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.

12 Buddhist Eco-Guidelines – Inspiration

Buddha by EternalTraveler
Buddha by EternalTraveler

As we strive to cultivate a positive relationship with the environment, we need to first realize there are two facets to the journey – preserving inner happiness and maintaining outer ecological balance.

We encourage everyone to start with beautifying one’s mind and spirit and then extend outward to beautifying their environment.

Below are twelve guidelines when travel to a new destination:

 * Speak quietly – do not disturb others.

* Keep the ground clean – do not litter.

* Keep the air clean – do not smoke or pollute.

* Respect oneself and others – do not commit violent acts.

* Be polite – do not intrude upon others.

* Smile – do not face others with an angry expression.

* Speak kindly – do not utter abusive words.

* Follow the rules – do not seek exemptions or privileges.

* Be mindful of your actions – do not act unethically.

* Consume consciously – do not waste.

* Be grounded – do not live aimlessly.

* Practice kindness – do not create malice

Adapted from Living Affinity, by Hsing Yun (Lantern Books, 2004).

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.

Escape to Azuero Peninsula

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By Yarelis Campines

Almost finishing the high season Cubitá tours invited us to a Fam-Trip to Azuero Peninsula. I was excited just by reading the itinerary. My family is from Azuero, so I’m passionate of our folklore and culture.

Azuero Peninsula is located in the southern of Panama and provides the best cultural experience. The Carnivals and many festivals are celebrated in Azuero that is conformed for Herrera, Los Santos and Veraguas. The best part is that you have everything close, the historic towns, cultural activities and beaches with crystalline water.

We started our trip departing from Multiplaza, Panama City to Azuero. Fabian our guide was so nice giving us some introduction about all the activities we were going to do. Our first stop was at El Caño Archeological Site which is located in El Caño in the province of Coclé. In El Caño was discovered the most important graves in the last 70 years with many pieces of gold and precious stones. It was called by its discoverer ‘El Dorado de Panamá’.

We were so lucky because we could see this grave with some archaeologists working on it. Nobody can’t take photos but we will have these memories forever.

Then we went to visit two of the oldest churches of America continent with more than 150 years of foundation in Natá and today is stil using. These town are very quiet with a lot of history. Just seeing the houses you almost feel in the 1558 when it was founded the town. At noon Fabian said, the next place was Fonda El Ciruelo to have a typical Panamanian lunch. I definitely have to come back to that Fonda to taste again the best tamales, lechona and biñuelos.

With a great lunch, we departed to Guararé to know some local women who make with their hands the beautiful typical dress of Panamá, ‘La Pollera’. We had a nice moment trying to learn with them and appreciating their arts. Continue visiting the towns, we stopped in the house of Mr. José who with his family work creating some diablicos mask. These masks are used by the local people for festivals. After that we went to La Arena de Chitré where a family prepares the best bread of Azuero Peninsula made in a traditional oven.

After the last stop we depart to know the hotel. Cubitá boutique hotel with a friendly atmosphere and highlighting the typical Panamanian environment.

On Sunday early in the morning we started the day with a good breakfast for then continue our trip to La Hacienda San Isidro located in Pesé in Herrera province to know how two of the Panamanian products are prepared (Ron Abuelo and Seco Herrerano).

Just arriving at the farm we stop being transferred by a traditional wagon with cows that was fascinating!

We learned a lot about these products and enjoy some cocktails prepared with Ron Abuelo.

After this fam-trip we are very glad to help you to organize your trip to the cultural heart of Panama, Azuero Peninsula!  For more information about this tour and others, you can email me directly at info@ecocircuitos.com

 

 

 

 

A Fantastic Journey: Part 8

Boquete and Cerro Punta

By Louis Celerier

Early in the Morning we were picked up to be taken to the regional airport at Albrook for our flight to David. I had hoped to see the countryside from the air, but the plane flew at some 20,000 feet and above a cloud covering. Landing in David at 11:30 AM, Hans, our EcoCircuitos representative, met us at the airport and drove us to Boquete arriving there about 1:30 PM. Hans took us to a very nice small restaurant up the river Caldera from the town for a good lunch.
The restaurant sits right by the river and it was a most delightful setting. Boquete is located in the Western Highlands of Panama near the border with Costa Rica. Boquete and the Panamonte Hotel were we stayed are delicacies that must me savored slowly. Boquete, as some of you may know, is a narrow valley with the Rio Caldera running through the middle of it. Boquete means breach and that is exactly what it is, a breach in the mountains made by the river. With an
elevation of some 3300 feet, the place is pleasantly cool and can get surprisingly cold some times. There always seems to be an abundance of flowers in the area and coffee plantations are everywhere. Most of the coffee in Boquete is shade grown, that is the shrubs grow under taller trees. In the picking season one will see these shrubs full of red berry-­like fruit. The small fruit has a thin skin under which is the coffee bean covered with a very thin, but sweet, film. From lunch, we drove further up the river to see a small waterfall. Hans had been told that I wanted to see the Calderas River waterfall, but obviously he did not know where that was, because where he took us was just small fall from a small tributary to the main river. The falls I had wanted to see where inanother location, which I showed him in the book by William Friar, but he still did not know what I was talking about. So I was a bit disappointed, but not enough to be unhappy in that enchanting place.
That evening was very relaxing. We spent a little time at the large lounge/bar area which was beautiful with two large fire places. The fires were lit and with the cool wind blowing hard outside, it felt very good. The dinning room of the hotel was also very nice and classy. The five of us had an enjoyable dinner making real everything I had heard about the place. While the hotel proper is old, being originally built around 1928, it has been kept up very well and, undoubtedly, additions and changes have been made since making it very comfortable. Gene and I were housed in the main building with him having a corner room in the rear portion and I having a front room by the street close to the front desk. Both accommodations were very comfortable. Judith, Robin and Teresita were housed in a newer annex across the street by the river. Their rooms were very ample and nice very well decorated.
On our second day we were on our own for the morning. I went walking in search of flowers and sights to photograph while the other four walked a short distance to the town. As I walked up the Altolino road I came upon a bonanza of flowers. A place called “Mi Jardin, Su Jardin” (My Garden, Your Garden) represented some 6 acres of beautiful flowers of all kinds on a beautifully landscaped garden. And best of all, it was open to the public at no charge. After an hour and a half there, I went down towards the town to look for the others and tell them what I had found. I located them by the town square and told them. Then I milled a bit in the town and headed across the river, on an oldsuspension bridge, to walk back to the hotel by another road. Crossing the river again just above the hotel, I saw the ravages of the last floods, a couple of months ago: the river had all but washed off all the road, as you will see in the photo section. That afternoon Hans came by for us to take us to a coffee plantation. Little did we know what he hadin mind. We sort of expected a walk through a plantation for about an hour and then some more site-­seeing around the area. Instead, he took us where, not only do they grow coffee, but they also process it until it is shipped out in packets ready for the store shelf. Hans, being in love with coffee, gave us a 4-­1/2 hour recitation of the whole process from planting, through harvest, through roasting through tasting. I thought it would never end. I think an hour basic course with a little souvenir pamphlet would have done us much better because right now I can hardly remember what all he told us and I would have enjoyed having a little pamphlet telling me about it so I could use it as a reference. That night we decided to walk down to the town and eat at a restaurant the others had spotted during the morning. It was OK, but we all agreed that the food at the hotel was superior and made a point of that.

On Monday morning, after a wonderful breakfast with fresh everything, we piled up into Hans, SUV and headed down to David and then up to Cerro Punta. Our main objective were the mountains of Amistad National Park and most specifically, Las Nubes, a location in the clouds forest were we could take a two hour hike and then have a pic-­nic lunch Hans had brought.
The hike was wonderful. The vegetation is completely different from that which we saw at Barro Colorado Island. No howler monkeys this time, but some in the group spotted a Quetzal bird. There were many little streams throughout our trail and each more pretty than the other. Completing our hike, we went into the forest rangers house for bathroom facilities and then set up our pic-­nic in the porch of the facility. Coming down the road, we went into the Finca Dracula were one finds more than 1200 species of orchids. It is one of the most important collections in Latin America and I was overwhelmed with the quantity of flowers. It was at this Finca that we met with Sheila and Dennis, touring the Finca with them … that is to say that they visited the Finca and Sheila and I talked more than looked.
From the Finca, we went to Sheila’s house, which was very close by, and enjoyed a cup of coffee. Let me say at this point that the coffee in Panama is coffee! It is delicious and I, who likes coffee anyway, never passed a chance to drink some. Everywhere we went we found the coffee delicious. But back to Sheila, their house is nestled in the mountains of Cerro Punta with a nice little river flowing behind the property. It must be heaven living there. They do travel a lot by plane, a 4-­place Cessna, which they keep in a town nearby. After bidding our goodbyes, we headed back to David and Boquete. On the way down, we stopped for refreshments at a roadside stand getting a fresh fruit drink and buying some Panamanian candy to bring home. We got to the hotel at 6:00 PM rather tired, but found strength to have one last terrific dinner at the Panamonte Hotel. Then we had to bid goodbye to Judith, Robin and Teresita as Gene and I had to catch a very early plane the next day to Bocas del Toro, while the other three returned to Panama city. I loved our stay in Boquete and would have enjoyed a couple of more days there. Not only are there things to do near by, but the Panamonte is a great place to relax. And the weather was perfect.

 

Every week we publish part of Louis Celerier’s story of how he revisited the country where he grew up. Subscribe to this blog, or like us on Facebook, to make sure you do not miss any part of the story!

Discovering Boquete, the highlands of Panama

by Juan Jose Calvache – Operations Manager

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Boquete in a Fam Trip organized by Finca Lerida, Air Panama, Tree Trek and Fresas Café.

It was a beautiful experience, discovering new and charming landscapes of the mountains of Panama, Chiriqui province at the western side bordering Costa Rica.

We flew with Air Panama with the new fleet of modern planes and upon arrival the staff of Finca Lerida was organizing our transfer to their mountain lodge.  Cesar one of our top birder guides in the highlands was in charge of the group and he show all his skills as a top birder and naturalist guide.

We discover with other eyes Boquete, the nature and its people.  We hike around the national park, and around Finca Lerida private reserve, we visit the coffee farm and learn about the amazing process of coffee… the smell of fresh coffee is fantastic!

Boquete offers amazing array of activities, such as the Canopy Adventure, Rafting, coffee farms, strawberry picking and hiking the cloudforest.  I had the opportunity to spot an amazing bird… The Quetzal in its splendor.

I highly recommend this great extension tour to the Highlands where EcoCircuitos will organize a trip to your needs.   If you are in Panama, don´t miss the opportunity to explore Boquete at the western side of Panama.

For more information, contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com  or call our toll free number at 1-800-830-7142

Discover Coiba National Park

This national park and UNESCO World Heritage site is located in the southern part of the Veraguas province in the Pacific Ocean, made up of a group of islands. Coiba is the biggest island. The area of the land on the islands combined with the marine territory comes to the amazing total of 270,125 hectares (650,000 acres), making it one of the most extensive marine parks in the world. This park protects three different kinds of ecosystems: the island, reef and marine life. Due to its geographical location a penal colony was established here in 1910, the remains can still be seen today because of this situation the forest on the Coiba Island remained untouched.

For more information and itineraries to Coiba, please contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com