Panama

About Panama City , Panama

Panama is a country on the isthmus linking Central and South America. The man-made Panama Canal cuts through its center, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to create an essential shipping route. In the capital, Panama City, modern skyscrapers, casinos and nightclubs contrast with colonial buildings in the Casco Viejo district and the rainforest of Natural Metropolitan Park.

Panama is one of the fastest growing tourism destinations in Latin America. Panama is gaining popularity as a premier destination for ecotourism, retirement and for its cosmopolitan lifestyle. The greatest asset of Panama is its diversity of activities, which make it absolutely worth a visit.
Panama city, the capital, is lively, modern, cosmopolitan, and fast moving. Hip and smart bars and restaurants, great shopping, beautiful Casco Viejo, Old Panama ruins, and the metropolitan park all make Panama City a destination unlike any other. The Panama Canal, one of the Eight Wonders of the World, is one of the most fascinating sites to see in ones life time. With the beaches and coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea, and the more playful waters of the Pacific Ocean, sun seekers are sure to find an ideal spot to relax and have fun in.

Capital :
Panama City Currency : US dollar and the Balboa Driver's License : International license recommended, foreign driver's licenses are valid for up to 90 days. Must be 25 years old and have a credit card. Electricity : 120 V, 60Hz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 3 months beyond intended stay, and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : -5 hr. Daylight savings time is not applied. Government : Constitutional Democracy Land size : 75,990 km2 Language : Spanish, English is spoken fluently National Airlines : Copa Airlines Population : 3,360,474 approx Religion : Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant 10%, other 1% Required Vaccines : none Tourist Season : December to April

Cuisine
The traditional dishes are quite hot and spicy, much like Creole cuisine. Panamanian cuisine is best represented in the Sancocho dish, a spicy stew with chicken and vegetables, and in the Tamal de Olla, a large Panamanian tamale that fills a baking pan which typically include pork or corn-stuffed cornmeal, vegetables, olives, and raisins. Local meals also consist usually of rice, beans, tamales, tortillas, ceviche and empanadas. Seafood and fish is excellent and abundance.

Culture The culture, customs, and language of the Panamanians are predominantly Caribbean Spanish. Ethnically, the majority of the population is mestizo or mixed Spanish, Indian, Chinese, and African descent. There are six different Indians Cultures in Panama and each one of them practices its very own typical ancestral customs.

Panama is rich in folklore and popular traditions. Brightly coloured national dress is worn during local festivals and carnival season, especially for traditional folk dances like the tamborito. Lively salsa is a Panamanian specialty, and Rubén Blades its best-known performer. Local cities host live Cuban, Colombian, jazz, blues, reggae and rock performances as well.

An example of undisturbed, unique culture in Panama stems from the Kuna Indians who are known for molas. Mola is the Kuna Indian word for blouse, but the term mola has come to mean the elaborate embroidered panels that make up the front and back of a Kuna woman's blouse.

Geography Panama is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica. Its location on the eastern end forms a natural isthmian bridge, 80km in its narrowest part that connects Central and South America. By 1999, Panama controlled the Panama Canal that links the North Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea with the North Pacific Ocean.

The country is divided into nine provinces, plus the Comarca de San Blas. The country’s capital is Panama City. The highest point in the country is the Volcan Barúu, which rises to almost 3,475m.

History Panama had a rich Pre-Colombian heritage of native populations whose presence stretched back over 12,000 years. Central Panama was home to some of the first pottery-making villages in the Americas.

Rodrigo de Bastidas, sailing westward from Venezuela in 1501 in search of gold, was the first European to explore the Isthmus of Panama. A year later Christopher Columbus visited the isthmus and established a short lived settlement in the Darien. Vasco Nunez de Balboa's tortuous trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1513 demonstrated that the isthmus was indeed the path between the seas and Panama quickly became the crossroads and marketplace of Spain's empire in the New World. Gold and silver were brought by ship from South America hauled across the Isthmus and loaded aboard ships for Spain. The route became known as the Camino Real or Royal Road.

Panama was part of the Spanish empire for 300 years, until 1821, by becoming a part of the Great Colombia. In September of 1830, civil war erupted in an attempt to separate from Greater Colombia. Modern Panamanian history has been shaped by the reality of Tran isthmian commerce and by the possibility of a canal to replace the difficult overland route. Complete independence was finally achieved in 1903. The Panama Canal was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914.

The later half of the 20th century was plagued with military coups. The most notable coup lasted between 1984 and 1989, which was led by General Manuel Noriega. The United States froze economic and military assistance to Panama in the summer of 1987 in response to the domestic political crisis, Noriega’s drug-trafficking charges, and an attack on the U.S. embassy. When Guillermo Endara won the Presidential elections held in May 1989, the Noriega regime annulled the election, citing massive US interference. Eventually Noriega was removed through military intervention and Endara was officially sworn in as President. General Manuel Noriega is now serving a 40-year sentence for drug trafficking. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were turned over to Panama on December 31, 1999.

Nature Panama offers a spectacular opportunity for those who want to explore a tropical rainforest. With over 10,000 identified plant species, it is no wonder that several of its national parks have been declared Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage sites. And Panama City is the only capital in Latin America with a rainforest less than 10 minutes away from downtown. Forests dominate, interrupted in places by grasslands, scrub, and crops. Mangrove swamps occur along parts of both coasts, with banana plantations occupying deltas near Costa Rica. In many places, a multi-canopied rain forest abuts the swamp on one side of the country and extends to the lower reaches of slopes in the other. One of the country’s pride and joy are its orchids, with over 1,000 species to be admired.

Bird watchers will be thrilled with over 940 registered species of birds to be spotted. Among them, frequent species include macaws, parrots, parakeets, toucans, bell birds, umbrella birds, and motmots. In fact, Panama holds several world bird watching and counting records.Wildlife includes algae-covered sloths, bushdogs, giant anteaters, tiny marmosets and night monkeys. The capybara, the largest rodent in the world, inhabit the water shore.

Sports - Swimming - Snorkeling - Scuba Diving - Surfing and Windsurfing - Sea Kayaking - Boating - Deep-Sea Fishing - White Water Rafting at Chiriqui Viejo - Tree canopy adventure - Hiking - Horseback Riding - Cycling - Golfing

The Panamanians are crazy about baseball and soccer. Horse races are also very popular at the President Remon Race Track.

Banks & Money
Although the Balboa is the country's currency, the US dollar is legal tender in Panama and is the preferred currency since Panama only mints coins. Carry small bills since you may have difficulty changing US $50 and US $100 bills in shops and restaurants.

Banks are located all around Panama City and some of them have branch offices in the interior of the country. ATMs are increasingly available throughout the more populated areas of the country. Major credit cards are accepted in most large hotels, restaurants, and shops. Smaller shops and hotels often only take cash.

Climate The climate is pleasantly tropical with temperatures oscillating between 25° C and 30° C. The rainy season is from May to November. The country also experiences climate changes according to altitude, with temperatures around 14° C at the highest points.

For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.

Communication The international code for Panama is 507. There are no area codes in Panama. You will find that the telephone network is quite modern and sophisticated.

You will find basic internet set ups in most resorts, or in internet cafés usually found in major cities. Fax machines and telegram services are easy enough to find as well. Mail to North America takes up to one week. There are several domestic newspapers and magazines, such as the Epasa and Prensa.

Health Although the water in the cities is potable, you should always drink bottled. Gastro-intestinal complaints, known as the turista, can occur in the first few days. It is advised to avoid uncooked foods, fruits and vegetables, and all dairy products. Make sure to protect yourself against sunstroke and heatstroke, especially in high altitudes.

There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. The following vaccines though are highly recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever. Less frequented areas of Panama may also be prone to Cholera, Polio, Dengue fever, Diphtheria and Malaria. If you plan an adventure trip, it may be a good idea to get inoculated.

Official Holidays January 1 - New Year's Day January 9 - Martyrs' Day February/March - Carnival March/April - Good Friday, Easter May 1 - Labour Day August 15 - Anniversary of the Founding of Panama City November 3 - Independence Day from Colombia November 3 - Colon day (Colon only) November 10 - First Call for Independence from Spain November 28 - Independence Day from Spain December 8 - Mothers' Day December 25 - Christmas

Safety Although Panama is safer than many other Latin American countries, the rate of criminality is slowly rising. Tourist areas are safer of course but certain precautions need to be taken.

Use good judgement, keep money and travel documents well hidden in a money belt and take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels. Always lock your hotel door or your rented car. Never leave any luggage unattended and be inconspicuous with jewellery, cameras, or anything of value. Walking at night is not advised.

Note: Bandits, smugglers, Colombian guerrillas and paramilitary forces make the area of Darien Province between Yaviza and the Colombian border along the upper Tuira River unsafe. There have been reports of armed criminals targeting travellers at Madden Dam in Chagre National Park.

Shopping Panama stores and modern shopping centers offers all the latest in electronics, cameras, crystal ware, chinaware, perfumes, designer clothes and fine jewellery. Duty-free shopping is available in the Duty Free Zone of Colon.

Traditional souvenirs and handicrafts include the brightly coloured molas, a multilayered textile, tightly hand woven baskets capable of holding liquids, wood and tagua carvings, and replicas of pre-colonial spiritual objects know as Huacas.

Taxes & Tips The departure tax of around US $40 cash, per person, must be paid when leaving the country, if it is not already included in the ticket

Hotels and restaurants charge a service fee of 10%. These are usually included in your bill so make sure to inquire first. Sales tax is generally 5% on goods and services, a 10% tax on alcohol, and 15% of cigarettes.

Chambermaids are tipped $1 per day and bellboys should receive $1 per bag. Taxi drivers do not expect tips. When the service charge of a restaurant is not already included on the bill, tip 10 to 15 percent.

Transportation International flights arrive at Tocumen International Airport. Panama has a number of domestic airlines and a good domestic flight network. Taxis are inexpensive and almost constantly available. The fares vary according to the number of zones you travel. Taxis waiting at hotel entrances are air-conditioned and a little more expensive but some of the drivers are trained guides and speak English or can understand it. Buses to the interior are also comfortable, air-conditioned, with reclining seats and stereo music and very affordable. Car rentals are available but can be expensive.

Terms, conditions and restrictions apply; pricing, availability, and other details subject to change and/ or apply to US or Canadian residents. Please confirm details and booking information with your travel advisor.

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