinese, Jewish and Arab neighbors, living door to door with retired US Americans, European business people and Australian backpackers. And everyone adds to the diversity of the life here and makes the country a bit more colorful.
The different places to be
Well, you probably know that Panama has rainforests. Jungle excursions are a definite option here. Or, for a slight change of scenery, try the cloud forest in the highlands, where the mossy trees are covered in fog and where wild orchids flourish. But that is not all the country has to offer. There are mountains, where world-famous coffee is grown, mangrove swamps, even a desert (imagine that, in a tropical country!). And then, of course, we have the coast, 2500 kilometers of it to be precise. Numerous beaches and islands in the Caribbean Sea and on the Pacific coast are waiting to be explored. Think crystal-clear water, white sand and the occasional coconut tree – we have it. Coral reefs? Have those too. And it’s all within easy reach. A few hours driving or a short flight is all it takes to change between these different places. There is even a national park inside Panama City! Sometimes it feels like there is a lifetime of exploration waiting for me in this country.
The things to do
I do not even know where to start on this one. Adventure? There is river rafting, rock climbing and wilderness expeditions in the jungles of Darien, to name just a few…of course, there is kayaking as well, mountain biking, horseback riding, any kind of outdoor sports really. Or maybe you like golf? Tennis? Sailing? I personally love the great surfing and diving spots that can be found in both oceans, and the wonderful beaches. And when I had enough activity, there are so many hidden island retreats and luxurious spa options that help me disconnect from the world for a bit…
Panama City deserves a visit. Shopping malls, casinos, little art galleries and amazing restaurants wait there. Every weekend brings a new event, a festival, a concert or an exhibition. The beautiful Casco Viejo, the colonial style old quarter, which is actually UNESCO World Heritage, is always worth a visit. I love the combination of old and new Panama City offers, traditional crafts and modern art, old buildings set against the backdrop of the modern skyline…I think it would take me a lifetime to discover all Panama City has to offer.
There are a million more things that I could talk about, but I do not have the space here…best discover it for yourself. The one thing I can promise, whatever you like to do, Panama is definitely worth a visit.