Cruising the Panama Canal

By:  Carina Forster – Intern from Austria

The way to the dock itself already hosts one of the city‘s panoramic highlights: the Causeway, a road which is literally on the ocean, surrounded by water on both sides. Locals as well as tourists come here for jogging, biking or taking a walk while enjoying the stunning view of the skyline.

After a short bus ride leading through traditional canal villages and dense jungle forests you finally get to see what is considered one of mankind’s greatest ingenieuric feeds: the Panama Canal.

Starting with a nice and calm river cruise through canal landscapes, our little ship eventually reached the first lock. I heard in advance that ships are risen up to a total of 26 meters above sea level to cross the Gatun lake, but I just could not believe my eyes when I saw the sudden end of water behind the lock, making it look like our boat was on the edge of a cliff. I could not believe how incredibly high our vessel was, compared to the water level after the lock where we were about to go. And every year, 14.000 ships of several tons are lifted up and down this height, just by gravity! The technology behind this is amazingly simple, I actually could have thought of it myself, with a river dam-building experience of several years as a child. However, this simple technique is efficiently working like this since 100 years already, making the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of modern world. Together with two other passenger ships and a huge mountain of cargo ship transporting 6000 cars, we were slowly sinking down, making testimony of this amazing technology and the incredible force of human kind.

Ending this epic cruise, reaching the Pacific Ocean, you enter a scene where cargo ships are peacefully resting in the bay at dawn, surrounded by gulls fishing for their dinner in front of the Skyline.

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Art Galleries in Panama

The art scene in Panama is growing and fascinating.  As a bridge between two continents, Panama is one of the most diverse cities in Central America with a strong influence on the Afro-Caribbean, European and indigenous cultures.  There is a new generation of proud Panamanian artists creating unique pieces.    Kantule, Sebastian Icaza, Isabel De Obaldia, Donna Conlon, Jonathan Harker, Pilar Moreno  are some names that are building the Panama art scene.
There are some interesting art galleries that are a testimony to Panama’s art and cultural legacy.    We suggest to explore the city or book an art tour with us that will take you to the most interesting art galleries in the City.

An Art Tour in Panama City

DGriss Art Gallery
Location: Torres de las Americas, Punta Pacifica. Telephone: 201-5550 – 
Owned by Daniela and Pablo Griss, this art gallery displays art by Pablo Griss himself, and other artists all over the world. It´s main focus is contemporary art.

DiabloRosso
Location: Avenida A con Calle 6, Casco Antiguo. Telephone: 262-1957 –
A gallery that has a showroom, a restaurant-café, and a concept store. It has several art exhibitions during the year. They focus on promoting and supporting young local talent, future artists.

Weil Art Gallery
Location: Calle 48, Bella Vista.    Telephone: 264-9697 –
This art gallery owned by Carlos Weil, is the only art auction house in Panama. It has art from international crafts, as well as Panamanian 21st art such as handcrafted art, paintings and even sculptures.

Galeria Arteconsult
Location: Calle 72, No.34, San Francisco.    Telephone: 302-2646 – 
Offering Panamanian and Latin American art, we have this permanent high caliber showroom, which displays a diversity of art. From paintings to photographs.

Mateo Sariel Garcias
Location: Coco del Mar, Calle 79, Casa No.14.   Telephone: 270-2403 – 
Based on promoting contemporary Latin American art and introducing new artists such as Sebastian Icaza and his beautiful glass art.

Museo de Arte Contemporaneo
Location: Avenida de los Martires, Calle San Blas, Ancon. Telephone: 262-8012 – 
Concerned on collecting and conserving Panamanian art, as well as Latin American art, is this privately owned art gallery. Not only serves as an art gallery, but also as a library which hopes to promote the history and art of Latin America and Panama.

Marion Gallery
Location: Calle 70, San Francisco. Telephone: 226-7190 – 
Promotes new contemporary art by renowned International artists. It´s most distinguish or permanent exhibition is dedicated to Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, because of his unique optical kinetic art.

Allegro Galeria
Location: Calle 73, Bella Vista. Telephone: 226-6967 – 
Beginning with the art work of Olga Sinclair, and other renowned Panamanian artists, this gallery has developed a reputation over the years by continuing to support and promote work of local and international artists.

Galeria Habitante
Location: Marbella. Telephone: 264-6470/223-8869 – 
One of the oldest galleries in Panama, maintains their status by renewing, and extending their art gallery by collecting from young and old artists.

Galeria 18
Location: Ave. Samuel Lewis, P.H Plaza Diamond a lado de Porta Romana. Telephone: 203-5589 – 
Contemporary Fine Art Gallery

Huellas Casa Cultural
Location: Calle 63, Casa 66, San Francisco – 
It´s not an art gallery, but they have different activities during the year, which promotes team building as well as creativity in a fun environment.

Best Diving and Snorkeling Spots in Panama

From: Dive Advisor

Panama was named after an indigenous word meaning, “abundance of fish.” This beautiful Central America paradise is one of the few places in the world where you can dive two oceans in one day. With the warm, tropical waters of the Caribbean on its east and the cooler waters of the Pacific on the west, it’s just a two-hour car ride between them in some places. Panama boasts 1,207km of Caribbean coast and 1,700km of Pacific coast.

On the Caribbean side, divers come for the abundance of colorful reef fish and corals. When rating the best diving in Central American, Bocas del Toro always comes up with its white sand beaches and many calm and the Bastimentos Marine National park. It’s a great place to learn how to dive and the marine life make it a great place to keep diving. Another popular spot on the Caribbean coast is Colon, only two hours from Panama City. Just offshore, the Portobelo National Marine Park has beautiful corals and the area is filled with a history of pirate battles and sunken ships.  Sir Francis Drake died at sea in 1596 and his body, clad in a full suit of armour and in a lead coffin, is thought to be off the coast of Portobello.

On the Pacific side, cooler waters and currents make encounters with pelagic common. Lucky divers can see several species of shark, whale sharks, humpback whales, dolphins, and more. Coiba National Marine Park is often referred to as the Galapagos of Central America and has the second largest coral reef in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Pearl Archipelago also offers great options close to Panama City.

Just nine degrees north of the equator, Panama is hot and humid year round. The rainy season is May- November and the dry season is December-April (with less humidity and almost no rain.) Panama is not in the hurricane belt, but it can get strong winds from nearby storms. Air temperatures throughout the year range form 20-32C, being a bit cooler in the winter/dry season. Water temperatures vary between coasts. The Caribbean side the water can be as cool as 25C in the winter and as warm as 28C in the summer. Coiba can get as cold as 20C during winter and reaches a high of around 24C in the summer.

Best Spots to Dive in Panama

Coiba National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes 38 islands. Lonely Planet says it’s “The best diving to be found along the Pacific Coast from Columbia to Mexico.” Coiba gets the big stuff. Sharks can be seen on almost every dive including white-tip reef sharks, black-tip reef sharks, and occasional hammerheads, bull, and tiger sharks. Whale sharks are common visitors from December to April. Humpback whales are seen July through October and orcas and pilot whales frequent the area. Large schools of mantas and mobula rays sometimes swim by, and most dives have turtles, schools of large fish, angelfish, butterflyfish, and dolphins.

On the Caribbean side of Panama, close to the Costa Rica boarder, is Bocas del Toro. This archipelago of nine large islands includes the protected area of Isla Bastimentos National Marine. Bocas is known for its well-preserved hard and soft corals. Being outside of the official hurricane zone, away from large cities and river mouths, the coral is very healthy. It is estimated that 95% of the coral species found in the Caribbean Sea can be found within the archipelago.

Tiger Rock is rated one of the best dive sites around Bocas del Toro, and is three rock pinnacles that rise up from the sea floor at 40m. It’s an advanced dive and can have strong currents, but is a good place to see sharks, rays, large fish schools, whale sharks and dolphins. Its location requires perfect sea conditions for boats to be able to get there. Dolphin Rock is another offshore rock formation where sharks can be seen and has lots of colorful fish life. The diving is also very good around Zapatillas Cays, another more distant boat ride.

Closer to town, Bouy Line is a poplar shallow site (near a deep water channel buoy) that has sea horses, lionfish, crabs, and lots of morays. Hospital Point is near the north end of Isla Solarte and has healthy cauliflower and brain corals on a sloping wall. The dive usually has a slow current and is 15m deep max. Sashek is another drift dive between Bastimentos and Carenero that has rare long lure frogfish. Airport is a protected site good for training dives, and has lots of coral.

Also on the Caribbean side, but further southeast is Portobelo National Park. This is also a popular diving area with great marine life. Being closer to Panama City, people come directly from the city to dive this area that has great reef dives and several wrecks.

Water temperatures on the Caribbean side are warm year round (23-27C) and a 3mm is usually plenty. On the Pacific side, colder currents bring waters (15-23C), so a 5mm will be comfortable. For those doing deep dives in the winter, thermoclines can be present, so a 7mm might be useful.

If you are looking for good snorkelling one of the best spots is the San Blas Archipelago.  In this Guna land is forbidden to dive with a tank but here you will find one of the most untouched coral reefs by mankind. The reef holds its beauty for decades now since people do not pollute the waters around it.  The Kuna Indians or Guna indians live from the sea and hunt on it. They hunt the reefs and sandbanks by using simple snorkeling gear and do not over fish their own waters because they only take what is needed to stay alive. They are scared that scuba dives will kill the great schools of fish and leave the Kuna without food to survive. They will preserve the coral reef for future generations this way.

The rich sea life and the crystal clear water will give you plenty enough time to drift away from the world above water. One of the easy places to get in touch with this sea life is the shipwreck near Isla Perro. This place is perfect for people not used to snorkeling or scuba diving but also gives people that have done it before a nice challenge to spot all the sea life around the ship. Don’t forget to bring your underwater camera because spotting a wild turtle, shark or octopus isn’t a rare sight in the waters around the San Blas Islands.   The best way to snorkel in San Blas is charter a sailing boat.  EcoCircuitos Panama organize this adventure for you.

Kayaking Adventures in San Blas , Guna Yala

The Natural and Cultural Heritage of Kuna Yala

In close collaboration with Kuna authorities and under organized community managed sustainable tourism development frameworks, we’ll use our stable sea kayaks to explore the islands West of the traditional community of Digir. It was here where several important actions of the Kuna Revolution took place in 1925, resulting in law 16 of 1954 by the Republic of Panama that guarantees the Kuna their sovereignty and territorial boundaries.

A detailed study in 2003 by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Kuna NGO, PEMASKY; showed that Kuna Yala has the highest diversity of coral species as well as the best reef development in all of Panama. We will become intimately familiar with them as our Kuna guides paddle with us between several different small white sand islands, where the greatest snorkeling is right outside your tent. The cultural interaction on this journey is unprecedented. The itinerary will remain flexible, to take into account weather conditions, currents and tides, and we expect an occasional non-paddling day to provide ample opportunity for exploratory hikes – bring good walking shoes for pristine forest creek bed trekking!

What to Bring to this Kayaking adventure:

  • Binoculars
  • Camera with extra batteries
  • Flashlight with extra bulb & batteries
  • Hat, day pack
  • Dry sack
  • Water bottles
  • Lightwight/quick dry cotton clothes
  • Windbreaker, rain gear
  • Sandals, sneakers, hiking shoes
  • Money in small denominations
  • Toiletries & personal medications
  • Snorkeling equipment
  • Bathing suit
  • Insect repellent
  • sunscreen

Panama: Naturally close to you

Panama is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. Its unique ecology stems in part from its connection to the two continents that created a bridge that made it easier for animals and plants to migrate between North and South America. Scientists believe that the formation of the Isthmus of Panama is one of the most important geologic events to happen on Earth’s climate and its environment in the last 60 million years.

Birds are a primary indicator of biodiversity and Panama has more species than the United States and Canada combine: it has more than 970 different birds. Panama is also privileged to be home to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), a scientific investigation center, which has been cataloging and monitoring this vast ecological heritage for nearly a century.

Panama offers to birders and nature enthusiast’s great opportunities to experience wildlife within short distances, involving diverse habitats in the different regions of the country, from tropical rainforest, marine coastal areas to the beautiful cloud forest in national parks and private reserves.

Our expert naturalist guides are passionate about tropical Panama and will make sure you have an unforgettable experience. Our team will create a special itinerary featuring wonderful locations where you are able to enjoy first class birding and other nature activities.

Come and discover Panama and the close nature of the neotropics with a passionate team.  We will make sure to organize an unforgettably vacation experience.  Contact us:  www.ecocircuitos.com

Slow-moving shallows put the heat on Bocas Coral

From STRI.org

Snorkel-perfect coral reefs in the calm, mangrove-fringed waters of the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago are expected to be among the hardest hit by warmer temperatures that lead to coral bleaching and mortality, a new study finds. These shallows in Panama’s Caribbean are characterized by low water flow, allowing water to reach precariously high sea surface temperature (SST) when compared to areas with greater water movement.

Angang Li and Matthew Reidenbach of the University of Virginia tapped into a wealth of long-term monitoring data collected by STRI scientists around the Bocas Del Toro Research Station, including coral bleaching records. Their models were published this May in the journal Coral Reefs.

“By 2084, almost all coral reefs are susceptible to bleaching-induced mortality, except for a region of relatively lower thermal stress along the outer boundary of the archipelago,” they write. “By 2084, only corals exposed to open ocean currents are predicted to survive.”

corals

 

There are some caveats. The key to heat-induced coral bleaching is not a single blast of hot water, rather long-term exposure to above-threshold temperatures. This is measured in degree heating weeks (DHW). By the end of the study period DHW >8 °C-weeks were modeled for the bay. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts widespread bleaching and significant mortality under these conditions. By comparison, DHW values during a 2010 Bocas bleaching event ranged between 2.3 °C-weeks and 9.5 °C-weeks.

Some coral species may adapt to higher temperatures. The study’s models predict that areas flushed by cooler water will have a higher chance at surviving well into the future.

Li and Reidenbach studied modern water-flow patterns, simulated heating scenarios for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s, and quantified local thermal stress on coral reefs. While previous studies have looked at SST impact on corals at a large scale, the researchers focused on a much smaller spatial scale, which is less common. The fine scale of their work better lends itself to the creation of mitigation strategies for marine protected areas in Bocas.

“Our findings are also likely applicable to many coral reef regions worldwide, and in particular reefs that are found in shallow and partially enclosed coastal regions with long water retention times,” they conclude.

New Tour in San Felipe: engage with our community

By Marius & Marc

EcoCircuitos staff tour Casco Viejo yesterday to take part in an insightful and poignantly tour organized by “Esperanza San Felipe”. This organization is founded by 5 previous gang members of San Felipe. They have decided to change their lives and thus created this group to bring hope, benefit and income to the community of San Felipe, neighboring Casco Viejo. The revenue of the tours is distributed amongst the community to enhance the living conditions of the people and to provide a better future for the next generation.

With curiosity and excitement we have left Casco Viejo to look for the guides and entered San Felipe. We did not have to search very long since the guys welcomed us very friendly directly behind the border of Casco Viejo to San Felipe. Although the quarter has a dangerous image, during the whole tour we felt safe because of the police appearance and the calmness of the people. The whole atmosphere was just peaceful. We made an appointment for a tour and met our guide a couple of hours later in Plaza Herrera just in front of the American Trade Hotel that was also our first attraction.

Nowadays a place for the rich and upper class, in the past it was used as headquarter for thieves, murderers and gang members. We were absolutely amazed by the dark past of the building and the radiating atmosphere. The only evidence of the dark history is the stairway that shows the graffiti paintings and signs of the former inhabitants.

After passing Manu Tigre, a former fortification, we had the chance to gain a deep insight behind Panama City’s glamourous facade by visiting the housing of the community. It was touchingly but also revealing to see beyond the tourist facade of Panama. Although we felt a little bit uncomfortable entering foreign property, the people were very open-minded and warm towards us.

Especially the street that divides the quarters El Chorrillo and San Felipe offered a lot of narrative material. In past days many gun fights took place although it was considered as a neutral zone between two hostile gangs. For a foreigner it was not possible to walk the street at that time without getting robbed. Today it is a vivid street and the entrance to Cinta Costera 1 as well as a place for backpackers, bikers and fun nightlife.

The end of the tour was a most delicious Panamanian meal with self-made cocktails. During the dinner we got the chance to listen to more exciting stories of people and their past thug live.

Especially for us it was touching since we come from a protected area in Germany. We got the unique chance to engage with local people and going one step further than the common tourist.

By offering this tour EcoCircuitos gives those people the opportunity to help themselves in a sustainable way. There is also big hope in the new president to enhance the living conditions.

For more information please do not hesitate to contact us directly at 1-800-830-7142.