Exotic Panama is a country located on the border between Central and South America. It is located on the Isthmus of Panama and is practically sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
The country borders Costa Rica to the north and Colombia to the south. The name of the country is translated from the language of the Cueva Indians as «a place where there are a lot of fish.» This immediately speaks of what is the basis of the state economy. The capital of Panama is the city of the same name, sometimes called Panama City.
The first inhabitants of this territory were the Guayami, Choco and Kuna Indians. Then begins the European period of the history of Panama. At the beginning of the 16th century, the first contacts of local natives with the Spaniards, in particular, Christopher Columbus, took place.
Climatic features and nature of the country
The climate throughout the country is subequatorial, so the rainy season here lasts quite a long time — from May to December. And only from December-January to mid-April, tourists will be able to enjoy dry weather. The air temperature fluctuates between +25…+28°С all year round, varying within 2-3 degrees in winter and summer. Rains are more intense in the foothills of the Caribbean coast, where tropical hurricanes often rage.
If you look at a photo of Panama taken from an airplane or satellite, you will see why the locals are proud of their amazing nature. The relief here is predominantly uneven, with many hills. A mountain range stretches across the entire central part of the country, bordered on both sides by coastal lowlands, and the jungles of Panama delight travelers with their luxurious vegetation and rich fauna. From the birds here you can see the sacred Indian bird quetzal, the largest feathered predator of the planet — the harpy eagle, many parrots, herons and toucans. Animals such as monkeys, cougars, anteaters, sloths, ocelots, deer, peccaries, armadillos, alligators, snakes, and kinkajou are also found in Panama.
The highest point in the country is the volcano Baru (3475 m), located in the province of Chiriqui. Between the mountain ranges of the western and eastern parts of Panama, the famous Panama Canal is laid, dug in the lowest part of the isthmus.
Both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts are characterized by the presence of deep bays and small islands located near the land. One of the most famous in Panama is the Pearl Islands, where pearls have been mined for several centuries.
Political system and symbolism
In the Democratic Republic of Panama, the president is the head of state and government. He appoints the Cabinet, and the President and Vice President are elected to their office by popular vote after a five-year term. The legislature of the State of Panama is the unicameral National Assembly. The country consists of 10 provinces and includes 3 autonomous regions — comarca. The coat of arms and the flag of Panama look quite interesting. In the central part of the emblem there is an image of the Isthmus of Panama, in the upper two quarters a rifle and a silver sword are drawn, in the lower quarters — a bird and a cornucopia.
The flag of the country consists of two white, blue and red rectangles, symbolizing the conservative and liberal parties. Two stars are drawn on a white background: blue and red.
The national currency of Panama is the balboa, issued in denominations of 1 and 5 balboas. However, in practice, the US dollar is used more often in calculations.
The population of Panama, as the census shows, is very heterogeneous in composition. Most of it is made up of descendants of the indigenous Indian population and the Spanish colonizers who intermarried. The official language of Panama is Spanish, but many locals also speak English and French.
The largest cities in the country
The largest city is Panama, located on the Pacific coast, with a population of over 1 million people. The basis of its economy is the banking sector, real estate construction, transport and services. Most of Panama’s exports and imports pass through the port city of Balboa, located at the entrance to the Panama Canal. But this is not the only important transport hub of the country. On the Caribbean coast of Panama, it competes with Colón, which is also connected to the capital by a high-speed highway and railway.
Of the other noteworthy settlements in Panama, we note Boquete, Bocas del Toro, David, Portobelo, La Palma, Penonome.
Resort life of the country
Organizing a holiday in Panama is easy: the tourism industry is well developed here. The warm sea, the cleanest coast, excursions in the jungle — all this deserves the attention of even an experienced traveler. Panama’s islands such as the San Blas, Islas Secas, Bocas del Toro, Contadora and Grande Islands are popular as resorts. The resort towns of Portobelo and Colon are also considered.
Since Panama is located almost in the tropics, you can swim here almost the whole year. You will also be offered to ride a boat, yacht or jet ski, go fishing or explore the picturesque surroundings. The beaches of Panama are a great place to go diving and windsurfing.
What to see in the country?
Panama has plenty of attractions, both natural and man-made, so you won’t be bored. Be sure to take a look at:
- Panama Canal — one of the modern wonders of the world with a magnificent museum that opens the curtain on the history of its creation;
- Chagres National Reservewhere the Indians of the Embera-Wounaan tribe still live, who have retained their national identity;
- Old Panama — the district of the capital, in which several buildings of the Columbus era are still preserved;
- Cathedral in the capital, famous for its 36-meter bell tower: an amazing view of the city opens from here;
- zoo in the city of Panama, which is the largest in the country: it contains almost all representatives of the local fauna;
- Lake Gatunwhich is ideal for fishing enthusiasts;
- Botanical Garden Summitwhere you will meet more than 15,000 plant species and 40 animal species;
- ancient «Cross Road»according to which the Spaniards in the 16th century exported gold from Peru to their homeland;
- Metropolitano National Parkwhich is one of the most popular in the country due to its untouched rainforest;
- National Theater in Panama City, which is a magnificent example of the Baroque style;
- statue of Christopher Columbus in the city of Colon, dating from the 19th century;
- Fortress of Castillo de San Jeronimoerected in the 18th century to protect the city of Portobelo from pirate attacks;
- Episcopal Church of Christ in Colonwhich became the first Anglican church on the Isthmus of Panama;
- subway in Panamawhich attracts with its minimalist design.
Where should you stay?
Hotels in Panama are positively rated by travelers from all over the world. In the capital and major cities, you will find many first-class establishments that provide their guests with a high level of comfort. Among them are Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis, RIU Plaza Panama, Amador Ocean View, Country Inn & Suites Panama Canal, Radisson Decapolis Hotel Panama City. Here you will find cozy rooms with balconies, free wi-fi, air conditioning and minibars. Some hotels in Panama, considered the best in Central America, offer tourists a gym, outdoor pool or massage sessions.
On the islands, inexpensive hostels are very popular, allowing you to feel closer to unity with nature. They offer services for booking excursions, free parking and the Internet. You can also taste any of the local cuisine.
Tips in hotels are usually already included in the bill and amount to 10-15% of its amount.
Cuisine and restaurants in Panama
Life in Panama is so simple and unhurried that the inhabitants of the country almost always have time to prepare real delicacies that you will not try anywhere else in Europe. Among them are rice and bean dishes, fried cassava. Bananas are prepared here in a variety of ways: fried, salted, mashed. In the province, locals love beef, pork and chicken meat. In Caribbean restaurants, you can order fish and seafood with garlic sauce or with tomato and onion dressing. A real exotic is dishes made from tortoise eggs.
If you want to get to know the local cuisine better, visit the Manolo restaurant, where you can enjoy cured meats, as well as rice, beans and maize, overcooked with green chili peppers and onions. At the Vesuvio restaurant, you can taste amazingly delicious pasta and other Italian dishes. Gourmets should also look into La Vespa, Donde Jose, Segundo Muelle, Madrigal, La Rana Dorada pub. In restaurants, waiters usually expect a tip of 5-10% of the cost of the service, but in small cafes or pubs, it is not necessary to give them.
Among the interesting facts about Panama, it is worth mentioning that in many small shops they prefer to pay only in cash. You can pay with a bank card only in a boutique or a large shopping center, and payment in US dollars is more preferable than in local currency. Among the relatively cheap goods in the country are clothes and shoes, jewelry, watches, bags, electronics and other equipment.
The most famous shopping centers are Albrook Mall, Multicentro Mall, Multiplaza Mall. In rural areas, products and souvenirs made by local craftsmen can be bought in small markets, but remember that bargaining is not accepted here. Before Christmas and national holidays, sales are often arranged, where goods are discounted up to 60%. Shops are usually open from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm.
Safety for tourists
The crime rate, as confirmed by the Panamanian embassy, is quite high. Therefore, the tourist should be extremely careful. Try not to demonstrate currency, passports, photo or video equipment on the street, which may be of interest to local criminals. Do not walk the streets alone at night and do not go on excursions to secluded places without a guide. In the evening or when carrying luggage, be sure to order a taxi in a large company, and if you drive a car yourself, carefully close all doors and windows. To call anywhere, remember to use the area code for Panama, +507.
Buses are the most important mode of transport in Panama. The fare is relatively inexpensive: 25 cents in the city and $ 1 for an hour of travel on an intercity route. Highway buses are air conditioned and traffic here is right hand. You can also rent a car or take a taxi: most short trips will cost around $5. To rent a car, you must be over 23 years old and have a credit card and an international driver’s license. Small ships of private companies ply between the islands. The capital also has a subway.
How to get into the country?
For Russians and other residents of the CIS, a visa to Panama is required. When departing from the country, all tourists, except children under 2 years old, are charged a fee of $ 20. The best option to get into the country is to use transit flights through the USA, Cuba and European countries, landing at Panama’s main airport — Tocumen.
The import of any currency is not limited, but amounts over $10,000 and gold jewelry must be declared. You can not import vegetables, perishable products, fruits, drugs, weapons. You do not need to pay a fee if you carry with you no more than 500 g of tobacco, gifts worth no more than $ 50, three bottles of alcohol and the same number of bottles of perfume.