Panama Tourism Ministry and Copa Airlines Launch”Free Stop-Over in Panama”
Thanks to the Tico Times for this information.
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli says his nation has made enormous strides in the fight against corruption, crime and drug trafficking in the two years since he took office.
Speaking to a packed crowed the day after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, Martinelli said his no-nonsense “law and order” approach has yielded impressive results.
“This is the first time Panama has ever been run by a businessman,” said the 59-year-old Martinelli, a self-made millionaire and chairman of Panama’s Super 99 grocery chain. “Usually in Latin America, the politicians become businessmen after they leave office, but this was the other way around.”
Martinelli was visiting the United States in order to urge the White House and Congress to push for a free-trade agreement between the two countries, which – if passed – would dramatically increase U.S.-Panamanian trade and attract foreign investment, he said.
“We don’t expect any difficulty at all getting it approved. I believe it will go through in the next 60 to 90 days. It’s a no-brainer. I don’t see how little Panama can hurt the U.S. job market. On the contrary, it will create more jobs for the U.S. economy.”
The president boasted that his government has cracked down on price-fixing, illegal kickbacks, tax fraud and corruption within Panama’s police force – a problem that seems to have grown with the arrival of thousands of foreign workers taking advantage of Panama’s rapidly expanding economy, which grew 9 percent last year.
“We regularized a lot of illegal immigrants that were here,” he said. “They were using our schools, our hospitals and our roads but were paying no taxes. That was also a big source of corruption. Every time they were stopped in the streets and asked for IDs, they bribed the officers.”
Now, he said, visitors are permitted to stay in Panama for up to 180 days before having to renew their visas.
“We can proudly say that when we got into power, there was a lot of insecurity, homicide rates were going up and the police were badly motivated because they were not paid well enough. The first thing we did was increase police salaries by 25 percent.”
He added that “Panama is going to be the showcase of programs like facial recognition at the airport, whereby any person who goes there will be connected to databases like FBI and Interpol, and we’ll be able to tell if he’s a drug dealer or a killer.”
According to Martinelli, Great Britain seized 12 tons of cocaine last year, and the United States 28 tons. By comparison, he said, “In one year, Panama catches well over 75 tons. And every ounce of cocaine we seize means less drugs and less crime in the streets of the United States.”
The fact that Panama shares a jungle border with Colombia – the world’s largest source of cocaine – makes it Central America’s first line of defense against drug traffickers.
“We don’t need money. We have all the resources to combat trafficking,” Martinelli told his largely sympathetic audience. “We recently bought six patrol boats from Italy worth more than $200 million. We’re also buying radars and helicopters in order to engage the narco-traffickers. Close to 7 percent of our people have dual U.S.-Panamanian citizenship, so whatever we do in security helps reduce crime and drug trafficking in the U.S.”
Martinelli, whose five-year term of office expires in mid-2014, said Panama now ranks as the second-most competitive economy in Latin America after Chile, and is one of the few countries in the region with investment-grade bond ratings. As such, expanding Panama’s service-based economy is a top priority for his administration – and the planned $5.3 billion expansion of the Panama Canal will pump tens of billions of dollars into the country in coming decades.
“The canal represents 8 percent of our GDP, and this year, the Colón Free Zone will do $27 billion in business,” he explained. “And regarding the canal’s expansion, more money is being spent in the United States than in Panama, because all U.S. ports will have to increase their draught in order to accommodate the world’s largest ships. In Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, a bridge worth over $1 billion has to be built to accommodate post-Panamax ships. The East Coast of the U.S. will greatly appreciate the expansion because it’s very difficult to get merchandise from China, put it on a truck. It costs money and pollutes the environment instead of going through the canal.”
In short, said Martinelli, “if I pay, you pay. If I don’t pay, then you don’t pay. We got our house in order by tying the knots, closing the loopholes and telling people the hanky-panky was over, and by telling the drug traffickers there’s no more tolerance for them. We are catching them and sending them back to Colombia. Everybody’s paying taxes now. Our tax base has increased substantially.”
At the same time, a dramatic increase in tourism – two million foreign visitors are expected to visit Panama this year – has generated revenues to pay for badly needed improvements, including an expansion of Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport.
“Before, if I wanted to go to Aruba or Buenos Aires, I’d have to fly through Miami. But our local airline Copa has bought 39 planes, and Panama is now one of Latin America’s largest hubs. By 2014, well over 14 million passengers will go through that airport,” he said. “Panamanians coming into the U.S. will soon be able to put their passports through a machine in Panama and won’t have to go through Customs once they arrive into the United States.”
On top of that, he said, “you can now find any brand of hotel in Panama from A to Z. Even a Waldorf-Astoria is being built. It’s a new country and everything is being done through a vision of change – but the change has to start from within.”
Asked about potential terrorist attacks against the Panama Canal, Martinelli does not appear to be losing much sleep over that issue.
“The Panama Canal is a neutral place. This waterway serves humanity, but to tell you the truth, it’s almost impossible to say that the canal is fully protected. Look what happened on 9/11,” the president said in response to a reporter’s question. “I don’t believe the canal is on the agenda of any terrorist group. We work in close coordination with the shipping companies, but if someone puts a bomb on a ship and detonates that bomb within the locks in a kamikaze attack, nobody can do anything about it.”
This article came out awhile ago but is one of the best about Panama today.
36 HOURS IN PANAMA
By Denny Lee
PANAMANIANS joke that the McDonald’s franchises and glass skyscrapers make Panama City the “Miami of the South,” except that more English is spoken here. But more than a decade and a half after an American invasion leveled part of the city and about six years after United States troops pulled out of the country and ceded control of the Panama Canal, the city is asserting itself as a tourist destination, not just a scenic overpass for an engineered waterway. Fashionable hotels now dot the cosmopolitan skyline. Crumbling colonial homes are being polished into bohemian gems. Emerald rain forests woo eco-tourists. There might even be a Frank Gehry-designed museum in the future, with the hope of sparking a so-called “Bilbao effect” for the port of Balboa. For now, anyway, Panama City hasn’t been overrun by tourists. But with daily direct flights from about six cities in the United States, including New York, Newark and Los Angeles, that might not last.
1) Colonial Explorer
Go back to the future with a stroll through the cobblestone alleys of Casco Viejo, a colonial-era neighborhood frequented by snow-cone vendors. Abandoned by the city’s elite in the 1950’s, the area became a squatters’ slum. In recent years, however, artists, professionals and snowbirds have turned skid row into real estate gold. Among the prominent residents is Rubén Blades, the musician and actor who is now the country’s minister of tourism. Take a taxi to the Plaza de Francia, at the peninsula’s tip. From there, you can walk to the Golden Altar at the San Jose Church (Avenida A and Calle 8a Este), one of the few treasures that wasn’t ransacked by Henry Morgan, the pirate captain, in 1671; the heron-infested presidential palace (Avenida 4 and Calle Eloj); and the slick if encyclopedic Interoceanic Canal Museum (Plaza de la Independencia, 507-211-1649).
2) Cerveza Garden
After wilting in the tropical heat, grab a cold Atlas beer at La Casona de las Brujas (Plaza Herrera), one of the trendy lounges and cafes that have sprung up in Casco Viejo. This one has a raw gallery upfront (photographs of local artisans were recently on display), and a concrete garden out back, lending it a transitional East Berlin flavor that goes well with the artsy crowd. Guitar bands take over a makeshift stage at night, playing a brash mix of “rock de Panamá.”
3) Dinner and Dancing
For Panamanian cooking (similar to Cuban with a lot of seafood), try Tinajas Restaurant (22 Calle 51, 507-263-7890) in El Cangrejo, the central banking district. National staples like corbina ceviche ($4), jumbo shrimps in coconut sauce ($12.50) and ropa vieja ($7.50), spicy shredded beef over rice, are served accompanied by live folkloric dancing in a homey atmosphere. The costumed dance begins at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
4) Hit the Clubs
Like South Beach in Miami, Panama City has its share of velvet ropes, although the lower model quotient provides for less attitude. Many doors don’t open until 11 p.m., so for a preclub cocktail drop by the Martini Bar at the Radisson Decapolis Hotel (Avenida Balboa, 507-215-5000) and watch the city’s peacocks preen on bright orange sofas. After a martini ($6 to $9) or two, many head to nearby Calle Uruguay, where there are no fewer than a dozen hot spots catering to straights, gays, punks and fashionistas. At Moods (Calle 48 and Calle Uruguay, 507-263-4923), the stiletto-heeled and open-collared partygoers grind their hips to Panamanian reggae until dawn.
5) Café con Leche
Suppress your urge for an Egg McMuffin and nurse your hangover at El Trapiche (Vía Argentina, 507-269-4353), a busy diner in El Cangrejo, for a hearty breakfast of carimañola, a savory roll made of mashed yucca and stuffed with ground beef and boiled eggs, and a side of corn tortillas, which look more like silver-dollar pancakes than taco shells. The bill should come to under $8, even with a second café con leche.
6) Boat Spotting
No trip to Panama City is complete without a visit to the Panama Canal. Instead of standing around in your fanny pack, have lunch at the Miraflores Locks, the southernmost of three sets of water elevators that fill and drain as ships wend their way between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans by way of the Caribbean Sea. Just five miles from the city’s center, the new Miraflores Visitor Center (507-276-8427) is home to a multilevel exhibition and a third-floor restaurant (507-232-3120; shown top left) where you almost touch the passing vessels while you refuel. To ensure a choice table, call the restaurant for reservations (the lunch buffet is $17); you can also call the center for the day’s scheduled crossings.
7) Suburban Jungle
To complete your self-guided tour, go halfway up the 50-mile-long canal to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort (507-314-9000), a 340-acre nature reserve complete with an aerial tram that slices through the Soberanía National Park, a Tarzan-like jungle that is home to a staggering 500-plus species of birds. An observation tower offers another bird’s-eye view. Situated 30 minutes from the city center, the resort is as idyllic and unspoiled as downtown Panama City is hurried and urban.
As the day wanes, there’s no better place to rejuvenate than the mile-long Amador Causeway, which juts out between the canal and Panama Bay. Made from rocks excavated from the channel, the three connecting islands form an esplanade of parks, cafes, oceanfront condos and a new cruise ship terminal. By day, bicyclists ride and joggers stride along the narrow roadway, soaking in the dazzling views of the city’s crescent-shaped waterfront - a veritable timeline that spans from 17th-century steeples and fishing nooks to modern office towers and airy penthouses. By night, the distant skyline comes alive like twinkling stars.
9) Fancy Fusion
For a memorable meal, take a cab to Eurasia (Calle 48, 507-264-7859) in the busy central district of Bella Vista. Reflecting the city’s immigrant stew, this Chinese-owned restaurant marries local ingredients with French techniques and Asian flavors. Favorites include a gravlax timbale filled with a passion fruit-cured ceviche ($12.50), and cornmeal-encrusted prawns in a tamarind and coconut sauce ($15.50). The stately dining room has marble floors and handsome artworks that evoke a colonial manor.
David Rochkind/Polaris, for The New York Times
10) Ships That Pass in the Night
If you still have the energy, pop back to the causeway, to the Fort Amador Resort and Marina, located at its tip. For a civilized nightcap, head to the bar at Café Barko (507-314-0000), where the crowd ranges from fun-loving locals to chatty cruise passengers. Should a second wind strike, there are several dance clubs in the entertainment complex, including Alcatraz, a popular nightclub for well-heeled club kids.
11) Old Panama Hat
History buffs won’t want to miss the tombstone-like ruins of Panamá Viejo, the original 1519 Spanish settlement sunken along the eastern fringes of the modern city. A Unesco World Heritage Site, its stumpy walls resemble a sprawling Central American Stonehenge. When your camera runs out of memory, check out the nearby artisanal market for last-minute souvenirs.
Direct flights from Newark Liberty International Airport to Panama City take about five hours. Tocumen International Airport is about 12 miles northeast of the city center, reachable by taxi for about $25 (the United States dollar is used in Panama).
Although there are buses, routes are not clearly marked. Taxis are cheap and should run under $5 for most trips. If you find a driver you like, consider hiring that person for as little as $40 for part of the day.
“We are seeking our own path in the world, but we have to copy the good things that other countries have done, for example what Singapore has done and what the Dominican Republic has done in tourism,” Martinelli told the Monitor following the recent investors conference, “Panama: Where the World Meets.”
Though it sounds like a tall order, Panama, which enjoyed 7.5 percent economic growth last year – more than double the Central American average – seems up to the challenge. According to projections from the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund, Panama will lead the region in economic growth over the next five years, thanks in large part to a five-year, $20 billion public-investment plan highlighted by a $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, to finish in 2014.
But there are signs that this pro-business government can’t have everything it wants all at once.
On March 3, Martinelli reluctantly announced his government was repealing its controversial Reforms to the Mining Code (Law – an initiative that his administration had hoped would bring in billions of dollars in revenue and convert Panama into one of the largest mining nations in Latin America within 20 to 30 years.
Backpedaling on it and the mining law are indications, he insists, that his government is listening to the people. Analysts, however, claim the reversals are more a symptom of his government’s failure to consult civil society on projects that don’t necessarily jibe with Panama’s culture or traditional development model. And it’s giving some the impression of an erratic government that is shooting out in all directions. “
A article in USA Today that compares a vacation in Miami vs a vacation in Panama City- guess which is cheaper even with the international airfare?
Frommer’s describes Panama as “deliciously free of crowds”—and what better endorsement do you need? Even if you’re based in Panama City, a range of outdoorsy activities including watersports in both the Caribbean and Pacific, bird watching, and hiking, can fill a vacation. Mountains, rainforests, and beaches are plentiful, creating a spectacular setting for vacationers, regardless if you want to break a sweat or just relax by the waves.
The country’s currency, the balboa, is interchangeable with the U.S. dollar. Additionally, the dollar is accepted nationwide, so no worries about exchange rates or inflated prices here. Better yet, food and transportation are very affordable, and Lonely Planet estimates travelers can get by quite comfortably on $60 per day. Penny-pinching travelers should have no difficulty budgeting even less. Regardless of whether you want to scrimp or splurge, the possibilities are affordable.
Flights from New York start at $355 in spring and I found a three-star Panama City hotel from $60 per day. A seven-day vacation for two comes in at $1,130.
Let’s compare a week in Panama City to a week in Miami. While at first this comparison may seem to be a contrast between outdoorsy adventure and city nightlife, both destinations offer easy beach access, rich Latin culture, and a laid-back atmosphere. Flights from New York start at $162 in April and May, and I found a three-star hotel in Miami Beach from $114 per night. A seven-night vacation for two would cost $1,122—just eight dollars less than a comparable Panama trip.
That paltry savings, however, would be blown by Miami’s high food and entertainment prices. It’s not unusual for cocktails to cost $10 and up, and many clubs will have a cover charge for you just to walk through the door. Unless you want a vacation full of deli and fast-food options, most restaurants will have an average cost of $25 per person. And in this glitzy city, the sky’s the limit for boutique shopping and other entertainment options. At least the beach is free… but compared to Panama, in this case you’ll be spending a lot more to stay stateside. With a trip to Panama City, you’ll be paying a comparable base price for a chance to experience the unfamiliar, and expanding your horizons by immersing yourself in a new culture.
I just spent the weekend staying in the new wing of Los Mandarinos mountain resort in El Valle. I came back soaked in beauty and peace.
What a perfect get away.
I loved Mandarinos deluxe new wing- it has one of the most beautiful swimming pools I have seen- with muted natural colors, intriguing shapes that embrace flowers and a spectacular mountain view as a backdrop. Owner Pedro Fabrega also has also built new facilities with families in mind, including a childrens play room, a children’s pool and a snack bar.
The handsomely appointed deluxe rooms have large picture windows that look out on the gorgeous Gaital peak with the beautiful marble floors and tiling. On the top floor there is two bedroom suite which includes a terrace jacuzzi with some of the best views in all Panama.
Another great addition to El Valle is Los Mandarinos new on-premise restaurant O’Pedros, which is Panama’s first Irish pub. It features a fine large bar in rich dark wood, tables inside and tables large wooden deck with views. ( At Mandarinos you will always find me taking in the views.) I loved the shepherds pie, club sandwich and even the hamburger was delicious.
O’Pedros Pub is open from 8am to 10pm to everyone- so if you can’t stay at Los Mandarinos, at least come here to drink or dine .
The entire resort is beautifully landscaped with expansive grounds with soft grass and a bright variety of flowers everywhere.
There is also a well appointed full service spa with an outside jacuzzi, sauna etc.
The staff is very attentive- it is exciting to see how fast the El Valle locals are learning to take care of tourists.
I talked to Anne, the capable French manager and she says they are doing very well-bookings are well up over last year. About 70% are locals and 30% are tourists. She says more and more businesses are choosing Mandarinos for conferences.
Congrats to Pedro Fabrega and the whole team at Los Mandarinos for giving Panama a superlative place to enjoy Panama’s mountain beauty.
Check it out at www.losmandarinos.com
The multinational consulting firm Mercer according to press reports today, just released a study in which Panama City is rated as # 2 in Latin America and for safety and quality of life. It is # 1 in Central America. (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic is # 1/San Jose, Costa Rica is #8. )
(The study included San Juan Puerto Rico which is rated # 1, but as Puerto Rico is not generally considered a Latin American country, Panama takes the first place. )
This survey confirms what many multinationals and individuals have already concluded- Panama City is the best place for their regional HQ- among those who have come recently to set up HQ are Dell, Hewitt Packard, Proctor & Gamble, Caterpillar, 3M, the United Nations, and I just heard Frito Lay is coming.
Panama City is far from perfect….especially traffic problems can be intense, but aside from that Panama City is a great place for international corporations, families and individuals. It is one of the safest cities anywhere if you follow rules of common sense that apply to cities everywhere, ie don’t walk around at night in a poor area.)There is a variety of fine neighborhoods to choose from, the best food and appliance shopping in Latin America, 3 major new shopping malls, lots of reasonably priced excellent restaurants and for vacationing many attractive beach and mountain destinations. Not to mention the Panamanian people themselves-accustomed to foreigners, friendly, helpful and warm.
Panama is one of the key crossroads in the world, the land bridge between North America and South America and the waterway between the Atlantic and the Pacific, yet it seems to be perpetually a decade or two behind always-trendy Costa Rica in drawing crowds of tourists. This is true even though Panama has all the elements to qualify as a Central American hotspot: teeming wildlife, sandy beaches, scuba diving, world-class fishing, widespread English proficiency, reliable transportation and a cosmopolitan capital city.
The steamy glamour and air of infinite possibility that lure people to Panama in search of a new life is not exclusive to its capital, Panama City. High-end residential developments up the Pacific coast and on the islands scattered off it promise to deliver the requisite combination of oceanfront setting, high-tech communication systems, stylish architecture and cosmopolitan multiple home-owning neighbours.
If you’re looking to get ahead of the game, Panama City’s Casco Viejo is as up-and-coming as it gets, says Vicky Baker. Go now before the word is well and truly out.