Escape the winter to 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!

Cultural Diversity – The Panamanian cultural diversity consists of indigenous groups who keep their culture alive today to Caribbean and Latin American sub-cultures with influences of the Spanish conquistadores and also the pirates. Today, the country’s population is made up of Chinese, Jewish and Arab neighbors living in harmony with people and backpackers from around the world. Making Panama a truly and colorful melting pot.

Wildlife – There are an incredible number of animals living in Panama. Roughly 230 types of mammals and more than 1000 bird species. This does not include the numerous reptiles, amphibians and insect species!  You can spot amazing wildlife at just 45 minutes from the City limits. Butterflies as large as your hand freely fly through neighboring rainforests. There are sloths, Howler monkeys, toucans, agotis, coatimundis and other animals that make their home within the city limits of Panama City. Just imagine what you may encounter in the countryside… tiny brightly colored frogs, ocelots, anteaters and more.

Different Places to Be – It is quite well known that Panama has superb rainforests. Jungle excursions are a definite option here. For a slight change of scenery, we recommend visiting the cloud forest in the highlands, where lush mossy trees are covered by the fog and where wild orchids flourish. But this not only what the country has to offer. There are mountains, where world-famous coffee is grown such as the Geisha; mangrove swamps and even a desert in Sarigua, Azuero. And we have coasts on both sides of the country, 2,500 kilometers of it to be precise. Numerous beaches and islands in the Caribbean Sea and off the Pacific Coast are waiting to be explored. Crystal clear waters meet white sandy beaches with the occasional coconut tree, Panama is the place to be! Coral reefs? Panama has those too. And it’s all within easy reach. All it takes is few hours’ drive or a short flight to arrive to a unique picturesque destination! There is even a national park inside the city limits of Panama City!

Things to Do – There are many things to do in Panama. Adventure? There is river rafting, rock climbing, snorkeling and wilderness expeditions in the jungles of Darien, just to name a few. Also there is great kayaking as well, mountain biking, horseback riding and many other outdoor sports. There are many great surfing and diving spots that can be found in both oceans and the wonderful beaches on both coastlines. And for those who have had enough activity, there are so many hidden island retreats and luxurious spa options. Panama’s rich culture offers arts, cultural celebrations, great food and drink and local fiestas.

Panama City – Panama City deserves a visit. The Biodiversity Museum by Frank Gehry, little art galleries and amazing restaurants are waiting to be discover by you. Every weekend brings a new event, festival, concert or an exhibition. The beautiful colonial old quarters (UESCO World Heritage Site) known as Casco Antiguo, is always worth a visit. The combination of the old and new Panama City offers traditional crafts and modern art; old buildings set against the backdrop of the modern skyline and the accessible National Parks. And don’t miss the Jazz Festival in January!

For more information contact us info@ecocircuitos.com

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Re-Discovering Colon Province

By Carina Forster

The low season is here!   the time when the EcoCircuitos team explores the regions of beautiful Panama, looking for new exciting activities, tasty restaurants and nice hotels to use in our programs. All departments are working together, developing ideas and creating new exciting itineraries to our favorite places in Panama. Yesterday we explored beautiful Colon region, with its laid-back Caribbean flair, deep rainforests and colorful towns full of pirates and buccaneers history.

Crossing the country in the early morning by train, our way led along the Panama Canal from Panama City on the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean town of Colon. We quickly forgot the early hours with breathtaking views of lush rainforest, the Panama Canal and jungle lakes covered in mystic morning fog.

Being picked up by our EcoCircuitos driver Roberto at the train station in Colon, we started our road trip along the palm-fringed coast line to the colorful town of Portobelo. The charming little village does not only offer incredible history, with once being one of the most important ports in the Caribbean Sea, but surprises with lovely remains of African culture in form of Congo dances and expressive pieces of art next to lush rainforest adventures and superb snorkeling.

Every team member has his or her own preferences and opinions; however, when it came to the Arrecifes restaurant we discovered in the town of Colon, everyone was just as excited about the delicious typical fresh seafood lunch offered next to an extensive view of the Panama Canal.

To continue our road trip deep into the jungle to the Fort of San Lorenzo, we waited for a spot between large container ships to cross the Panama Canal by ferry. Following a romantic wild road surrounded by lush rainforest, we let monkeys, birds and coatimundis cross the street. The fortress of San Lorenzo lies on the edge of steep cliffs, overlooking the surrounding coast lines with abandoned beaches and wild rainforest as far as your eyes can reach.

After a successful day of collecting inspirations, testing logistics and forming partnerships, the creative part starts, with using our experiences and ideas for developing unique brand-new itineraries.

Article from Transamerica: The Hippest Neighborhood in Central America

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are not allowed to publish this article to promote Panama in our web.  The authors banned us from publication in our blog for violation of copyright.  We thought we were advertising their web and authors.  Anyway, for those interested in reading it, please check their website directly at http://trans-americas.com/blog/2014/07/casco-viejo-panama-city/

 

The ruins of Portobelo and the Transcontinental Train

Join us today on a visual tour of the ruins of Portobelo, to discover stories of Spanish conquerors, pirate attacks and times long past, and then return to the Pacific coast on the transcontinental railway. Click on the pictures to get a full-screen slideshow view.

 

If you want to see more of Portobello and the train, join us on a day tour there! Email us at info@ecocircuitos.com for more information.

The First City of Panama

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Subsequent to Balboa´s discovery of the “South Sea” (the Pacific Ocean) on September 29, 1513, Pedro Arias de Avila, also known as Pedrarias, was appointed governor of Castilla del Oro in August 1514. Pedrarias and Balboa did not get along well and, finally, Balboa and four others were accused of treason and beheaded by Pedrarias at Acla, Panama, in the later part of 1517.

Pedrarias continued to rule from Santa Maria de la Antigua on the Northern coast (Atlantic) of Panama in the region of Darien, but seeing the advantage of a settlement on the shores of the new ocean as an outfitting station for future explorations, he crossed the isthmus and, on August 15, 1519, the same day on which the Panama Canal would officially open 395 years later, he founded the first European city on the Pacific shore. The name “Panama” is supposed to have come from a Native word meaning “a place abounding in fish” and legend relates that the new town was built on the site of a Native fishing village. This new settlement is what we now know as “Old Panama”.

In the same year, Nombre de Dios became the main Atlantic port.

On September 15, 1521, the town of Panama was made a city by royal decree, and the first Diocese (bishop’s office) in the Americas was moved there from Antigua. For nearly two hundred years following the founding of Panama, the roads across the isthmus, Las Cruces Trail and El Camino Real, were the riches trade routes in the world. Not only did these two roads carry the plunder from Peru, beginning in 1532, but also the trade originating in the Philippines and the Indies. By the end of the 16th Century, the population of the city had increased to about 10,000.

By the time of its destruction by the pirate Henry Morgan, Panama had a population of about 30,000. It was a beautiful place with 7,000 houses, most of them of carved native cedar and others of stone, erected in Moorish style ( a reflection of the Moors influence on Spain during their 400 years of occupation). Of its stones monasteries and convents, the most pretentious was the Cathedral of Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, a truly glorious building whose ruins still stand.

Besides the royal treasure storehouses, which were built of stone, there were some two hundred merchant warehouses guarded constantly by slaves. In addition, there were ample stables to house the large number of mules used for the transport of the treasures across the isthmus. The port of old Panama was really not the best for shipping because the 21-foot tide changes the waterfront to a mile of sticky black mud at low tide. The Bay itself was spacious enough for the largest ships to ride at ease at some distance from the shore. At one place in the bay, an arm of the sea creeps inland, North of the city, to a little creek over which an arched bridge, King’s Bridge, still stands. This bridge was the starting point of El Camino Real to Portobelo. The Cruces Trail started on the west side of the city at Matadero Bridge, also called “Morgan Bridge” because it was the bridge Morgan crossed to enter the city.

In the end, it was an attack by Henry Morgan, with 1400 men, that sealed the fate of Old Panama on January 28, 1671.

Morgan had an astute plan. He would sail to the Spanish Island of Santa Catalina, in the Archipelago of San Andres and Providencia, off the coast of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, to prevent the possibility of a warning of his proposed attack on Panama. Having captured the island, he kept most of his fleet in plain sight, while he sent James Bradley with 400 men to attack Fort San Lorenzo on the mouth of the Chagres. The fort was heavily fortified and Bradley’s men suffered many casualties, including Bradley who had his legs shattered by a cannon ball and died a week later, but they did capture the Fort. Of the 320 men at the fort, only 30 survived to surrender to the pirates.

Shortly after the fall of San Lorenzo, Morgan arrived with the bulk of his force. In spite of Morgan’s plan of deception, the Spaniards became aware of his whereabouts and were preparing for the defense of Panama. Nevertheless, Morgan continued with his plan to go up the Chagres River to Cruces and then proceed by foot to the city of Panama. Leaving 150 men guarding the ships and 500 at San Lorenzo, he started his dangerous trip up the river on January 12, 1671. The men were crowded in too few Cayucos, took no provisions and the heat and mosquitoes were a nightmare. When they arrived at Panama, the strong Spanish garrison proved to be under very poor leadership and a series of errors and confusion gave the advantage to the pirates who overwhelmed the garrison.

Morgan is credited with burning the city, but that is probably not true as his men were not through sacking the city when the fire started and drove everyone away. Having been denied the expected riches because of the fire, the pirates stayed around sacking what they could from the area, including a $30,000 ransom for a woman, for a month before returning to Fort San Lorenzo. Morgan had trouble controlling his disgruntled men and had to put several insurgents in irons. Finally, as discipline dissolved and Morgan heard of plans to kill him, he collected a band of trusted followers and, after getting the others drunk on the masquerade of a celebration party prior to dividing the treasure, he took off for Jamaica with most of the loot. But not without disabling the other ships so they could not pursue him.

With the town of Old Panama in ruins, the remaining Spaniards rebuilt their town a few miles away in the present day area of Santa Ana and San Felipe. The city was never again sacked by pirates.

Originally By Luis Celerier