The Sunny Ciudad
As the capital of an isthmus country that’s already in between two huge continents, it can be said that Panama City is really at the middle of it all. Magazines have ranked the city as one of the best places to retire but that certainly doesn’t exclude it from holding a surprise or two for casual tourists.
Canals and Conquistadors
Spanish conquistadors first landed on the shores of Panama in 1501, on the coast of Darien. Permission was soon given to colonize the new land and, two decades after they arrived, the Spaniards transferred camp to the Pacific shore – the first European city to do so – where the city now stands at the mouth of the Panama Canal. The name ‘panama’ is believed to have come from a native expression meaning an abundance of fish.
The city – and the rest of the country – remained under Spanish control for 283 years. And while the Spaniards established much of the country’s educational system, Panama fought for freedom like many of its Spanish-controlled neighbors in the 19th century. In 1903, Panama allowed the United States to build the canal, which eventually cemented the importance of the city.
A Panamanian Tour
Visitors to Panama usually go for one of two things: the views of nature or the cultural venues in the city. Tourists wanting the former should go to places like Las Bóvedas, a promenade that extends into the Pacific and which offers some fantastic views of the surf. There’s also the Parque Natural Metropolitano alongside the canal, which is home to exotic local species. At the entrance of the Parque is the Smithsonian Institute-managed Marine Exhibitions Center.
Those looking for the latter should begin their search at the French Embassy, around which many landmarks are located. There’s the building of the National Institute of Culture, as well as several local restaurants. The towering structure at the Plaza de la Catedral is also worth visiting. All these places can be found within the area locally known as Casco Viejo.
History can be found at Panama La Vieja or Old Panama, where many landmarks, monuments and structures from the Spanish era still stand. Like Casco Viejo, Old Panama has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the history that’s contained there. It contains relics of the history of Panama stretching from the 16th to the 19th century.
Partying in Panama
While Panama is a tourist destination all throughout the calendar year, many go to the city just for the Carnival every February. It is the biggest celebration in the country, Panama’s own version of Mardi Gras with a Pan-American twist. There’s another Carnival – the sequel to the one in February – the next month. Meanwhile, January is the month for the Panama Jazz Festival, a week-long event full of musicians and live performances.
The city of Panama is one with a rich cultural heritage and an even richer history behind it. With much to see and do in the Panamanian capital, visitors rarely sit down and idle, no matter how excellent the hotel accommodations might be.