In July of 2018, I had the pleasure of training teachers in wonderful Panama city. It was my first time to this central American gem, and having learned some background in their history because of its close association with the US, I was really excited to visit. This particular training was unique since all the teachers on the training were heading in 2019 to Central and South America. In just a short 5-day trip, I started to get a sense on why Panama has been receiving such a boost in tourism over the last 10 years. From jungles to coastlines to an unbelievable canal, Panama has a little bit of everything.
Panama Canal is such a modern marvel of human ingenuity. Our group got an behind the scenes personal tour of the Miraflores Canal Locks. These are the older locks as they have started to transition to a larger set up locks (you can see the boat in the distance in the picture on the right). At the Miraflores locks, vessels are lifted (or lowered) 54 feet allowing them to transit across the "Bridge of the Americas," which connects North and South America. The idea of the canal was originally led by French architect Ferdinand de Lesseps (he created the Suez Canal) but after tropical disease and economic hardship the project was taken over by President Teddy Roosevelt and the Americans in 1903. Originally costing a one time payment of 10 million dollars, Americans were given a 10 mile stretch to create the canal and it was completed in 1914. Costing over 350 million dollars, it was the largest US construction project in its history. It was finally given control to the country of Panama in 1999. Today more than 14,000 ships go through the multiple locks, and it a must see on your trip to Panama!
Now after the Panama Canal, I wasn't really sure what Panama had to offer, but I was amazed with its variety. One of my favorite things to do was visit the old colonial district known as Casco Viejo. Preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Casco Viejo was established around 1673 by mainly the Spanish colonialists and the Catholic Church. Walking around these narrow streets takes you to another world, seemingly very distant from bustling metropolis city even though you are just minutes away (well depending on traffic).
About 50 miles outside of Panama City is the Province of Colon where the town of Portobelo is located. We got to visit the wonderful ruins that are right on the water and they served as a defense position for the Spanish silver and gold trade in the 16th - 18th centuries. This was the site that famous pirates such as Sir Francis Drake and Captain Henry Morgan battled for control of the key strategic town.
We even got to take a boat ride out to a small island where we went snorkeling and kayaking. Got to try out my new GoPro for the picture on the right as I got to squeeze through a small overpass.
From a wonderful bio diversity museum (pictured left) to a walk through a rain forest (pictured right) Panama has so much to offer and I can't wait to go back!