10 Best things to do in Panama City

There are a lot of reasons to visit Panama. You have probably already thought of the Panama Canal, which is one of the world’s most famous accomplishments of modern engineering. Maybe you have considered a tropical island or beach, or just the climate, which is warm all year round. But there is a lot more to Panama: read here some of our staff picks to do in Panama City.

1.  Visit Seafood market and walk or bike Cinta Costera towards the Casco Antiguo neighborhood while eating a fresh seafood ceviche.
2.  Take a tour at the Biodiversity Museum and hire of our naturalist guides for an introductory rainforest tour in the Metropolitan Park

3.  Bar hopping in Casco Viejo at night and don´t miss the Jazz Bar in the American Trade Hotel

4.  Historical City Tour– walking Panama la Antigua and learn about the Pirates and Conquistadors and the Canal zone era

5.  Kayaking the Panama Canal in the Gatun Lake and a visit to a local Wounaan community for handcrafts shopping

6.  Visit the Contemporary Art Museum and take a Art Cultural Tour with a local panamanian artist

7.  Hike, bike or wildlife observation at one of the many trails of the Soberania National Park

8.  Go on a historical trekking the old 8-mile Camino de Cruces Trail takes you through primarily tropical forest

9.  Ride the Transcontinental train towards the Atlantic side in one day: The Pirate trail and Panama Canal

10.  Enjoy the local gastronomy (tasajo empanada, carimañola, tortilla, yuca frita, and the seafood of Panama).

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Visit an Embera Community in Gatun Lake – A unique experience

by:  Anne Kehmeier, Intern

Luckily I had the chance to join an exciting EcoCircuitos tour to the indigenous village of the Embera Drua people to get to know their lifestyles and traditions. Accompanied by a great naturalist guide we started our trip with a ride through the Canal Zone and the nice Soberania National Park where we even saw a small anteater on the street. Arrived at the bank of the Chagres River we boarded a motorized piragua (dugout canoe) with an indigenous guide and captain and traveled the Gatun Lake to the communityt. We had a stop for a small hike of the botanical trail “Venta de Cruces” off the community. This forest was full of interesting trees, plants and small animals like the rana hoja, a frog that looks like a leave and is very well camouflaged. The indigenous guide explained us how the trail was used and showed us many different plants. He described how these plants were applied and still are nowadays, for example for medical purposes. After the small hike we continued our boat tour to the village. While enjoying the view out of the boat over the river and the nearby forests and the refreshing water that spilled over to us in the boat from time to time we reached the bank where the Embera village is situated. Our arrival at the “dock” was accompanied with local music and we were welcomed very friendly. After some time of enjoying the marvelous location and the view of the river we were given a presentation about clothing, handcrafts and other traditions and lifestyles by a young representative of the Embera community. Most of the arts and crafts are made of natural resources like seeds, leaves and different kinds of wood. Then we even had the pleasure to have a traditional lunch which existed of delicious fried plantain and fish, followed by fresh bananas and pineapples as desert. After this yummy lunch the Embera women showed us a really fascinating dance accompanied by interesting traditional music presented by the Embera men. We were even invited to join the dance and learn some steps; this was really exciting and fun! After this program we had the opportunity to explore the village and the surroundings a little bit, of course in way that does not disrupt the daily life of the community. By doing so we could also buy some of the beautiful handcrafts made by the Embera.

I was very pleased to hear and to see that the local community really benefits from tourism and this is a way for them to demonstrate their traditions and sell their self-made products. As this community lives in the Chagres National Park, thus a protected area, they are not allowed to hunt, to cultivate fields and use the wood of the forest to keep their farms. Therefore it is a great opportunity that they profit from tourism as they welcome regularly small groups and thus they have the opportunity to sell their handcrafts like nicely designed plates, small statues, neglects, bracelets and much more. In this way they do not only preserve their traditions but also conserve and preserve the nature around them.

I really enjoyed this adventure, the people were really friendly and open-minded and I learned a lot about the life in the Chagres National Park. It was a pleasure for me to get to know the Embera people and I am really glad I had this opportunity. Thanks for this great, exciting, personal and very unique experience!

BITS & PIECES – HISTORY OF PANAMA

Madden Dam and Lake Alajuela

By:  Luis R. Celerier
January 2012

The United States took over the task of construction of the Panama Canal on may 4, 1904, after quite a debate as to where would be the best site for this project, even after the French had already started construction in Panama. The U.S. considered five routes before deciding to continue the work the French had already begun. As you can see below, these routes included (1)through the narrowest point in Mexico, (2) through Nicaragua, (3) the French route through Panama, (4) a second route through Panama going roughly from the Gulf of San Blas to Chepo and (5), through Colombia using the Atrato River.

The French had considered several alternatives canal designs including their initial effort for a sea level canal and, later, on their second attempt, a locks canal. With greater engineering information, the U.S. abandoned the French design and proceeded with a locks design based on a large lake 85 feet above sea level. The French sea-level design suffered greatly from the large volume of excavation required and from flooding that would have occurred along the Chagres River. By constructing a dam (Gatun Dam) near the mouth of the Chagres, the combined effect of reducing excavation and mitigating flood impacts was achieved at the cost of constructing the locks.

The Panama Canal watershed is 1289 square miles drained by six major rivers of which the Chagres is the largest. Five major stream gages keep track of the flow from these rivers into Gatun Lake. These stream gage locations, shown in the map below, are: the Gatun River at CIENTO; the Boqueron River at PELUCA; the Pequeni River at CANDELARIA; the Chagres River at CHICO; the Trinidad River at EL CHORRO; and the Ciri Grande River at LOS CANONES.

Map: US Army Corps of Engineers

When the canal operations began in 1914, it became evident that, for water management purposes, another dam was needed. And it had to be above Gatun Lake. Thus, on October 13, 1931, construction on another dam was begun up the Chagres near the location of a little town called Alajuela. The dam was named Madden, after U.S. Congressman Martin B. Madden, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, who played an important role in support of the project. The dam would not only help control the tremendous floods of the Chagres, but also hold water in reserve for periods when traffic through the canal was at its highest point. And additional benefit was the hydroelectric power it generated for use in the operation of the canal.

Madden Dam is located 250 feet above sea level and retains 29 million cubic feet of water. It was constructed by the engineering companies of W.E. Callahan and Peterson, Shirley & Gunther of Omaha for $4,047,407 (Note 1) which was a lot less than had been estimated by the Isthmian Canal Commission. The design and construction work was under the direction of E.S. Randolph, who stayed at the job site through out its construction. The contract was signed by General Burgess, who was the Governor of the Canal Zone at the time.

Madden Dam and what is now called Alajuela Lake. Photo by Panama Canal Co.

The resulting lake was called Madden Lake for many years but, eventually, this was changed to Alajuela Lake. This lake has a perimeter of 189 miles. The dam is 930 feet long and rises 220 feet from its foundation. Up to 893 persons, divided almost evenly between the contractor and the Canal Zone government, were employed during its peak construction period. Completion of the dam was accomplished on February 5, 1935, five months ahead of schedule and was hailed as another triumph of U.S. engineering in the history of the Canal. The Canal Zone government proceeded to build a concrete paved road 12-1/2 miles long connecting the new dam to the town of Summit.

Madden Dam shortly after completion. LIFE magazine.

Madden Dam is maintained and operated by the Panama Canal Authority. This large reserve of water has lived to its expectations providing water to (1) help maintain water levels necessary to operate the canal during the dry season, (2) control flooding of the Chagres and (3) providing hydroelectric power for the area.

Sources: Dr. Alonso Roy, M.D., Escritos Historicos de Panama; Timothy Davis, Sioux Falls Travel Examiner, 5-18-10;
Some History and Hydrology of the Panama Canal, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, June 2000; http://www.industcards.com/hydro-panama.htm

NOTE 1: Dr. Roy states that the contract for the dam was $4,047,407. However, industcards gives a figure of $$10.6 million.

Tour of the week – Birding Achiote Road – Community Project in the Atlantic side

Achiote is located on the western side of the Panama Canal, bordering with the San Lorenzo National Park, between Gatún Lake and the Caribbean Sea. It is a rural community with approximately 500 inhabitants, which was founded on the basis of banana exportations in the 1930s. It is in an exuberant valley, covered by innumerable shades of green, flowers, and multicolored birds. Its small size and intimacy make it a paradise-like refuge only 25 minutes from Colon city and the Colon Free Zone.

We will be birding along Achiote Road consistently produces more than 300 bird species. Your best opportunities for Crested Oropendola, Collared & Slaty Backed Forest Falcons, Plumbeous and Semiplumbeous Hawks, Hook-Billed Kite, Band-Tailed Barbthroat, Rufous-Breasted Hermit, Ocellated Antbird, Olivaceous Flatbill, Black-Tailed Trogon, Speckled Mourner, Purple-Throated Fruitcrow, Chestnut Mandibled Toucan could be found here. Spot-crowned Barbet prefers the common cecropia trees, and Hoffman’s two-toed sloth also resides here. Numerous species of striking heliconia plants are common, as are their attendant hummingbirds, the hermits, named for their retiring nature. We will visit and will enjoy a local lunch at Los Tucanes Community center and will learn about the main routes of migratory birds of prey of the Americas converge, turning the region and the Canal area in general into a great hotel for them twice a year: from September to November, and from February to March.

We suggest to wear clothes that are comfortable, cool and light colors. On your feet wear sneakers or boots, and in general think in terms of maintaining a certain harmony with the forest. Bring an umbrella or raincoat. When you are inside the forest make sure to speak in a low tone of voice. Avoid wearing perfume or creams when you visit the forest, strong smells can bother or confuse animals. Contribute towards keeping the community clean. Bring drinking water and insect repellent.

For prices and more birding tours, please contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com