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Traditional Panamanian clothing, Pollera (women) and Montuno (men)

As I am preparing to write about our recent Panama trip, the question that popped in my mind was: why visit Panama? I had a couple of thoughts. I asked the kids and Mr. JJ to name theirs. Together, we have come up with a few reasons why to visit this small but important country.

Location

  • Panama has a very important location as the piece of land that connects the North and South America. In terms of the earth’s history, the development of this land mass allowed a mass migration between the North and the South, reshaping our evolutionary history in many important ways.
  • Historically, Panama has been the main port for the Spanish conquest of South America and later for the US migration to the Western regions during the Gold Rush
  • These days Panama is a main connecting airport for travel to Central and South America.
  • Easy accessibility from many US gateway cities

History

Be it the indigenous tribes or the Spanish or the Colombian authority, Panama has a rich history of rulers, of colonialism, of struggles for independence and autonomy. From Balboa’s travels to the African slaves to the struggle to build the Panama Canal, there is a lot to learn and explore in this country.

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Owl butterfly and bougainvillea, Panamanian biodiversity

Diversity

  • Panama is rich in its diversity. Its people are of diverse ethnicities with the Mestizos being the largest group.
  • Panama is also diverse in its geographical regions. There are beaches along the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. There are rich rain forests, savannas, mangrove wetlands, mountain cloud forests, coral reefs and mountains scattered throughout the country. A week’s stay could encompass a visit to all types of regions in the same country.
  • Finally, Panama has a variety of flora and fauna. For such a small region, it has one of the densest biodiversity with over 10,000 species of plants, over 970 species of birds and over 250 species of mammals. That’s a staggering number!

The Panama Canal

Possibly the most well-known reason people visit this country and one of the major economic influencers of the GDP, the Panama Canal is a true marvel of engineering and human spirit. For more information, read about my experience at the Panama Canal here.

The Indigenous Tribes

Panama is home to many native tribes that still maintain their way of life and speak their native language while also trying to co-exist with the modern world. And somehow, they manage to do it with panache! We saw several Kuna Yala tribe members selling their enticing handicrafts in Casco Viejo. A visit to the San Blas archipelago would put one closer to them. We also made a visit to the Embera tribe along the Chagres river, one of the most memorable and eye-opening trips for all of us.

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Indigenous handicrafts

The Beaches

We were able to visit the Pacific beaches only but they were so clean and the water was warm (and very inviting!) As in Greece, the beaches had sufficient facilities to keep one relaxed, lounging, and wanting to come back for more.

Language

Although Spanish is the main language of the country, we found it impressive that most Panamanians we came in touch with spoke sufficient English to carry on a conversation. For non Spanish-speaking travelers, this makes it easy to explore this country.

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Fresh vegetables and fruits at the village market

Food

Our driver offered to take us to try Sancocho, the national soup, but its made of chicken and so we couldn’t try it. However, we did enjoy a variety of fruits that tasted so wonderfully fresh and sweet! Missy JJ ate so many slices of pineapple, something she normally shuns. The freshly squeezed fruit juices were a hit and the patacones were amazing. The best one I tasted was served by the Embera tribe. We also stopped at small local markets and bought vegetables, equally fresh and inviting!

One week to see it all

Most countries need two or three trips to take in all the action. However, due to its smaller size, I think with a well planned itinerary, one could cover this exotic country in about 7-10 days.

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Panamanian beach