Travel to Panama’s Pacific Coast and you will be greeted by 80 kilometers (50 miles) of beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters, white sand, coral reefs, coconut palm trees amazing resort hotels and plenty of delectable restaurants to satisfy your every desire. Sailing enthusiasts can even have their fun too in these quiet waters. The local culture is diverse since there are six different Indian Cultures in Panama and each one of them practices its very own ancestral customs. Each province of Panama has a varied Folklore reflected through its dances, music and cuisine. One of the yearly festive highlights is “Carnival”, celebrated throughout the country in the month of February. And just 10 minutes away from Panama City exists one of the most biologically diverse rainforests with an intact ecosystem waiting for visitors to explore. A natural wonder that may very well exist because of an equally “unnatural” wonder, the Panama Canal. There are many adventures to explore. Something for Everyone!
The Panama Canal
Mention Panama and more often than not, the image that comes to mind is the Panama Canal — one of mankind’s largest engineering marvels. A dream that began when Vasco Nunez de Balboa first discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. The French attempted to create this coveted passage, starting in 1880, but abandoned the attempt after seven years. Ultimately it was the United States that ended up building the Panama Canal. An engineering feat that took ten years (1904 to 1914). The result is a testament to human ingenuity that many would argue is unmatched even to this day. A 50-mile canal that spans 3 sets if locks, includes Gatun lake, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world covering 425 km2 (163 square miles), rising 26 metres (85 feet) and offering an easy and reliable crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back for more than 12,000 vessels every year.
The Panama Rainforest
Yet, as awe-inspiring as the Panama Canal is, it is even more amazing that it is surrounded by one of earth’s most biologically diverse ecosystems and the strange symbiotic relationship that exists between the two of them. This narrow corridor of over 300 thousand acres of uncut rainforest is home to almost 70 percent of Panama’s 950 bird species and 65 percent of its 3,000 tree species. The Darien National Park alone offers more than 10,000 species of plants and 700 species of birds living together. And it exists, not in spite of the Panama Canal, but arguable, because of the Panama Canal. Originally it was the canal’s chief engineer George Goethals, who upon the completion of the Panama Canal, ordered that the remaining forest remain untouched for military purposes, as the jungle was the best defense against a ground attack in the area. But, ultimately it was president Eric Arturo del Valle, who in 1984, created the 320,248-acre Chagres National Park and the Camino de Cruces National Park on the canal’s east bank several years later that protected the rainforests. He created the parks in order to protect the rainforests from over logging which if left unmonitored would reduce the rainforest’s capacity to produce water. Without this much needed water source, the canal would not have enough water to keep running. (Each ship that passes through the canal requires approximately 52 million gallons of water to move from one end to the other.) So, ironically, in order to protect the canal, Panama ended up protecting the delicate rainforest surrounding it.
Today, Eric Arturo del Valle’s legacy makes Panama City the only Latin America capital surrounded by rainforests less than ten minutes away from its city center and with easy access to three National Parks, offering the richest variety of flora and fauna around the world. This, along with Panama City’s large shopping districts, such as the Via Espana and Central Avenue, offering a wide range of Boutiques, Bazaars, Gift Shops, Jewelry Stores and many modern shopping Malls, makes Panama City an exciting and interesting destination with something for everyone. Other places of historical interest around the Canal includes the small town of Balboa, adjacent to Panama City, with its folk market at Stevens Circle and fantastic murals that tell the dramatic story of how the canal was built.