Panama City

During your vacation in the "country of abundance," Panama City will serve as your center of operations. International flights from Europe and the Americas land at the Tocumen Airport and local flights to San Blas, Bocas del Toro, the Pearl Islands and Darien leave from Marcus Gelabert Airport. In Panama City, you can rent a car to explore the country’s interior along the Pan-American Highway, charter a fishing boat or embark on a cruise out to the Pacific islands.

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The central hub for tours going anywhere in the country, Panama City is also a fascinating tourist destination in itself. The cosmopolitan city offers Spanish colonial ruins, excellent museums, beautiful parks, a breathtaking skyline and an immense infrastructure of hotel, restaurant, convention and banking facilities. At the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks, visitors can spend hours watching cruise ships and freighters moving through the Panama Canal.

Old Panama
panold.jpg - 38585 BytesAbout two miles from the center of Panama City are found the ruins of the first capital, known as Old Panama or Panama La Vieja, founded in 1519. Fragments of walls and arches stand in an open park, recalling the splendor of the Spaniard's first settlement on the Pacific Ocean. From here, expeditions were mounted to conquer the Inca Empire of South America. All of the wealth from Peru, Chile and California flowed to Spain through Old Panama Not surprisingly, the enormous quantities of gold attracted pirates like sharks to Panama's waters. When Henry Morgan looted the city in 1671, Panama's governor ordered the powder magazine burned and the whole city went up in flames. The capital was moved two miles to the west, and present-day Panama City was founded in 1673. The most impressive structures remaining are the cathedral, with a massive bell-tower, and the Bishop's House. In front of the ruins, alongside the ocean, is an artisan's market, full of native crafts, and a small restaurant with a fine view out to a bay where Spanish galleons and pirate ships once lifted sail.
Casco Viejo
casco.jpg - 56122 BytesAlso known as Colonial Panama, Casco Viejo is the historic center of today's capital. It is a quiet, charming district of narrow streets overlooked by the flower bedecked balconies of two and three-story houses. At its tip lies French Park, a monument to the French builders who began the Panama Canal, and the lovely French Embassy. On the walkway around the monument. visitors have a fine view of the Amador Causeway and Bridge of the Americas, and of Panama City's skyscraper skyline to the east. A plaque on the walkway commemorates the firing of canon shots to drive away a Colombian warship and consolidate Panama's independence from Colombia in 1903. To one side of the monument is an old Spanish structure called Las Bovedas now used as an art gallery and French restaurant.

Some excellent museums are found in the Casco Viejo, including the Canal Museum, which traces Panama's history as the route connecting Atlantic and Pacific from pre-Hispanic to modern times. Next door is the Museum of National History and the old cathedral, with gleaming spires inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Nearby is a small museum dedicated to religious art, found in the old Santo Domingo monastery, where visitors will also see the famous Flat Arch, which reportedly helped convince engineers that Panama was earth-quake-proof.

At the San Jose Cathedral a few blocks away is the beautiful Gold Altar, intricately carved of wood and gilded with gold. Another beautiful building in the Casco Viejo is the Presidential House, which can be toured on Sundays.

Modern Panama
panmod.jpg - 44314 BytesMany visitors will be surprised by Panama City's skyline of towering skyscrapers, which can be seen from far out in the Pacific Ocean. A bustling center of finance and trade, the city is home to about 120 banks and features innumerable shops filled with the world's finest merchandise. Thanks to low import duties and large volume, prices in Panama City's shops are almost unbelievably low. Two famous shopping districts are the Via Espana and the Avenida Central, 20 blocks of non-stop shopping.

The city, long accustomed to accommodating international palates, offers a tremendous variety of cuisines in its many fine restaurants Hotel accommodations are excellent, ranging from internationally recognized names to smaller, boutique inns. Many hotels offer light gambling in casinos and the city is famed for its lively nightlife of discotheques and shows.

Panama City is also well-equipped to handle all types of conferences and conventions. In the heart of the city and facing the ocean is the beautiful Atlapa Convention Center, with 3,200 square meters of exhibit space and meeting facilities for up to 5,000 people. The Center's theater sponsors a wide variety of cultural events.

Amador Causeway
panama.jpg - 30010 BytesBuilt to provide a calm harbor for ships entering the Panama Canal, the Amador Causeway extends from the mainland to connect four small islands offshore. A palm- lined road runs the length of the causeway, with benches and a path for bicycling and jogging alongside The offices of the Smithsonian Tropical Research institute are found here, as well as the Marine Exhibition Center, open in the afternoons from Tuesday to Friday and from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. At the center, there are educational films and exhibits of coral, seashells, starfish and sea urchins where, unlike other museums, touching is encouraged! Six aquariums arranged at child's height feature marine life from the Caribbean and Pacific and one tank is filled with gigantic lobsters A telescope has been set up for viewing ships anchored offshore, with charts that are useful in identifying types of boats.
Metropolitan Park
In Panama, your ecotour can actually begin right on the outskirts of the city, where there is a large tropical forest reserve called Parque Metropolitano. Along the five trails of this convenient park can be seen a diversity of tropical wildlife, including toucans, parakeets, orioles, trogons, sloths, agoutis and Titi monkeys There is also a collection of native orchids, some of which will be blooming at any time of the year Plant species are identified by plaques along the self-guided trails. Visitors can also arrange a guided tour with a ranger at the visitor's center.

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