Visitor Time Again-When visitors are coming to Panama for the first time, what are the best places to take them? I am putting together a list of “must-dos” for Panama City and outside Panama City for some family members coming in July.
For Panama City and Nearby, the top of my list are:
Two Tours Your Guests Will Be Talking About for Years to Come
Monkey Island Tour with either Ancon Expeditions or Carl Davis’ Gatun Explorer. This day tour has the wow factor- your guests will never stop talking about it. This is a small boat trip on Gatun Lake which is part of the Panama Canal where you’ll experience intense nature including at least 3 types of monkeys that even jump onto your boat. With Gatun Explorer you also take a short hike to a jungle waterfall and delicious typical lunch on a larger boat on the lake. See www.gatunexplorer.com and www.anconexpeditions.com
Embera Indian Village: If your guests don’t have time to go the San Blas Islands and stay with the Kuna Indians there, send them on this day trip to an Embera Indian Village, just an hour and a half from Panama City. Again, this tour has the wow factor- after boating up a scenic river, they will tour an authentic Indian village, eat with them, learn about their age-old way of life and even dance with them if they like. For a tour contact a tour operator on Panamainfo’s Tour Operators page.
Two Restaurant Experiences Your Guests Will Also Talk About for Years to Come
Los Lagartos at Gamboa Rainforest Resort It is on a terrace over the huge Chagres river that connects to the Panama Canal. From your table, you can watch huge ships float silently by in the Canal. The food is good and we enjoy the luncheon buffet. The best thing about this restaurant is a nature experience- you can create and watch a “natural food fight”. The friendly staff will give you some bread pieces to throw on the lake below and suddenly a natural food fight ensues when tropical crocodiles, turtles, fish and birds all come running to get the bread Guess which one of these critters always get the bread first? I won’t tell you! (You have to go yourself to find out. )
The Miraflores Restaurant at the Panama Canal
Of course you will be escorting your guests to see the Canal and the excellent museum. I also recommend you have lunch or dinner at the Miraflores Restaurant which is part of the Visitors center. Reserve a table on the terrace- you’ll a have ringside view of the ships transiting the Miraflores locks. The terrace seating is so close- the view is simply extraordinary. Even in the evenings the views are great since everything is lit up and ships transit at night as well. Another memorable and totally unique experience only Panama can offer.
Folks, Below are comments from my good friend Sam Taliaferro. Sam is an American, long time Panama resident and the pioneer of residential tourism with his superlative Valle Escondido in Boquete. Before Panama, Sam was a long time resident and businessman in Costa Rica, so Sam knows what he is talking about.
(Before this comment, Sam explained why Costa Rica has had far less deforestation than Panama, giving it an big advantage over Panama as an eco-tourism destination.
If you want to see Sams whole post: http://primapanama.blogs.com/_panama_residential_devel/2008/05/which-is-better.html )
The Panama advantage
Yes there is no doubt that the advantages of the Costa Rican environment is strikingly different from that of Panama, but there is the other side of the coin that needs to be addressed. Panama has some significant advantages over her neighbor to the west. We have a number of foreigners who live in Costa Rican who cross the border and stay in our resort in Chiriqui. They are amazed at how civilized Panama appears to be over the country they chose to live in. The roads are much better and they can buy just about anything here at much lower prices. From the moment they cross the border into Panama they are not thinking about how we have cut down all the forests. They are thinking about how great our four lane highway is and how nice to see shopping centers and hospitals along the road way. They wonder why they have such very high duties on their goods and vehicles in Costa Rica while we have very little. They are amazed that our home prices here are less than half that of their country. Crime is a growing concern in Costa Rica as they have become a victim of their great success at attracting foreigners to vacation and live on their shores and mountains. Another great advantage they see in Panama is the corporate and tax structure. Many of them cross the border to open bank accounts and form Panamanian corporations to protect their assets in Costa Rica.
So the facts are that Panama can never really compete with Costa Rican as an ecological tourism destination. Panama has the advantage of a well documented and incredible history of transformation from a 1500’s backwater to the center of the universe in transits for goods and services in the 21st century. It is in her unique combination of modernization, infrastructure, history and culture that make Panama a major attraction as a place to live and live well rather than just to visit. Panama cannot afford to spend millions in marketing to be something she will never become, but she can and should focus on her strengths and attract people to her shores to live here rather than just pass through along with the containers in the canal and money through her many banks.
There are many foreigners who long to live among the forests and monkeys and are willing to share that world with the many visitors that come to gawk at the incredible world of nature. If you can afford to pay for it and are willing to sacrifice some of the many comforts of the first world, then Costa Rica may be the right place for you. If on the other hand you want access to all that natural beauty on a few hours away, but still want to live where goods and services are reasonably priced and in abundance, then Panama may be the right choice. After having lived in both countries I find Panama to be more to my liking.
I just flew to Wash DC on the Copa direct flight and loved the hours- I could travel in the evening without losing a day of activities and return to Panama mid morning. ( I flew out of Panama at 7:30 pm, arrived in Washington at 11:30 Panama time and I returned from DC at 6:30 am arriving in Panama at 10:30 am and ready for a full day of activities.)
This schedule works really well for both the busy business traveler and the tourist who may want to get out of Panama City the to the beach or mountains the same day they fly.
Indeed, Panama’s prize winning Copa Airlines is one of Panama’s major attracions. The service and meals are excellent, the flights on time. (They even give you a nice hot sandwich on short flights like the one hour flight from Panama to San Jose Costa Rica. )
Copa has made Panama the flight hub of the America’s. Because of Copa, Panama is now the most connected country in the entire Latin American/Caribbean region. Copa is a major reason so many international companies are making their new regional HQ’s in Panama-on Copa their executives can fly a direct flight from Panama to just about every country in the region-sometimes they can even come back the same day.
Copa shares a ff flyer program with Delta and Continental and has won numerous awards including best company to work for.
Take a Tour of Panama while you are an in transit passenger: If you have a several hour wait at Panama City’s International Tocumen Airport before your next flight, some companies offer Panama City tours that get you back in time for your flight: Contact Easy Travel which offers personalized tours : www.easytravelpanama.net