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Panama has not quite made it onto 'the Latin America tourism trail' and is sometimes referred to as one of the best kept secrets for eco-tourists who really want to get off the beaten track. Many people still associate it with the political atrocities committed under the dictatorship of General Noriega. He has been gone for 10 years now and presently the political situation is fairly stable.
Panama is a relatively small country, yet its position, linking Central and South America has placed it in a position of pivotal importance regarding its role in the strategic control of the region ever since it was first 'discovered' and claimed for the Spanish Crown. The most potent symbol of this strategic power position is manifest in the famous Panama canal, which still ranks as one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century.
The topography of this small country is unusually varied. The 50m long Panama canal lies in the rainforest lowlands. It divides the country into eastern and western parts. The flat Caribbean coastline is skirted by numerous islands, most notably the archipelagos of the San Blas and Bocas del Toro chains. Two mountain chains run through the center of the country. Volcán Barú, at 11400 ft is the highest peak. Much of the central lowlands, as well as the eastern and northwestern regions are covered in rainforest.
When the Spaniards first invaded Panama there were about 60 different Panaman tribes who populated the region. Today the predominant population group are Mestizo, some 14% are of African descent, 10% Spanish and the rest Mulatto, Panaman and American. The largest indigenous groups that are left are the Chocó, the Cuna and the Guaymi. Most people speak English and Spanish though some Panaman languages also survive. The people are said to be incredibly hospitable, friendly and welcoming towards travelers.
Panama actually boasts a far greater amount of biodiversity and protected habitats than Costa Rica, with less tourists there to try and view it. It also offers some of the best opportunities for snorkeling, birding and deep-sea fishing in the world.
Off the shore of both the Caribbean and the Pacific coast line lie many unspoiled islands, some of which are protected as marine wildlife parks and nature reserves, while others have simply managed to escape development and remain in a near pristine state.
WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Large tracts of the Darien region in the south, bordering Columbia, are also set aside as nature reserves and national parks. However, this region is quite dangerous and excursions should never be attempted alone. Go well prepared with a competent guide and plenty of insect repellent.
For more information on national parks in Panama check http://www.pa/turismo/ecoturismo/park.html
Panamá offers almost every conceivable opportunity for adventure travelers, from hiking, trekking, jungle excursions, bird watching, volcano climbing, diving, snorkeling, etc. etc. Check out our range of specially featured trips! Excursions run from soft-adventure half day trips to extreme adventure several day treks. Horseback riding, hiking, bird watching, volcano climbing and more.
Panamá is a festive country and her people love their fiestas. Apart from the official holidays which are largely based on the Christian festival calendar, there are numerous local fiestas celebrating various local Saints or traditional regional holidays. The black people and indigenous groups also celebrate various festivals peculiar to their cultures. For particular dates check with the local IPAT office.
Being very close to the equator, seasons in Panama don't vary greatly, though they can be divided into two distinct periods. The dry season lasts from January to mid-April and the rainy season from mid-April to December. The Caribbean side of the highlands receives the heaviest rainfall. Most people tend to live on the Pacific side of the country. The lowlands can be oppressively hot and sweltering with temperatures ranging from 70°F (night) to 90°F (day). The mountains offer cooling relief at temperatures between 50°-64°F.
Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens and most other nationalities do need to obtain a visa and a tourist card (available from embassies and airlines serving Panama) in advance. Citizens of the Spain, Finland, UK, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras can stay up to three months without a visa or tourist card if they have an onward ticket and sufficient funds.Embassy of the Republic of Panama 2862 McGill Terrace, NW, Washington DC 20008 Telephone: (202) 483-1407
Asociacion de Conservacion de la Naturaleza (Ancon)Calle 53, (1 Block South of Argentina, North of Espana), Bella Vista, Apdo 1387 Panama 1 Ph: 64- 1836
Smithonian Tropical Research InstituteBox 2072 Balboa, Panama Ph: 27-6022
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