Panamainfo’s Blog

Panama’s Amazing Pirate History: Henry Morgan’s 300 Year Old Ship Found

“The pirate ship of Captain Morgan – yes, the pirate whose name is used for a popular brand of rum – has finally been found, more than 300 years after it sank off the coast of Panama.

In 1671, Henry Morgan lost five ships – including the Satisfaction, his main ship – near the Lajas Reef. But the precise location of the wrecks has long been a mystery. It’s believed that a team of US explorers might be able to locate and remove some unopened chests on the wreck. However, the odds of there being some particularly rare rum onboard might be low.

Henry Morgan made his name in the Caribbean, where he mainly spent his time raiding Spanish settlements, unofficially acting on behalf of the British. The Satisfaction was lost when Morgan attacked Panama City, hoping to strike a crucial blow against Spanish influence in the region. His plan was successful, although the loss of five ships was a severe blow to Morgan’s career.

Bocas del Toro # 3 on a list the Top 50 Yachting Towns: Yachting Magazine

According to the Yachting article:

“Bocas Del Toro, Panama – A nature lover’s paradise and one of Panama’s most popular tourist spots, Bocas’ 5,000 residents are still way outnumbered by the surrounding wildlife. Enjoy the town’s laid-back vibe and easy access to the region’s nine major islands, 52 keys and roughly 200 tiny islands. There are two marinas for those who want to explore this archipelago’s treasures. And reader Dan Cranney reminded us that “this island archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Panama is one of the few hurricane-free places in the Caribbean.

The newest Marina is at Red Frog and it’s a beautiful setting with plenty of nearby amenities.

New York Times Article: 36 Hours in Panama

This article came out awhile ago but is one of the best about Panama today.


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.

4 p.m.
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).

6:30 p.m.
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.”

8:30 p.m.
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.

11 p.m.
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.

10 a.m.
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.

2 p.m.
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.

5:30 p.m.
8) Sunset Strip
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.

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David Rochkind/Polaris, for The New York Times

La Casona de las Brujas (Plaza Herrera) is one of the trendy lounges and cafes that have sprung up in Casco Viejo.


Panama City, PanamaMap

Panama City, Panama

Readers’ Opinions


11 p.m.
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.

10 a.m.
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.

The Basics

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.

Remarks at Amcham’s 10th Annual Tourism Forum- Why Panama Will be the Capital of the Americas

Remarks by Nancy Hanna, Chair, American Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee.Sept. 9, 2010

Buenas Tardes. I am especially pleased once again to have Mr. Shamah here- our highly active and highly effective tourism minister. Hardly a week goes by when I don’t hear about some new thing you  have done to make  tourism happen.

I’m really excited about today’s program – Let me especially mention  Panama’s handicrafts queen Agnes Santomeno of Reprosa- who has raised our souvenirs to a world class level,   and Andrew Coate’s debut today of La Ruta Verde- the most exciting eco-project I have ever seen..

Today before our very eyes Panama is transforming itself to meet its historic destiny- to be the capital of the Americas. Panama’s destiny was first recognized by Simon Bolívar who called the first hemispheric conference- the Congress of Panama in 1826.

Fast forwarding to 911- 911 speeded up Panama’s destiny.  Until 911, Miami was the de-facto capital of the Americas-both Latin America and the Caribbean- you know- the place you all liked  to go for meetings,  to shop, to have fun and take that side trip to Orlando.

 911 ended Miami as the capital of the Americas. Why? Because companies in Latin America could not get visas to the USA for their people to attend meetings with consistency. If they needed to send 10 people to a training- they maybe 6 got visas. ( Just one example- Our own president of Amcham Don Elder was in Miami, with Caterpillar when could not get visas for trainings in the US- He recommended that Caterpillar set up a region HQ and training center in Panama- that training center which will need 12,000 hotel nights a year, just broke ground  last month)

 Panama has is now fulfilling its destiny to be the business capital of the Americas with its strategically central location, the most modern and safe capital city in the region, direct flights to more than 60 destinations and a long history as a business center and crossroads.

In line with Panama’s destiny, President Martinelli has the goal to make Panama the best place in Latin America to do business. Plans include a large convention center on Panama Bay between Casco Viejo and Amador.  Due to the incentives of  Law 41. More than 100 companies including such giants as Proctor and Gamble and Samsung set up their headquarters in Panama

So naturally, today most of our tourists are businessmen and that’s good.

But there is another Panama- one that is blessed with extraordinary natural attractions- “so beautiful you could cry”  rainforests, islands, oceans  and mountains with a flor and fauna that is one of the richest in the world and we have the Smithsonian to prove it! 

In tourism, our greatest challenge is to balance the business growth, with actions to preserve the priceless treasure of Panama’s nature- not only for tourists to enjoy, but for the long term health and happiness of future generations. Amcham is committed both business development and the preservation of nature.  

Enjoy today- let’s learn and let’s work together for both successful and sustainable tourism.


Los Angeles Times Article about Panama Tourism

Title: In Panama, a taste of the tropics and a new state of mind

Finally! Panama has not had an tourism article in a major US publication  for over two years.

A delightful Los Angeles Times article with a focus on Boquete and Boca Chica.

Check it out here:,0,5687559.story?page=1

Note that a highlight of the authors trip was a rafting trip on the Chiriqui Viejo which may soon not be possible if the hydroelectric companies cannot be convinced to practice water release as is commonly done in other countries.



Canopy Lodge, Panama’s #1 Ecolodge Celebrates 10 Years: Congrats to Raul Arias de Para!

Congrats to Canopy Tower proprietor Raul Arias de Para for putting Panama on the map for ecotourism and world-class birding. Selected again and again as one of the top ecolodges in the world, and praised in the New York Times, National Geographic, the Wall Street Journal and Travel and Leisure,  Canopy Tower is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary.

Canopy Tower has to be the easiest-to-get-to top ecolodge-   just over an hour by car from Panama’s international airport. If you love nature, I highly recommend a stay. Even if you’re a local- Canopy Tower will transform the way you think about the attractions of Panama.

Below are Raul’s own words about his groundbreaking work for the last 10 years.

It is often said that time flies. Indeed, it does! We are close to the end of 2009 and my memory goes back to those days in January of 1999, more than ten years ago, when the first guests arrived at the Canopy Tower. I remember the thrill of seeing the visitors walk up to the Observation Deck for the first time to observe the virgin rainforests of Soberanía National Park, extending for miles in every direction around the Tower. “WOW! Incredible! Amazing!” were the first sounds and words visitors exclaimed. They still do. Nothing has changed in this regard. I remember the immense satisfaction, pride and gratitude I felt when pictures of the Canopy Tower appeared in the National Geographic Magazine (April 2000) and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (January 11, 2000), including a “dot” picture of me with my red Tilley hat—the only Panamanian, other than the infamous General Noriega, to have received such a distinction! My wife, Denise, was at the Paris airport that day waiting for a flight to Panama, and you can imagine her surprise when she picked up the newspaper and saw my picture on the front page!

I also remember the curious combination of exhaustion and exhilaration I felt after the first birders, a VENT group led by Dr. Robert S. Ridgely, departed the Canopy Tower on January 20, 1999, after a hugely successful 7-night tour. I had done everything for that group, from going to the airport and helping in the kitchen, to carrying a scope on the outings, checking the towels in the bathrooms, having breakfast, lunch and dinner with the guests and answering the increasing number of emails coming through that wonderful invention, the internet. I had slept on the living room couch that entire week, as the Tower only had seven bedrooms at the time and all were occupied. Thus, I was the last to retire and the first to be up in the kitchen helping with breakfast. Then, I went immediately up to the Observation Deck, identifying birds with the guests and listening to the “dawn chorus.” When the group finally departed, I fell in bed with a bad cold and slept for 2 0 hours straight—this time in my own bed!

It has been a wonderful decade, in many more ways than one! The Canopy Tower has become an icon in the birding world, a “mecca for bird enthusiasts” (New York Times, April 21, 2002). It is now the core of an ecotourism organization, comprising two very different experiences at two unique eco-lodges (The Canopy Tower and The Canopy Lodge, with a tree-top adventure adjacent)—both employing 47 Panamanians. Additionally, a third lodge is in the dream stage! The wonderful birding at these locales has drawn many thousands of birders to Panama, providing much-needed job opportunities to other ventures. And, most importantly, it has given me the time and resources to invest in conservation causes throughout Panama. In short, it has been a rousing success, thanks to the Almighty God who directs all our actions, to our staff of loyal and dedicated employees and to you, our friends and customers who have chosen the Canopy Tower for your birding vacation.

Come to Panama. We will all be on the lookout for you.

All the best,

Contact Raul:

P.S. The birds are all over the place!


Oct. 13th representing Amcham I was invited to hear Minister Salomon Shamah’s presentation about what Panama’s tourism ministry ( ATP)  accomplished  in the first 100 days. It is quite impressive. These are my unofficial notes:


  1. No one has to pass through migration when you leave Panama! As of mid-November, Panama will be the first country in Latin America to use the same system as the USA and Europe- when you leave Panama you will no longer go through immigration, just a baggage security check.  The extra immigration officers will now all be used to shorten lines for immigration for  incoming passengers.

    2. A tourism hotline has been set up to give info, advise and emergency help.  Tourists call 178 . Operators speak English, Spanish, French and Portuguese If a tourist is in an emergency situation, ATP will send a person from ATP to help the tourist.

    1.  . The tourist card has been eliminated.  It was a hassle for airlines and tourists alike- the $5 will now be charged when a air ticket is bought..


    4. The “Panama 25% Off” low season campaign which brought hundreds of tourist to Panama through a discount program organized with the private sector and promoted by ATP.


    5  The “Casco Viejos” in the provincial cities will be restored and made into tourism attractions beginning with David’s Casco Viejo which includes the church and a museum


    1. A tourism signage project has started beginning with Boquete and Bocas which will help tourists get around town and to the main sights.



    1. With the help of ATP, Google maps of the country are being set up to help tourist find their way around the country. 

    2. Four new charter flights will begin in November from Canada.

    10. A top tourism security expert has been hired by ATP who is holding meeting with hotels and other tourism groups to educate them on how to provide safety to tourists.

    1. ATP is using a new slogan in their ads: “Panama Sorprende”. The great thing is that this slogan translates extremely well into English: A catchy: “Panama Surprises”.Minister Shamah explained that Panama is not branded and that we are not a mature destination where things run smoothly. But Panama does surprise, usually in a  good way but sometimes the surprise won’t be good. But Panama is certainly a surprising country as a tourism destination.

    Nancy Hanna. President and Founder Panama Planner

    Chair of the Tourism Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce

    Make No Mistake! Boquete and Bocas are Now Open for Tourism Business

    Both Boquete and Bocas have recovered from the recent heavy rains and are open and ready for your toursim business. Please find below a report from Bocas- you will see that Bocas is now ready to receive tourists.


    Boquete is Ready for Tourists: I just spent 3 days in Boquete where I visited all the tourism areas.The road from David to Boquete is in perfect condition. The new bridge across the Caldera River is also in perfect shape. Everything in Boquete is gloriously green and fresh after all that rain. It is a great time to go now to both Boquete and Bocas.


    Report: Bocas is Ready for Tourists

    The Bocas Archipelago is relatively unscathed from recent weather calamities in our region. Compared to the Bocas Del Toro Provincia mainland, which suffered substantial damage, our living conditions remain in a normal status.

    Today, the road is open. We are currently able to truck all commodities and, every 30-minutes, bus all travelers.

    Our major problem is perception. Tourists, wishing to visit the Bocas Archipelago, have inaccurate information regarding our preparedness to accommodate them. News media are not differentiating between the Bocas Del Toro Provincia mainland and the Bocas Archipelago, leading to the erroneous belief that the Archipelago is in a disaster condition. That perception is very far for reality. As said, the only difficulty in the Archipelago has been temporary supply interruption.

    Be assured, Bocas is open for business. Be informed, all hotels, restaurants, shops, water sports and eco activities are ready to serve guests.

    There are no reported deaths or injuries on Isla Bocas or other archipelago islas caused by recent heavy rains.

    Bocas Bomberos report no significant emergencies or damages from fire or flood.

    We have piped water; while the system is being upgraded, water in some areas may be off for a few hours. We have electricity, with enough fuel to run the power plant for at least one month.

    We have land line and cellular phone service, Internet connection, and cash in ATM’s.

    We have ample propane gas in tanks. Gasoline for cars and motored boats is arriving at our two stations in frequency and quantities sufficient to serve our needs.

    Stores are well stocked with fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, staple foods and bottled water. Supply may run low, depending on deliverability, but lately we have not run out of anything.

    Our two water taxi services offer transit to/from Almirante every half-hour; service to Changuinola is suspended pending canal clearing.

    Aeroperlas, AirPanama, NatureAir offer regular scheduled flights in/out in good weather. Service is meeting travelers’ needs. No passengers are stranded at our airport.

    Our medicine supply is well stocked by Panama Health Ministry; other health aids are available at private pharmacies. Recently and now, there are no health hazards anywhere in Panama.

    Panama Tourism at a Crossroads/ The Relentness Destruction of Panama’s Forests

    These are comments I made as President of the Tourism Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce at the Amcham tourism forum Sept. 10th.

    It is time for Panama to decide to become the eco- tourism destination it is meant to be and also to take serious measures to stop the relentless destruction of its forests.

    Nancy Hanna

    The title of this forum is“Panama Tourism at a Crossroads” Why? Because now that we have all the basics in place, it is time to decide on what kind of tourism destination Panama should become. When I first began to promote tourism to Panama 10 years ago, I thought Panama would naturally copy Costa Rica in becoming an ecotourism destination but even better because Panama has even more eco destinations than CR, plus more beaches and Indian cultures, history and an attractive capital city. So I thought -this is great- Panama will copy all the good CR has done and learn from the errors- but after 10 years not much has happened, especially in regard to Panama’s becoming a eco-destination. Right now, most of our tourists are coming for business or shopping …80% of our tourists stay in Panama City, about 10% get out to Decameron area, at most 10% go to attractions in the interior like Bocas or Boquete etc. In CR it is the opposite- 90% of their tourists do not stay in San Jose- but get out to the attractions outside the city.

    In CR, the president made a decision that CR would be a ecotourism destination and they have been wildly successful. Panama has not made that decision.

    In fact, Panama’s nature is being destroyed . It is losing 48,000 hectares of forest each year mostly through burning and indiscriminate logging. At the current rate of destruction, in 40 years we won’t have any more forests- a situation with serious ecological consequences not only for tourism but for the beauty of Panama, the climate and the Canal watershed among other things.

    Why have we not done as CR? Ecotourism and tourism is the # 1 business for CR- it is just about the only game in town. Panama hasn’t done the same as CR because Panama is very blessed – it has so much else going on business-wise- the Canal, the free zone, the banking sector, its growing position as a logistical and regional business capital etc. Because Panama tourism is not Panama’s only income earner, while private enterprise did a lot to promote tourism, the government did not do serious work for make tourism happen until Minister Blades came along.

    Today I would like to propose that Panama do what it takes become an ecotourism destination. There are strong arguments that this is the best and most desirable kind of tourism. Several presentations during this forum will speak to this issue.

    For ecotourism, Panama’s greatest natural treasures are its national parks –Soberania, Bastimientos in Bocas, Coiba, Amistad y Volcan Baru and the Darien. 4 years ago I brought to this forum to speak the head of CR’s National Parks- after making a major investment in an attractive visitor infrastructure in their national parks, CR makes a profit of 20 million dollars a year from their national parks.

    Costa Rica’s success shows us that when Panama develops a national park infrastructure the valued eco-tourists will come.

    To conclude I would like to take this opportunity to announce that the American Chamber of Commerce- the tourism committee and the our strong environmental committee with the support of the Board is working on a professional proposal for the president of Panama for a National Park visitor infrastructure, an infrastructure which will generate thousands of jobs and businesses for the people in the interior of the country and generate the funds to preserve Panama’s extraordinary nature .

    Tourism Minister Ruben Blades: Great Achievements for Tourism and a 21st Century Model of a Patriot

    Below are the comments I made about Minister Ruben Blades in his presence at the Sept. 11th American Chamber of Commerce Tourism Forum at the Sheraton attended by 380 persons.

    Panama is very, very fortunate to have had Minister Blades as tourism minister these crucial years. I don’t know anybody else who had the clout to get done what needed to be done. See below for details.


    “I would like to take this opportunity to thank Minister Blades for all he has achieved for tourism.

    If Panama was to become a major tourism destination, the government had to do certain basic things. First IPAT had to become an independent, professional authority- with all the powers a tourism authority needs. Minister Blades you accomplished that. Secondly, Panama needed a professional, comprehensive tourism master plan, one that would not be thrown out with each change of government. Minister Blades you accomplished that. Third, IPAT needed a system where substantial funds for a promotional budget are available every year without stopping. Minister Blades you accomplished that. Among your many other accomplishments, you solved the tour operators’ decades long transportation problem and you created a more lean and mean and professional IPAT office. Because of these institutionalized accomplishments, the government of Panama for the first time is in a true position develop and promote tourism.

    We didn’t see you at too many social events…You used all your enormous energy, personal celebrity, moral authority, your sharp business skills and your artistic genius to create an IPAT that could do its job. I have heard so many really interesting stories of the things you have done behind the scenes to help tourism projects that would be good for Panama.

    And perhaps most importantly you haven given Panama a modern day example of a true patriot. To be tourism minister these five years, you sacrificed your music career and millions of dollars in personal income. I am told this is unprecedented in Panama’s history. Thank you for your sacrifice, your example, your accomplishments Minister Blades.”

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