The CONGO art of Panama listed as an intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO

The ritual and festive expressions of the Congo culture encompass the contemporary vision of a collective celebration of black rebel descendants enslaved during the colonial period During the Congo season, participants act out a matriarchal society in a palisade, ruled by a queen and her court. Everyone must help protect the queen and members of the palisade from the devils (diablos), and the season concludes with a confrontation between the diablos and the congos. Everyone takes part, and the expressions have been fostering social integration for generations.



The Best Beaches near Panama City

Panama is blessed with its unique beaches in both the Pacific and the Atlantic. This amazing country has two long coasts and many islands that are ideal for family beach combing, surfing, kite surfing or other water sports.

Some of my favorite beaches I listed below:

  1.  Veracruz Beach:  It is at only 20 minutes from the City and this spot is great for those interested in Stand up Paddle or kayaking the bay of Panama.  There are several rentals for SUP.  Don’t miss it.
  2. Punta Chame:  if you like kite surfing, this is your spot.  A great mountain backdrop and very long beach.  There are also schools in the area for kite surfing.
  3.  Coronado and Serena beach:  this is a little bay ideal for surfing.  It is located close to condominiums and has easy access during the day.
  4. El Palmar and Rio Mar:  both beaches are ideal for surfers.  Some small hotels and restaurants in the area and close to Rio Mar more beachfront condominiums.  I love to go there during the weekday.
  5. Playa Langosta: in Colon on the Atlantic side this beach is on the road to Portobello and at only 1.5 hours from the city.  It is very very crowed during the weekends.
  6. Isla Grande:  Also in Colon Province a little farther from Portobello this is a small fishing town, this beach is great for swimming and also for surfing on a shallow reef.







The Congo Dances from Portobello: Celebrating our African heritage

 The Congo Dance of Panama is a unique and colorful celebration of dances and part of the folklore in the province of #Colon. The dance has its roots in Africa and came to Panama by way of escaped former slaves known as “Cimarrons.”  The dance has been passed on from generation to generation, and can be seen today in the province of Colon, in costal towns such as Portobello (1 ½ hours from Panama City) where the Afro-Panamanian legacy remains very much alive.  Girls and women from #Colon province during the Congo festivities.

The Congos of Portobelo today are the descendants of the cimarrones—runaway slaves who fought for their freedom during the Spanish colonial period. After escaping into the mountain hills and forest, the cimarrones built their villages (Palenques) from which they waged wars against their former enslavers.

The Congos is beautiful dance full of mystery and legends, in which men and women stage with dances, songs and sonorous drums, the ancestral drama of life, and the fight between the good and evil.

The women dance swaying their hips in an almost erotic manner, using hands and feet to mark the man limits. They wear a long skirt made ​​up of a patchwork of very bright colors fabric, a blouse with a colorful frill necklaces, flower in her hair, and bare feet. The men wear a fringed shirt and pants (made of strips of colored cloth), masks, and bare feet and dance around the women, doing their best to get close and kiss them. The rhythm of drums, singing and applause invites everyone around to participate in the Congo.

Check out the video below of a local news report about the 2013 Festival of Diablos and Congos:

A Pirate in Portobello

Portobello is located in Colon at the Caribbean side of Panama and was established during the Spanish colonial time. With the old cannons, ruins and buildings I totally immersed into the pirates tales and leyends.

Heading north – east from Panama City it is about two hours away by bus. The ride along the Caribbean side with all the palm trees and small huts has already impressed me. It felt like a short holiday for me.  We arrived on Saturday morning and slept in “Captain Jack’s hostel”.  The hostel was designed like a hidden pirate stash. Decorated with old guns, swords, skulls and ripped pirate flags the place was really authentic. On top of it, the hostel was located on a top of a hill from where we had an amazing view over Portobello. The owner Jack had the aura and appearance of an old pirate.

After we have settled down and stored our things, we took a small boat to an outer island and relaxed and snorkeled there for the day. With nobody else besides us there, we felt like stranded sailors with some rum left.

At about 5PM we headed back to the hostel, drank some rum and exchanged our adventures with Captain Jack. It was an amazing night full of fun and stories.

The next morning we had a most delicious pirate breakfast with bacon, eggs, fruits and a secret sauce made by Jack. Before we jumped on the bus back to Panama City we visited the ruins of Portobello. Standing by the ancient cannons I could completely imagine how the Pirates attacked the port city. After a day of ancient times, I sadly had to leave this port city.

 If you want to feel like a pirate and want to experience Portobello  where Francis Drake is sunken or San Lorenzo Castle where Henry Morgan first arrive Panama.  Contact us or visit our website to find out more information.  Contact us directly at 1-800-830-7142. We are looking forward to organize a trip for you!

By Marc Vedder

Fam Trip El Otro lado Boutique hotel in Portobello

Our team visited again El Otro Lado Boutique hotel in Portobello and they have a day relaxing and luxury.

El Otro Lado is a private retreat, situated in a privileged refuge of Portobelo Bay, integrating design, culture, nature and luxury in a unique manner to provide guests with authentic experiences that are select and customized.
Located approximately 90 minutes from Panama City, and next to the Portobelo National Park, El Otro Lado is the perfect venue to relax and disconnect while pondering the lush and youthful verdure. With views of the sea, the four tropical eclectic design houses integrate simple details with handcrafted traditions of Panama’s Atlantic coast.
A veritable stream of memorable experiences, El Otro Lado takes you to a dream-like place that is in harmony and balance, yet replete with life’s modern conveniences.This luxury boutique hotel offers a spectacular location in the tropical rainforest, an integrated landscape design in an unspoiled expanse, infinity view swimming pool, tropical eclectic design and indigenous decorative elements.

A Fantastic Journey: Part 4

The Pirate Trail: Fort San Lorenzo, Portobello and a Train Ride to Colon

By Louie Celerier

Up and at them by 6:15 AM when EcoCircuitos came for us at the Hotel Marbella for our trip to the Atlantic side.
We began by boarding the train at Corozal. The train station is the old Army Commissary at that location. When I was stationed at Fort Clayton in 1957-­58 we used to buy our groceries there. Now, the building has been renovated and makes up a nice and comfortable station, very clean, cheery and with a nice gift shop. The train left right on time at 7:00 AM and we were lucky to get a good seat in the domed car. The cars are all very clean, look new and extremely good looking. Coffee was free, served by very attractive conductors, but the sweet rolls were for sale.
The view from the domed car was wonderful, but the glass impeded my photography, so I walked down to an open platform which was just perfect for my needs. Surprisingly, the morning was extremely cold. My guess was in the very low 70s, but the wind chill made it seem colder. I was, again,shooting film like crazy as I did not want to miss anything. I would recognize certain points, others gave me no indication as what they were.
Passing by Fort Clayton, I spotted the Headquarters building where I worked while stationed there. Then came the tunnel, which flooded the mind with memories, then Pedro Miguel and again the bridge at Gamboa over the Chagres River. From there on it was a wonderment of jungle, unfamiliar side roads (I never saw Frijoles Station), swamps, lake inlets, ships in the distance transiting the Canal and finally, Colon. The whole trip was over in about 50 minutes and it was too short to suit me.
The Colon station is quite a bit before entering the city itself and it is just an open siding. I immediately spotted the EcoCircuitos guide, who had driven from Panama to pick us up and take us to San Lorenzo and Portobello.
Taking the old familiar route, we crossed the Gatun Locks bridge, which is still a one lane swing bridge at the bottom of the last lock. Naturally, we had to wait until all traffic coming our way had gotten through before we got the green light to move ahead. Proceeding to Fort Sherman, we took the little unpaved road to Fort San Lorenzo at the mouth of the Chagres on the Atlantic Ocean. No sooner had we entered the forest than we ran into a group of howler monkeys … and were they making a racket. I had never met with these creatures, even though I had been to San Lorenzo many other times. But they were there on this day and they were loud. They were scrambling all over the branches on top of us. We, naturally, had to stop and try to take photos and listen to them. We also spotted some beautiful blue butterflies as a bonus.
Fort San Lorenzo reeks with history, as always. It is too bad that they cannot conserve this place on a permanent basis and make it more accessible for tourists. Since I became aware of the place ages ago, it has been the same story … they clean it and repair it one year, then forget about it for five. And every time they clean it up, some small part of it gets destroyed. If nothing is done on a permanent basis soon, it won’t be long before there is nothing more than a pile of rocks left. I hope this does not happen.
There is a man living in a small house nearby now. He has a restroom which he lets the public use for 25 cents a go. It is nothing more than an outside toilet dug out of the ground. But it is better than nothing. He also has a couple of coconut trees and we bought some “pipas”. They were delicious and Gene was able to see what a coconut is before it dries up to the stage one gets here in the States. Leaving Fort San Lorenzo, we went on to old Fort Gulick and the Melia Hotel, which used to be a school for the military of Latin American countries, I believe. The place has been remodeled and beautified and they certainly did a good job of it. The buffet there was $16 per person, all one could eat, and it was out of this world! There were all sorts of salads to choose from, appetizers, main dishes, soups, and desserts. We stuffed ourselves before deciding that we better get going on to Portobello.
It was a pretty ride to Portobello on the coastal road, once passing Sabanitas. The forts remain the same and, again, reeking in history. We poked around in the forts on the West bank, where the town is located, then we rented a boat, with two “guides”, to go across to the East side of the little bay to visit the two lower forts there. We did not have time, nor energy, to climb to the top fort as my son Glenn and I did in 1984. Returning to the West bank, we visited the little museum in the Custom House, which was rebuilt by the Spanish Government as a gift to Panama a few years ago. The exhibits were interesting, but the video presentation was excellent.
After having a cold drink with our “guides” and car watchers, it was time to go and return to the city by car. The highway is in good shape and we had no difficulties. That night we had dinner with my cousin Marcela Azcarraga, who also had as guests my cousin Dickie Azcarraga and a second cousin, Mimi Diaz. Her helper Zaida had helped make the dinner and it was all very good and I enjoyed being with them and meeting Mimi for the first time.

It was an outstanding day and the train ride was the frosting on the cake.

Every Week we publish part of Louis Celerier’s mesmerizing tale of how he rediscovered the country of his childhood. Subscribe to this blog or follow us on Facebook to make sure not to miss anything!