Panama's expansive rainforests are among the richest and most complex on the planet. It's the only country where jaguars and pumas prowl just a short drive from the capital. Its vast, roadless jungles are home to over 940 recorded bird species and 105 endangered species, including the spectacled bear, the Central American tapir, the American crocodile, the scarlet macaw, as well as several eagle species.Panama offers some of the finest diving, birdwatching and deep-sea fishing in all of the Americas-yet only the most avid adventurers are aware of it. Panama boasts scores of deserted palm-lined beaches, miles of lush rainforests, great national parks, mysterious mangroves (where you'll feel like you've been transported back to a time when dinosaurs walked the earth), steamy cloud forests, mountains, waterfalls, raging rivers, abandoned forts, as well as desert.In Panama you can spend the morning diving in the Caribbean and the afternoon swimming in the Pacific.
You can explore historic ruins of the colonial era, dive for Sir Francis Drake's lead coffin (supposedly buried at sea near Portobello Bay).see the rainforest in an aerial tram ride a dug-out canoe to a native Indian village, discover the remote and mysterious forests of the Darién region right on the border of Colombia (where the roads end a few miles before the border, leaving you with the feeling you've reached the end of civilization).come nose-to-nose with a red-napped tamarind monkey or a trio of colorful toucans.Panama, fortunately for our self-imposed 24 hour limitation, is a small country. In a short one- or two-week trip, you could see much of what this diverse country has to offer.
In a busy 24 hours you can see only a few highlights.Exploring the best Panama has to offer in one day is hungry work. Start your day on a full stomach and head for breakfast in El Trapiche, a busy diner in El Cangrejo on the Vía Argentina. Here you can enjoy breakfast Panama style and indulge in a hearty feed of carimañol-a yummy roll made of mashed yucca and stuffed with ground beef and boiled eggs-and a side of corn tortillas, that more resemble silver dollar pancakes than taco shells. The bill should be less than $8, even with that second café con leche.You cannot come to Panama without seeing the "Eighth Wonder of the World", the Panama Canal.
According to the Panama Canal Authority "The history of the construction of the Panama Canal is the saga of human ingenuity and courage: years of sacrifice, crushing defeat and final victory". This statement, while true, doesn't go far enough to describe the mighty toll taken by the building of the Panama Canal. Construction began in 1904 and took 10 years to complete. It remains one of the greatest engineering achievements of all time, completed despite landslides, disease, setbacks and the loss of 75,000 lives in total.
Engineers directed most of the actual construction, which cost $375 million and involved the excavation of 240 million cubic yards of earth.The Panama Canal, 51 miles long, opened to shipping in August 1914 and was formally dedicated on July 12, 1920. In 1921, the U.S. paid Colombia $25 million as redress for the loss of Panama; in exchange, Colombia formally recognized Panama's independence.On average it takes a vessel eight hours to travel from one ocean to the other, passing through three sets of locks.
The best place to see the Canal is from the Miraflores Locks (open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
, admission free).Make sure to get to the Miraflores Locks for 9 a.m. as this is when you are most likely to see large ships passing through.
From Panama City, you can either take a public bus or taxi. The buses depart from a terminal known as "SACA", which is situated downtown. From there you can take either of two buses, Summit Gardens or Paraiso. It's about a 20-minute ride and costs 50 cents for an air-conditioned bus and 35 cents for an older school-style bus.
When departing, there is a bus stop directly in front of the entrance on the main road and you can return on any bus that passes by, as they all complete their route at the terminal. Taxis charge approximately $6 to $8 one way, but you can hire a taxi by the hour for about the same amount, so if you plan on spending less than an hour there, it might be best to just ask the taxi to wait.The lock gates at Miraflores are the tallest of the three locks on the Canal and are slightly over one mile long, from beginning to end.
Pay a visit to the new visitor center at Miraflores Locks, which recently opened to the public and is open daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.
m. The center faces the lock and provides a fascinating insight into the history and construction of the Canal. Tickets for the center are $8.By now you're probably feeling a tad peckish. Time to hop on a bus or take your taxi and make your way toward Casco Viejo for tamales.
If you're in luck, you'll bump into Luis Antonio Visuette on the streets of Casco Viejo, where he has been selling delicious homemade tamales, wrapped in plaintain leaves, for more than 10 years. With his Yankee cap and five-gallon bucket of hot and spicy tameles calientitos, Luis is hard to miss. These lunchtime treats are available in both large (50 cents) and small (25 cents) and are a real hit when washed down with an ice-cold drink.
.Michael Russell.Your Independent guide to Travel. .
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By: Michael Russell