10 Reasons to visit Panama

There are many reasons to visit Panama. You have probably already thought of the Panama Canal, which is one of the world’s most famous feats of modern engineering. Maybe you have considered the exotic jungles or the weather, which is warm year round. But there is much more to discover in Panama.

El Biomuseo abre sus puertas al p˙blico el 2 de octubre de 2014.
Biomuseo Panama

 1. The Wildlife

There is an incredible number of animals living in Panama. Roughly 230 types of mammals sound impressive? and more than 1000 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.

 

2.  The Climate

Panama is tropical and warm all year round.  You are in an endless summer here.  You won’t need to pack too much and you’ll be able to enjoy the tropical climate throughout your vacation.

3. The cultural diversity

The Panamanian cultural diversity consists of seven indigenous groups which includes the Caribbean and Latin American sub-cultures with influences of the Spanish conquistadores. Today, the country’s population is made up of Chinese, Jewish and Arab neighbors living door to door with retired US citizens, European business people and travelers from around the world.  Everyone adds to Panama’s melting pot, making the country a bit more colorful.

 

 4. 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, cloudforest 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.

 

5. Is Affordable

Panama currency is the US Dollar (officially know as the Balboa).  It is an incredible affordable place to visit.

6. Is Safe

Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America.  Crime is very low and there is even a tourist police.

7. 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…

 

8. Panama City and Casco Viejo

Panama City deserves a visit. Shopping malls, 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.

 

9. An International hub  

Panama is an airline hub that connects Central America with the rest of the world. Almost every major airline flights to Panama today:   United, Copa, American Airlines, Delta, British Airways, Air Canada, Lufthansa, KLM, Air France, Iberia, Turkish Airlines, Avianca, Aeromexico among others.

10. Amazing Gastronomy

Panama’s local cuisine infused with fresh local produce, seafood and other unique ingredients are competing against other great well known culinary destinations in Latin America.  Panama offers a wide choice of restaurants to suit everyone’s taste and budget. From great cuisine and international chefs to real Panamanian food experience.   I love to eat out and here are my suggestions to make your gastronomic experience in Panama City unforgettable.

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.

Surfing in Santa Catalina

by Carina Forster – Intern from Austria

The laid-back town of Santa Catalina hosts a charming mix of international surfers next to locals who are still catching lobsters with their bare hands.

While more experienced surfers test their limits in the world-class waves at a spot called the Point, the smaller but still quite powerful waves at close-by Playa Estero are perfectly suitable for beginners like me.

After making my way through the first set of breaks, the first thing I instantly did as I was surfing in Santa Catalina for the first time was holding on for a minute to admire the wild beauty of widely-stretched Playa Estero.

However, there is not a lot of time to enjoy this view, as waves are constantly rolling in, forcing every single part of your body and mind to concentrate on this very moment. At some point you see the perfect one, which is going to be your wave, and you start paddling, going faster and faster, giving all your strength until you feel the ocean taking you with it. You stand up, riding the wave, forming a part of this incredible force of nature. The pure feeling of happiness makes you forget everything else, it makes you swim out over and over again, until you reach your physical limits.

And there is nothing more pleasureful after an exhausting day of surfing than having some fresh fish for dinner while enjoying the sunset on abandoned Playa Estero.

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

Por primera vez se logra criar en cautiverio a una rana venenosa de dardo recientemente descrita

rana-dorada2Comunicado de Prensa:

Científicos del Instituto de Biología de la Conservación del Smithsonian (SCBI por sus siglas en inglés) y el Instituto Smithsonian de Investigaciones Tropicales (STRI), que trabajan en el Proyecto de Rescate y Conservación de Anfibios de Panamá (PARC) lograron criar la primera Andinobates geminisae nacida en cautiverio. Ésta es una diminuta especie de rana venenosa de dardo que sólo crece 14 milímetros, por primera vez colectada en una pequeña zona en Panamá Central y descrita el año pasado. Colaboradores científicos colectaron y nos entregaron dos adultos con el propósito de evaluar el potencial para el mantenimiento de esta especie en cautiverio como una población de aseguranza.

“Hay un verdadero arte en aprender acerca de la historia natural de un animal y encontrar el conjunto adecuado de señales ambientales para estimular la cría en cautiverio exitosa”, comentó Brian Gratwicke, biólogo de la conservación de anfibios en SCBI y director del Proyecto de Rescate y Conservación de Anfibios de Panamá, PARC. “No todos los anfibios son fáciles de criar en cautiverio, así que cuando logramos criar una especie por primera vez, es un verdadero hito para nuestro proyecto y un motivo de celebración.”

Los científicos simularon las condiciones para la reproducción de las ranas adultas en un pequeño tanque. Las ranas pusieron un huevo en una hoja de bromelia, que luego se transfirió a un plato Petri húmedo. Después de 14 días, el renacuajo eclosionó. Los científicos creen que las ranas adultas de A. geminisae pueden proporcionar cuidados paternos a sus huevos y renacuajos, cosa que no es rara en las ranas de dardo, pero no han sido capaces de determinar si ese es el caso. En la naturaleza, uno de los padres transporta al renacuajo en su espalda hacia un pequeño charco de agua, por lo general dentro de un árbol o entre las hojas de una bromelia.

Después de que el renacuajo eclosionó, los científicos lo trasladaron del plato Petri a una pequeña taza de agua, imitando los pequeños charcos naturales. Con una dieta de comida para peces, después de 75 días el renacuajo se transformó exitosamente en una rana joven y ahora es del tamaño de un adulto maduro.

Los científicos del Proyecto de Rescate y Conservación de Anfibios de Panamá no están seguros si la A. geminisae es susceptible al hongo quitridio que está matando a anfibios. Sin embargo, ya que esta especie sólo se encuentra en un área pequeña de Panamá y depende de bosques tropicales primarios, que están bajo la presión por la conversión agrícola, la han identificado como una especie de conservación prioritaria.

“Más aún, esta especie parece tener una distribución muy agrupada dentro de la pequeña área donde se le encontró,” comentó Roberto Ibáñez, cientifico del Smithsonian en Panamá y director nacional del PARC. “Aparentemente, sus poblaciones están asociadas a ciertos filos a lo largo de los valles formados por quebradas, lo cual puede complicar su conservación al requerirse que varios de estos sitios estén dentro de áreas protegidas.”

El Proyecto de Rescate y Conservación de Anfibios de Panamá cría especies de ranas en peligro de extinción en Gamboa, Panamá y El Valle de Antón, Panamá. Este proyecto es una asociación entre el Zoológico de Houston, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, el Zoológico de Nueva Inglaterra, SCBI y STRI. Este estudio contó con el apoyo de Minera Panamá y Biodiversity Consultant Group.

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El Instituto Smithsonian de Investigaciones Tropicales en Panamá, es una unidad de la Institución Smithsonian. El Instituto promueve la comprensión de la naturaleza tropical y su importancia para el bienestar de la humanidad; capacita estudiantes para llevar a cabo investigaciones en los trópicos; y fomenta la conservación mediante la concienciación pública sobre la belleza e importancia de los ecosistemas tropicales. Sitio web: http://www.stri.si.edu

Contacto de prensa: Beth King, kingb@si.edu o
Sonia Tejada, tejadas@si.edu

GO Local in Panama: A visit to the Fish Market

Discover the way the local Panamanians enjoy the country.  Taste, touch and listen to the real Panama.  you will get a completely new feel for the country as you discovery everyday life.  Learn about the culture and support the locals by buying local products.

A truly local experience in the heart of Panama City The Mercado de Mariscos is the city fish market, open for business to local restaurants and the public every day except the 3rd Monday of each month when it is closed completely for thorough cleaning. It’s the best place to buy fresh fish in Panama City – everything from tuna to snapper to lobster to octopus – or ceviche to go from one of the many vendors. It’s bustling with energy as local shoppers mingle with tourists to inspect the day’s catch.

On the outside of the market you find numerous small stalls selling Ceviche (a Panamanian specialty made with fish cured in lemon juice) and some other typical seafood dishes. Join the crowds for lunch with cup of your favorite type of fresh cold Ceviche or seafood cocktail, or head upstairs to the casual restaurant where you get a variety of typical Panamanian seafood dishes.
Take your time to taste the bounty of Panama’s oceans (some scholars even say that the word “Panama” originally meant “abundance of fish”), have a look around, and feel that you have now really arrived in Panama