Tourism in Panama - History

Tourism in Panama - History

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Panama ( / ˈ p æ n ə m ɑː / ( listen ) PAN -ə-mah, / p æ n ə ˈ m ɑː / pan-ə- MAH Spanish: Panamá IPA: [panaˈma] ( listen ) ), officially the Republic of Panama (Spanish: República de Panamá), is a transcontinental country in Central America [10] and South America, bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital and largest city is Panama City, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly half the country's 4 million people. [11] [12]

Panama was inhabited by indigenous tribes before Spanish colonists arrived in the 16th century. It broke away from Spain in 1821 and joined the Republic of Gran Colombia, a union of Nueva Granada, Ecuador, and Venezuela. After Gran Colombia dissolved in 1831, Panama and Nueva Granada eventually became the Republic of Colombia. With the backing of the United States, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903, allowing the construction of the Panama Canal to be completed by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. The 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties agreed to transfer the canal from the United States to Panama on December 31, 1999. [13] The surrounding territory was first returned in 1979. [14]

Revenue from canal tolls continues to represent a significant portion of Panama's GDP, although commerce, banking, and tourism are major and growing sectors. It is regarded as having a high-income economy. [15] In 2019 Panama ranked 57th in the world in terms of the Human Development Index. [9] In 2018, Panama was ranked the seventh-most competitive economy in Latin America, according to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index. [16] Covering around 40 percent of its land area, Panama's jungles are home to an abundance of tropical plants and animals – some of them found nowhere else on earth. [17] Panama is a founding member of the United Nations and other international organizations such as OAS, LAIA, G77, WHO, and NAM.

Understand [ edit ]

The ease of travel and wide array of experiences make Panama one of the most attractive emerging tourism destinations in the world. In just one week, visitors can enjoy two different oceans, experience the mountains and rainforest, learn about native cultures and take advantage of vibrant urban life. The capital, Panama City, is a modern, sophisticated metropolis that resembles Miami and has established commerce, arts, fashion and dining. Fodors, Frommers and National Geographic have all recently begun publishing guides for Panama, only the second country in Central America, behind Costa Rica, to have such extensive travel coverage.

The Canal itself is best seen via an aerial view through the local operator ( and is the central marvel and spectacle of Panama among many. Even stunt and trick flights with veteran air force pilots and skydives are available over the marvel of engineering, to appreciate the entire scale of and ambition behind it.

Panama is known as the "Crossroads of the Americas" due to its privileged position between North and South America. The indigenous meaning of the country's name, "abundance of fish", reflects Panama's reputation as a paradise for water sports enthusiasts and eco-tourists alike. As the isthmus connecting two massive continents, Panama's flora and fauna is incredibly diverse. For example, Panama boasts over 900 different bird species. Panama's many indigenous tribes are still thriving, living in the same ancient manner as their ancestors, making its cultural fabric exceptionally rich.

Panama's government has strong ties to the United States and strongly supports business, development and tourism. The International Monetary Fund applauds the country's diversified economy and predicts it to have one of the strongest GDP growth rates in the world for the next several years. Panama is known for its highly developed international banking sector, with about 80 banks from several countries establishing local branches, including HSBC and Citibank. Having recently finished its expansion, the Canal continues to drive Panama's service-based economy and remains one of the most important transportation links in the world. In addition to the country's strong economic base, Panama's physical infrastructure, including modern hospitals, airports and roads, is more highly developed than its Central American neighbors.

Panama boasts a large expat community about 25,000 U.S. citizens live in the country. It is worth spending some time reading up on Panama and communicating with locals, expats and fellow travelers alike before arriving in the country. Consider joining some local forums [3] or blogs for expats or the Central America Forum. Many of the local blogs can give you the most current info on: floods, earthquakes, trail closings, and the best restaurant reviews.

Climate [ edit ]

Less than 9 degrees north of the equator, most of Panama enjoys temperatures that are fairly consistent year round, with daytime temperatures 30-33°C and night time around 21-23°C). Tropical maritime hot, humid, cloudy prolonged rainy season, called winter or invierno (May to November) short dry season, called summer or verano (December to April). The most popular time to travel to Panama is December through March, when lower humidity and nearly zero percent chance of rain make it more ideal for travellers.

During most of the rainy season, mornings and early afternoons are usually sunny, while late afternoons and evenings have intermittent rainfall.

Most areas are quite warm, but a few places, such as Boquete, Cerro Punta and El Valle can get a little chilly at night. You definitely want a heavy rain-proof jacket if you're going to the top of Volcan Barú since you will be above 3000m for a little while.

Natural hazards: Occasional severe storms and forest fires in the remote Darien area. Hurricane-strong winds are only a very small possibility in Panama. Because of its geographic position, it is very unlikely that Panama could be in the path of any hurricane, unlike the other Central American countries. Hurricanes normally hit farther north.

Terrain [ edit ]

Interior mostly steep, rugged mountains and dissected, upland plains coastal areas largely plains and rolling hills Highest point : Volcan Barú in Chiriqui Province 3,475 m. On a clear day they say you can see both oceans from the peak.

History [ edit ]

Panama's public holidays reflect its patriotism [4] and its Catholic roots.[5]

With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure (the Panama Canal Zone). The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914.

Constitution  11 October 1972 major reforms adopted 1978, 1983 and 1994

On 7 September 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of 1999. Certain portions of the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal were turned over in the intervening years. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were turned over to Panama by or on 31 December 1999.

Cost of Living [ edit ]

Panama is a relatively cheap country (but not comparing countries in Latin America), with areas such as hospitality and transportation seeming cheap to many foreigners. Food might be a bit more expensive than in the United States or other countries, depending if the food is able to be produced in Panama or not. A gallon of milk can set you back around $3.80-$4:50 which compared to milk's US average price of $3.80 on December 2013 is not much of a difference. Food in Panama's top restaurants is relatively inexpensive, with a meal in the highest end of restaurants costing around $30-$40. If you really want the true Panamanian experience, you might also want to visit a "fonda", which might sometimes not be hygienic (most of the time they are, the government is pretty much on top of them and as soon as someone complains about them, an inspection ensues) or Niko's Cafe, a buffet-style cafeteria where you can eat a wide variety of Panamanian meals at inexpensive prices, from around $3-$10.

Accommodation is cheap compared to prices in the USA or in Western Europe, with a night at a top hotel in luxury rooms costing around $120-$150 in the capital, Panama City. However if you compare prices with other parts of Latin America, Asia or Eastern Europe, Panama is not the best deal. If you go to the interior of the country, you may find better prices for hotels. Low-budget hostels (if available) are relatively expensive compared to other places in South America, Asia or Eastern Europe. Certainly if you take into account quality.

Public transportation is not expensive, and relatively reliable. A trip in one of the city's "Metro Bus" will cost you

Regions [ edit ]

Central Panama
Panama City plus Colon and Cocle Provinces.
Caribbean West
Bocas del Toro province and Ngöbe-Buglé Province as well as the northern portion of Veraguas Province.
Pacific West
Many of Panama's major attractions in Chiriqui Province plus all of Herrera and Los Santos Provinces, and the southern portion of Veraguas Province.
Eastern Panama
The forests and swamps of Darien Province, some of Panama Province, Kuna Yala and the San Blas Islands.
.25 (they operate in the metropolitan area of Panama City), while taxi fares are not that expensive (if you know the price). It is advisable to always have precaution with using public transportation, as the "Metro Buses" are known to be a place where petty larceny occurs (might get your cellphone etc. stolen) and taxis may charge you exorbitant prices just for being a tourist, while taking a cab at night might get you in a very dangerous situation, especially if the cab is already occupied by other people when you get in. If using a cab, travel in group and get a chart with taxi prices per distance for Panama City. In the interior of the country, public transportation is cheap and safe, as most people from the countryside are honest and hardworking. Taxis, however might still try to make you pay exorbitant prices. Always exercise caution.


In 1501 the Spaniard Rodrigo de Bastidas, in the company of Juan de la Cosa and Vasco Núñez de Balboa, was the first European to explore the Atlantic coast of the Isthmus of Panama. In 1510 Diego de Nicuesa, another Spanish explorer, established the settlement of Nombre de Dios at the mouth of the Chagres River, and to the southwest, Alonso de Ojeda founded San Sebastian de Urabá. The colony, facing fierce resistance from local Indian tribes, was moved at the instigation of Balboa. The new site was to the northeast, across the Atrato River, and was named Santa María de la Antigua del Darién. It became the first permanent settlement on the isthmus and the focus of jealous intrigues centring around Balboa.

As head of the colony, Balboa, by the use of persuasion and force, brought most of the Indians under submission. Some of them revealed to him that a large sea and a gold-rich empire existed to the south, which perhaps was that of the Inca. In September 1513, Balboa reached the sea and claimed the Pacific Ocean for his king. Returning to Santa María in January 1514, he encountered much resistance from the Indians. Five years afterward Balboa was executed for insurrection on orders of the new governor, Pedro Arias de Ávila, known as Pedrarias Dávila, “the Cruel,” who had distrusted Balboa and feared his rivalry.

In 1519 the population of Santa María moved to the new town of Panama (the first European settlement on the west coast of the hemisphere), which became the centre of commercial activity and the springboard for the conquest of Peru. The colony became an important part of Spain’s mercantile system, attaining the rank of audiencia in 1538. Nombre de Dios, which was resettled and linked to Panama town by road, was renowned for its ferias (grand markets, or trade fairs). With the final destruction of Nombre de Dios in the late 16th century by the Englishman Francis Drake, commercial activity was moved to the hamlet of Portobelo, overlooking the calm bay recorded by Christopher Columbus in 1502. Portobelo then became a centre of Spanish commerce in the New World and the site of great ferias.

Panama town and Portobelo continued to attract the attention of English raiders, however, and disastrous consequences befell both settlements. Henry Morgan destroyed Panama town in 1671, and Admiral Edward Vernon razed Portobelo in 1739. In the year of Vernon’s raid, the colony was reduced in status when Spain abolished the Audiencia of Panama and placed its territory within the Viceroyalty of New Granada. Portobelo was rebuilt in 1751, but by then the Spanish galleons had begun to use the route around Cape Horn, accelerating the city’s decline through loss of trade. In 1673 the town of Panama was rebuilt a few miles west of the old town. By 1793 it was the principal town on the isthmus, with more than one-tenth of Panama’s civilian population of 71,888.


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Darién, geographic region of the easternmost Isthmus of Panama that extends into northwestern Colombia, around the Gulf of Urabá (a section of the Gulf of Darién), and forms the physiographic link between Central and South America. A hot, humid area typified by tropical rainforests, mangrove swamps, and low mountain ranges with cloud forest vegetation, Darién has always been sparsely populated.

Darién was first reached by Europeans in 1501 and was seen by Christopher Columbus on his last voyage. The first successful European settlement on the mainland of the Americas, Santa María de la Antigua del Darién, was begun in 1510 on the western side of the Gulf of Urabá. From this colony Vasco Núñez de Balboa made his famous march to the Pacific Ocean in 1513. A few years later some colonists left the Darién settlement to found Panama City eventually, Santa María was abandoned. Another short-lived attempt at colonization was made in the 17th century, when a Scottish trading company founded a settlement about halfway between Portobelo, Panama, and Cartagena, Colombia.

The towns of Darién remain isolated in spite of the construction of small airfields across the region. Towns close to the international border include Jaqué, Yaviza, and El Real de Santa María (in Panama) and Juradó, Salaquí, and Ríosucio (in Colombia). Notable indigenous groups are the Chocó (specifically the Embera and Wounaan, or Waunana) and the Kuna (Cuna) estimates for their combined local populations range widely, from 1,200 to some 25,000. They have traditionally lived in villages scattered throughout the forest, but some families have relocated to towns and cities. In Darién plantains, corn (maize), and rice are cultivated, livestock is raised, and lumber is cut and milled. The Pan-American Highway does not traverse Darién, which effectively blocks land transportation between Central and South America.

A pair of contiguous parks administer a large part of the region— Darién National Park in Panama and Los Katíos National Park in Colombia. The Panamanian park was established as the Alto Darién Forest Reserve in 1972 and elevated to national park status in 1980 it covers some 2,305 square miles (5,970 square km). The Colombian park was established in 1974 and extended in 1980 to cover some 280 square miles (720 square km). UNESCO added Darién National Park to the World Heritage List in 1981, followed by Los Katíos in 1994. Both areas protect a highly diverse assortment of flora and fauna. Among the wildlife are capybaras, jaguars, ocelots, giant anteaters, howler monkeys, harpy eagles, caimans, American crocodiles, and the endemic grey-headed chachalaca (Ortalis cinereiceps). Annual rainfall in Darién varies from a minimum of 70 inches (1,800 mm) to a maximum of 180 inches (4,500 mm).

Since the late 1990s, Darién has been the site of increased conflict as Colombian groups (guerrillas, narcotics traffickers, and right-wing paramilitary forces) cross the border into Panama and smugglers bring over a growing number of refugees from Colombia’s civil war. The Panamanian government’s inability to defend the region has become a source of growing concern and political debate within Panama.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.

Tourism in Panama

Panama is blessed with nature's beauty. It has pristine beaches and turquoise seas, lush rainforests, and majestic mountains blessed in a hurricane and earthquake free tropical climate. It is likewise blessed in its people. They are the warmest and friendliest people in the world due the different ethnics and cultures that compound the population, with seven thriving Indian tribes co-existing peacefully with other Panamanians. Panama itself has had a long and colorful history, with unique heritage sites as reminders of that history. Panama City, one of the most sophisticated cities in the industrialized world. Throw in the Panama Canal, one of the world's modern engineering wonders, and you have an explosion of tourism in Panama. Indeed, in Panama, you have a potent mixture of people, places, and pleasures.

Of course, the explosion of tourism in Panama is also because its infrastructure is modern and first-class, the presence of excellent tourist accommodations, ease in communicating with a bilingual people, an excellent medical care system at a reasonable price, affordable cost of living, accessibility, and an enviable peace. Tourism in Panama is taking off because of the favorable environment the country and its government has established to attract tourists.

With oceans bordering it on both sides, Panama is ideal for sun, sea, and beach lovers. With more than a thousand islands to choose from, the Pearl Islands and Boca del Toro of notable mention, you can go from public beaches to private resorts, from sunbathing to deep-sea diving. Panama's rainforests boasts of biodiversity and even in Parque Metropolitano in the center of Panama City is an excellent place for birdwatching with 944 bird species. River sports such as rafting and kayaking also flourish in Panama, with land sports such as canyoneering, rappelling, and trekking are also present. Indeed, tourism in Panama is booming because of its growing reputation for ecotourism. Panama's culture also lends itself well into tourism. Local culture and folklore is reflected in a colorful, cross-cultural array of festivals, dances, and traditions, with the seven indigenous Indian groups of Panama adding spice to the cultural melting pot. The heritage and historical sites of Panama such as the Casco Antiguo are important tourist destinations. The urban centers also significantly contribute to the explosion of tourism in Panama. The shopping centers, museums, restaurants, cinema and theater, the fashion scene, city architecture, and the whole gamut of sights and sounds in Panama City is a mixture of Panamanian tastes and European influence, doused with a liberal splash of American capitalism. These are enough to make you want to stay and live in Panama. Of course, tourism in Panama is complete only when the Panama Canal is visited. The Panama Canal is not only of trade value but is also of historical and engineering value, making it a tourist destination especially for cruise ships.

With all these beauty, tourism in Panama is rapidly being touted as the best exotic destination in the world. With ecotourism, adventure, culture and people, modern conveniences, and urban sophistication, one cannot help but be a tourist in Panama. Go ahead and savor the places, people, and pleasures of Panama.

Panamá Viejo

Founded on August 15, 1519, by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias de Ávila, the city of Panamá was the first European settlement along the Pacific. For 150 years it flourished as Spain exported Peruvian gold and silver to Europe via Panamá. In 1671, Captain Henry Morgan sacked the city and it was relocated to the present-day Casco Viejo. Today much of Panamá Viejo lies buried under a poor residential neighborhood, though the ruins are a must-see.

The center of power resided at the Casas Reales, a complex ringed by timber ramparts and separated from the city proper by a moat. Within the complex were the customs house, the royal treasury, a prison and the governor's house. Despite the obvious historical importance of the site, past governments have allowed sections of the property to be used as a landfill and for horse stables. Only scattered walls remain of the once-impressive structures.

The Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, built between 1619 and 1626, is the best-preserved building of the ruins. In traditional fashion, it was designed so that its two side chapels gave the cathedral a cross-like shape as viewed from the heavens. The bell tower was at the back of the church and may have served double duty as a watchtower for the Casas Reales. The main facade, which faced the Plaza Mayor (Grand Plaza), is gone – only the walls remain.

Also facing the Plaza Mayor were the Cabildo de la Ciudad and the Casas de Terrín, houses built by one of the city's wealthiest citizens, Francisco Terrín.

Immediately north of the cathedral are the massive ruins of Casa Alarcón, the town's best-preserved and largest known private residence, which dates from the 1640s. Just north of the former residence is the Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo, the best-preserved church of the ruins. The convent dates from the 1570s the church was built 20 or more years later.

Arriving a decade or so after the Dominican friars were the Jesuits, who built the Iglesia y Convento de la Compañía de Jesús, whose stone ruins are likewise visible today. Just west of the Jesuits' facilities are the spacious ruins of a church and convent, the Iglesia y Convento de la Concepción, which were erected by the nuns of Nuestra Señora de la Concepción (Our Lady of the Conception). Most of the ruins, which cover the better part of two blocks, were part of the church – little remains of the convent.

Between the nuns' church and the sea was the city's sole hospital, the Hospital de San Juan de Dios. Unfortunately, much of the hospital's remains were scattered when Av Cincuentenario and a side road were put in. Also bordering the avenue, two blocks west of the hospital's ruins, are the remains of the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, the facilities erected by the Franciscans. The church faced the sea and stood on a massive base.

Continuing two blocks west along Av Cincuentenario, you'll arrive at the ruins of the Iglesia y Convento de La Merced. Erected by Mercedarian friars in the early 17th century, the buildings survived the fire that swept the city following Morgan's assault. However, the church's facade is missing because the friars dismantled it and moved it to Casco Viejo, where it can be seen today.

Further west and paralleling the modern bridge is the Puente del Matadero, a horribly over-restored stone bridge that took its name from a nearby slaughterhouse, and marked the beginning of the Camino Real to Portobelo. A much more significant bridge is the Puente del Rey, which is visible from Av Cincuentenario near the northern edge of town. Built in 1617, it may be the oldest standing bridge in the Americas.

About halfway between Puente del Rey and the Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo lies the Iglesia de San José, which belonged to the Augustine order. Marking this building as special were its vaulted side chapels, an architectural feature seldom seen in Panama.

Enter via the entrance furthest west to access the visitor center and museum. The terrain is extensive and best suited to able walkers. Golf cart tours are sporadically offered when there are enough guests to fill the cart.

Panama Canal

The best way for Panama visitors to see the canal is to literally get in the middle of it—on a transit or partial transit tour at sea level, travelers can experience the sensation of cruising directly through the canal, watching as the locks fill with water and your ship passes steadily through the three sets of double locks: the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks on the Pacific side, plus the Gatún locks on the Atlantic side. Between the locks is the artificial Gatún Lake (Lago Gatún), created by the Gatún Dam across the Chagres River (Rio Chagres), and the Culebra Cut, the narrowest section of the canal, hewn out of the mountains. It's also possible to see the locks by train, as you pass by the banks and through pristine rain forest en route to Gatún.

Most full- and half-day tours include roundtrip transportation and a visit to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center, a museum that tells the story of this incredible engineering feat through exhibits. The center's restaurant, theater, and terraced decks also provide comfortable vantage points for watching ships pass through. It's also possible to visit the Gatún locks (about an hour from Panama City) to learn about the Panama Canal expansion.

Panama City

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Panama City, city, seat (1913) of Bay county, northwestern Florida, U.S. It is the port of entry on St. Andrew Bay (an arm of the Gulf of Mexico), about 95 miles (150 km) east of Pensacola. The first English settlement (c. 1765), known as Old Town, was a fishing village later called St. Andrew. In 1909 Panama City (named by developer George W. West for Panama City, Panama) merged with St. Andrew and Millville to form the present city. During the American Revolution the area was settled by loyalists, who grew indigo and developed lumbering and naval stores industries. Saltworks and fisheries on St. Andrew Bay, established to serve the Confederacy during the American Civil War, were destroyed by Union raids in 1863. During World War II the city became a shipbuilding and war industrial centre, and the population grew rapidly.

Panama City’s landlocked, deepwater harbour is on the Intracoastal Waterway and is linked to the gulf by a channel. The U.S. Navy’s Coastal Systems Station conducts research on warfare, and Tyndall Air Force Base is just southeast of the city. Tourism and the military are the chief economic factors manufacturing (including paper products and chemicals), fishing, and shipbuilding are also important. The Panama City area is a popular destination for college students on spring vacation. The city is the seat of Gulf Coast Community College (1957) and has a campus of Florida State University. St. Andrews State Recreation Area, known for its beautiful beaches, is just south of the city. Gulf World Marine Park in nearby Panama City Beach includes dolphin and sea lion shows. Inc. 1909. Pop. (2000) 36,417 Panama City–Lynn Haven–Panama City Beach Metro Area, 148,217 (2010) 36,484 Panama City–Lynn Haven–Panama City Beach Metro Area, 168,852.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Jeff Wallenfeldt, Manager, Geography and History.

Ten Facts about the Panama Canal

In 1914 the Panama Canal joined the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, changing international trade forever. The 50 mile-long pathway through the Isthmus of Panama created a significant shortcut for ships that previously had to make the perilous journey around the southern tip of South America.

We&rsquove compiled 10 facts you might not have known about this engineering wonder:

10. The United States uses the canal the most, followed by China, Japan, Chile and North Korea.

9. Early planners of the canal wisely thought ahead, anticipating that the width of cargo ships would probably increase in the future. However, modern-day cargo ship widths in general are now exceeding that so-called &ldquoPanamax&rdquo benchmark, thus there are strict limits on which ships can fit through the locks. An expansion to double the waterway&rsquos capacity is set to be completed in 2014.

8. The Canal transports 4 percent of world trade and 16 percent of total U.S.-borne trade.

7. In 1928 American adventurer Richard Halliburton swam the length of the Panama Canal. All vessels crossing the canal must pay a toll based on their weight, and Halliburton was no different. His rate? A whopping 36 cents.

6. More than 60 million pounds of dynamite was used to excavate and construct the canal.

5. The fastest transit was completed in 2 hours 41 minutes by the U.S. Navy&rsquos Hydrofoil Pegasus in 1979.

4. In 1963 florescent lighting was installed, allowing the canal to begin operating 24 hours a day.

3. Nearly 20,000 French and 6,000 American workers died during the completion of the Panama Canal.

2. Between 12,000 and 15,000 ships cross the Panama Canal every year &ndash about 40 a day.

1. In 2008, a Disney cruise ship paid the highest toll to date, $330,000.


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