A contemporary skyline, tropical beaches and the Pacific Ocean/Caribbean Sea make up the gorgeous Panamanian landscape. Walk on the wild side through the lush rainforest, the only rainforest in the world within city limits. When you arrive in Panama City, the capital and largest city in Panama, it will seem somewhat familiar. With waves to the left and skyscrapers in front of you, you’ll think you’re cruising down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. This very modern city even has its own Trump Ocean Club and Hard Rock Hotel.
Discovering Panama City
Casco Viejo (Old Panama City) is the 17th century historic district, which is undergoing a major restoration. Pedestrian walkways, statue-filled plazas, new bars and restaurants make this romantic quarter a great place to explore. Be sure to see the distinctive golden altar in St. Joseph’s Church. Walk around, sip Panama’s delicious coffee in a café and take in the glorious views.
My favorite part of the city was the Balboa area, which used to house American military. Gone since 1989, when Panama took over the operation of the canal, the neighborhood features wide boulevards, lush greenery and elegant homes.
The Panama Canal – the 8th wonder of the world
This international landmark will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2014 and a $5.25 billion expansion is currently underway. The best place to watch is from the Miraflores Locks restaurant where you can get a front row seat to the show. See 5,000,000 ton ships rise and drop more than 50 ft. in the locks as they pass through the Caribbean Sea to the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. Stop at the Visitor’s Center and see the film about how the canal was built.
The Emberas – now this is sustainable!
There are seven indigenous tribes in Panama. I traveled with Aventuras 2000 to the Embera community, riding in a motorized canoe down the Chagres River. At the village, we enjoyed fried fish, served in a leaf and accompanied by luscious fruits. Through an English interpreter, a tribesman explained how they produce the colors for basket weaving from natural sources. They also performed native dances and invited us to join in. As I floated back to reality in the canoe, this “National Geographic” experience took me back to a simpler time. Yet, the Emberas continue to flourish as they have for centuries, all without modern conveniences.
Copa Airlines – new direct service from O’Hare
Copa Airlines offers the only daily, nonstop flights from Chicago to Panama. Service was outstanding…check a bag for free and even get a meal, including wine! Serving 64 destinations in 29 countries, Copa connects to all major cities in Central and South America. Copa is also a Star Alliance partner. www.copa.com
Loaded down with coffee and crafts, I got just a taste of this contemporary, yet exotic destination. I’m definitely hungry for more! www.visitpanama.com.