5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites that reveals Panama’s cultural and natural wonders

Did you know that Panama has 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Well if you didn’t, check this out!

Three Natural Sites

Since 1981: Darien National Park

This incredible National Park in the Eastern part of Panama, on the borders of Colombia, is home to an extraordinarily rich flora and fauna. It has a variety of habitats from tropical forests, mangroves and swamps, wetlands and beaches. Two of Panama’s indigenous tribes the Wounaan and Embera have their home in this incredible park. It has 169 identified mammals, to name some of them: the near threatened jaguar, the endangered tapir, bush dog and the capybara. Darien National Park has a lot to offer if you are in love with nature and incredible biodiversity!

 

Since 1983: La Amistad National Park and Talamanca Range- La Amistad reserves

The Talamanca Mountains are enclosed by this breathtaking national park and reserves. It is considered to be the tallest and wildest mountain range in Central America. There are numerous ecosystems and landforms, such as rivers, valleys and lakes which were shaped by glaciers. Also in this national park you can find an incredible amount of different animals: 215 mammals including the Puma and Jaguar and abundant bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species. Don’t miss this incredible biodiversity and unique scenery!

Since 2005: Coiba National Park

This unique island  once was a penal colony and along with other 38 smaller islands and its surrounding marine area is the Coiba site National Park. Abundant marine life such as whales and tiger sharks has its home in the surrounding marine area. The variety of endemic flora and fauna on this wonderful island is due to years of separation from the Mainland. You really should discover the natural beauties of the island, but always in a sustainable way!

Two Cultural Sites

Since 1980: Portobelo-San Lorenzo Caribbean Fortifications

The forts of Portobelo and San Lorenzo, listed as endangered, were constructed by Spanish colonialists to protect the first town of Panama Ciy which had become a very significant trade center. The forts continuously suffered attacks by pirates. It really is an incredible site, as it provides very important information about the defense system which was used in the 17th and the 18th centuries!  Don’t miss the site for the real Pirates of the Caribbean.

 

Since 1997: Panamá Viejo Archaeological Site and Historic District of Panamá

The Panama Viejo Archaeological Site and Historic District of Panama dates back to the 16th century, and is the oldest European settlement along the Pacific coast. In 1673 it has been burned to the ground, so it was located in Casco Viejo.

Significant information on various aspects of the social life, communication and the economy can be read through the ruins. Numerous Churches, medieval houses, the presidential palace and the Salón Bolivar are cultural landmarks in the historic district. Follow the the steps of the Spanish empire in Latin America in this beautiful site and book a historical tour with us.

Panama has so much to offer – besides of an incredible nature and biodiversity, our beautiful country has a very significant history. Our local guides will take you through an unforgettable cultural, historical and natural experience through our beautiful country! For tours or more information contact annie@ecocircuitos.com or visit our website http://www.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.

COIBA National Park – Attractions and Activities

Located in the Gulf of Chiriquí, Coiba National Park is a marine reserve off Panama’s Pacific coast. Coiba National Park (Nacional Parque Coiba) is comprised of a group of 38 islands including Coiba Island (Isla Coiba) and the waters surrounding them and covers 430,825 acres. Identified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2005, Coiba National Park offers rich and well preserved natural resources.

Because Isla Coiba served Panama as a penal colony, access to the island was very restricted. Almost by accident, 80% of the islands’ natural resources have therefore survived untouched and flourished through limited human contact.

Coiba National Park is managed by the National Authority for the Environment (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente, ANAM). The park is accessible only by permit from ANAM.  A number of tour operators in Panama, including EcoCircuitos Panama offer adventure tours, kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving trips to Coiba and can assist in obtaining appropriate permits.

The tour operators depart from several different places on the Panamanian coast.

Attractions in Coiba includes:
• Exhibition and Information Center, Park Ranger Station.
• Viewing Platforms (Miradores) El Gambute.
• Thermal Springs and Nature Interpretation Trial.
• Monkey Trail.
• Nature Interpretation Trail to ancient Mangrove Forest of Santa Cruz.
• Trial to the Waterfall at Juncal.
• Nature Interpretation Trail to the Volcanic Rift Valley.
• Volcanic Fault.
• The Island Granito de Oro (Grain of Gold)
• The Penal Colony, La Central Camp.
• Nature Interpretation trails of Jicaron and Jicarita.
• River Kayaking. Rio San Juan and Punta Hermosa.
• Nature Interpretation Trail on Isla Rancheria.
• Nature Interpretation Trail Isla Brincanco, Archipelago of Contreras.

Source:  http://www.coibanationalpark.com/

Chemical from sea hares active against Leishmaniasis

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From STRI.org

Found worldwide in tropical and subtropical seas and oceans, Dolabrifera dolabrifera is a species of sea hare, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Aplysiidae. Researchers working at the Smithsonian in Panama discovered that the digestive gland of D. dolabrifera contains a compound active against Leishmania donovani, the parasite primarily responsible for visceral leishmaniasis, a devastating tropical disease spread by sandflies. If left untreated, this form of leishmaniasis can have a fatality rate as high as 100 percent within two years.

The sea hares were collected from Pacific ocean tide pools on Panama’s Coiba Island by STRI botanist, Alicia Ibañez, and Alicia Hermosillo from the Universidad de Guadalajara. Many soft-bodied organisms such as sponges, tunicates, octocorals and sea hares, living in tropical marine ecosystems use chemical compounds to defend themselves against predators.

“This is one of more than 45 compounds with potential pharmaceutical activity that we’ve reported from Coiba National Park and World Heritage Site so far,” said Todd Capson, who played an instrumental role in the protection of the park, is one of the founders of the Panama International Cooperative Biodiversity Group, and a participant in the Neotropical Environment Graduate Option (NEO), a collaborative effort between STRI and McGill University. “NEO and the ICBG promote multidisciplinary efforts like this one that brought together ecologists, experts in tropical disease drug discovery, natural product chemists, and students from McGill University as a team.”

Their publication is the first reported isolation of a compound from Dolabrifera dolabrifera with potential as a treatment for any disease. The chemical, an epidioxysterol, has been isolated from other marine organisms. The authors suggest that chemists should base new approaches to synthesizing a compound for the treatment of Leishmaniasis on the activity of this group of chemical compounds.

Kathryn Clark, first author of the paper announcing the discovery, was supported by a Canadian graduate scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a Levinson Fellowship from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute-McGill Neotropical Environmental Option.

Clark, K.E., Capper, A., Della Togna, G., Paul, V.J., Romero, L.I., Johns, T., Cubilla-Rios, L, and Capson, T.L. 2013. Ecology-and bioassay-guided drug discovery for treatments of tropical parasitic disease: 5a,8a– epidioxycholest-6-en-3ß–ol isolated from the mollusk Dolabrifera dolabrifera shows significant activity against Leishmania donovani. Natural Products Communications 8 (11), 1537 – 1540

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