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.

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Going where the wind blows

By:  Carina Forster – Intern from Austria

Punta Chame is one of Panama`s best kitesurfing spots and has made its name to the world for its excellent conditions from November to April.

Carina Kitesurfing

The spot is a strap of land with constant N-NE and side-onshore wind, perfectly suitable for all levels, as you will always end up back on the beach and not out in the sea.

My session on this wide sandy beach spot started with the mixture of excitement and respect I always feel when the powerful strength of wind is lifting up my kite. After walking a few steps in the crystal blue water, shuffling my feet to avoid stepping on the only danger of the spot – the sting ray – I got on my board and started moving over the ocean. Going faster and faster over the large and uncrowded bay, I felt the salt and heat of the sun on my face while the coastline was getting smaller and smaller. It is pure happiness you feel when every single part of your body and mind is becoming one with the kite in the sky and the board on your feet, using the power of the wind to move forward. It always astonishes me, how I control this phenomenon without having a single thought on my mind, except this foolish song that keeps coming up when I`m happy.

In Punta Chame you can have several sessions a day, starting in the morning and finishing with a sundowner surrounded by the golden lights of dawn. It is a dream spot with constant wind for smooth freestyle or speed rides.

The Spot

  • November- April constant wind
  • N-NE and side-onshore
  • All levels, great for beginners
  • Soft sandy beach, no currents, small waves
  • No crowds, large space for launch
  • Hot weather, warm water (sunscreen!)
  • Dangers: sting rays, small jellyfish

Facilities

There are four kite schools with equipment rentals and repairs, different kinds of places to stay (hotels, hostels, apartments, guest houses), a restaurant and a supermarket.

Getting there and away

  • By car: (1.5 hours) take the Panamericana from Panama City south and exit at the Punta Chame “sign”. Rough road for half an hour till Punta Chame.
  • Public transport: take a bus from the bus terminal on direction of “el Valle de Anton” or “Penonome”. Step out in Coronado when you see the big sign ‘REY’ (a supermarket on the main road). From there take taxi to Punta Chame.

Weekend getaway: Historic Portobelo and Caribbean Beaches

By:  Carina Forster – Intern from Austria

Insider tipp: Last weekend I explored the charming small town of Portobelo on the Caribbean Coast which is a hotspot for Panamanian weekend retreats; however, it still remains mainly unexplored by foreign tourists. The only way of getting there- except from day tour with a tour operator EcoCircuitos Panama – involved a bumpy ride in a colorful old school bus, where happy salsa music loudly went along with the roaring old engines of the rattling bus.

It was hard to believe that this laid-back village has once hosted Central America`s most important harbor. Only the old ruins and the UNESCO forts, which are spread out all over the charming fishing village, prove of its glorious past.  If you tour with a naturalist and interpretative guide you will travel to the battles between Pirates and Conquistadors.

A short boat ride away, I found cast-away Caribbean beaches, where lush rain forests meet white sand, turquoise waters and coral reefs. And while already being astonished by the unreal beauty surrounding me, two toucans were peacefully flying over the picturesque bay, forming a scenario like in a dream.

If you are interested in this tour and many more, please contact us for more information.  We offer snorkeling tours in the Caribbean side of Portobello.  Contact info@ecocircuitos.com

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.

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

Victory of the Democracy for Panama with Juan Carlos Varela

Since we, Marius and Marc, are from Germany we do not have really a connection to Panamanian politics. To learn more about it, we thought to visit the inauguration of Varela on Tuesday 1st July. Since we know German politics as barren and very formal, we did not have great expectations but what Varela set up on that day was just amazing.

While we went to Cinta Costera more and more people came to join the big party. We were driven by the flow. As were arrived there, we were stunned by the set up and the amount of people. Three stages, with different and talented musicians, were built up. A multitude of tents were constructed to allocate free food and drinks. We were so amazed that we could not believe it. Mc Donald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut provided the free food for the people and we started with some water and hamburgers.

Nevertheless the most interesting part was trying to talk in Spanish about politics with some local people. We found out that Varela was born in Panama City with family roots in the province of Herrera, Juan Carlos Varela graduated in Collegio Javier before he received a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering in 1985 at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States. With his wife, the journalist Lorena Castillo, Varela has three children. Since Varela won the elections for President with over 39% of the votes, he has big plans with this country. His vision is to “put the party banners away and to govern under one flag, that of Panama”. In his first speech, the new President promised to give back the “strength and credibility to our democracy and its institutions”.

We also could understand that the people had great hope but also great expectations in Varela. Especially education was a big topic in what Varela should focus during his period. Furthermore he caught sight of the problems in the health system; he will install basic sanitary for the outer provinces and implement a more efficient and better access to facilities. According to tourism e.g. Varela plans to restore the city Colon and maintain the historical heritage of Panama, so that the country is competitive on the global tourism market.

After some more drinks and conversations we headed back to our home. We still cannot believe what Varela has set up. Sitting on our balcony we talked a little bit more about the difference between German and Panamanian politics and wondered why German politicians are not setting up a party like that.

 

If you want to gather more information and learn more about the plans of Varela, we encourage you to visit his homepage: http://plandegobierno.juancarlosvarela.com/

 

Panama fish catch 40 percent larger than reported

By STRI

Panama is said to mean “abundance of fish.” Until recently Panama was also synonymous with bountiful fisheries. A new study estimates that between 1950 and 2010, the haul was so considerable officials could not keep tabs on more than a third of the catch. As fish stocks dwindle, this revelation may contribute to establishing sustainable fisheries in Panama and the region.

For three years Héctor Guzmán of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and colleagues from the University of British Columbia compiled official data and dozens of studies of off-the-books fisheries. They cautiously estimated that almost 40 percent of the total catch — including tuna, lobster, shellfish and shark — was unaccounted for.

“We estimated missing and under-reported components very conservatively so this is likely still an underestimate of what is being removed,” said Sarah Harper, of UBC’s Sea Around Us Project who was the lead author on the study published in Marine Fisheries Review. Guzmán and UBC’s Kyrstn Zylich and Dirk Zeller co-authored the research.

The discrepancy is due to minimal reporting of bycatch by commercial vessels and a dearth of data from recreational, subsistence and artisanal fishers. Illegal fishing by foreign vessels and catches by Panamanian-flagged ships operating from foreign ports also play an important role.

“We were not surprised by these alarming results,” said Guzmán a marine ecologist known for research that underpins regional conservation policy. “This is the first fishery baseline made for Panama. We hope to promote an open and all-inclusive dialogue to implement management tools for sustainable fisheries.”

The researchers recommend an overall reorganization of the fishing sector to include better monitoring, planning and surveillance of fishing zones and better managed marine protected areas. Curtailing carte blanche commercial fishing licenses, which are sometimes species indiscriminate, would also help, said Guzmán.

From anchovies to Sharks

Panama’s industrial fisheries developed in the 1960s to harvest herring and anchovies for fishmeal and oil for export. The scallop fishery reached its apex in the 1980s and collapsed without recovery in 1991. Shrimp, tuna, lobster and conch harvesting continue, with many populations now in decline.

Relatively new targets are sharks, especially hammerheads, for sale of shark fins overseas. Sharks are often harvested in inshore areas, including vulnerable nurseries. “There is likely substantial under-reporting of catches by domestic vessels and possibly a large number of sharks being caught by foreign vessels operating illegally in Panamanian waters,” the authors wrote.

Under-reporting of catch is not unique to Panama and improved monitoring does not have to be prohibitively costly. “Resource-limited countries can still effectively monitor their fisheries by implementing regular, non-annual surveys,” said the authors. “For Panama to retain meaning in its name (“abundance of fish”), fisheries management will need to make substantial improvements.”