5 Reasons to Visit Panama in 2011

1.        Pirates.

Henry Morgan

Henry Morgan

Where did all that Inca gold go?  To Portobelo, Panama.

Set between the Carribean coast and thick jungle,  the town of Portabelo was chosen for its strategically defensive position.  That didn’t stop it being ridiculously attractive to pirates who peppered the history of Portabelo with attacks for two hundred years until 1761,  when pirate Henry Morgan totally sacked the place.  Though Portabelo itself is no beauty, there are still enough remains of forts and the city’s past to relive the days of the pirates.  Hharrr!

2.       Parque de Amistad:

A huge, spectacularly varied park straddling Costa Rica and Panama.  From jungly, damp cloud forest to shrubby paramo above 3200m the diversity and strategic importance of the park is what makes it a UNESCO World Heritage site.  There is a huge range of flora and fauna such as tapirs, jaguar and puma, quetzal and harpy eagle, spider and howler monkey.  Much of the park is not accessible but around centers like Volcan and Changuinola there is  ample opportunity to hike, ride or otherwise explore the park.

3.       The Bridge of Life Museum.

The Bridge of Life Museum, Panama

The Bridge of Life Museum

The Bridge here being the bridge between the two American continents, the bridge between two oceans and the bridge between the environment, people, the arts and science: all represented in this innovative new museum to be opened in Sept 2011.  Frank Ghery who also brought us the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, has designed a collection of colorful pavilions,  together representing the forces of nature at work.  The museum will be a spectacular, interactive space surrounded by landscaped gardens and set on Amador Causeway.  Although the museum is not open yet, you can join the likes of Al Gore, Angelina Joley and Brad Pitt and sign up for one of the museum’s Friday talks and tours of the work in progress.

4.       Bocas del Toro Archipelago

Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro

A collection of beautiful islands set in azure blue waters; with coral reefs, white sandy beaches, a laid-back Caribbean vibe, and there’s even a few surf breaks.  What more could you ask for?  Even the main town of Boca is still fairly laid back: though this won’t continue once the secret of the Bocas del Toro paradise gets out.

5.       Panama Canal

A massive project that has changed the face of world trade, the Panama Canal is surely a wonder of modern engineering.  Thousands died of diseases in the building of this cut through the Isthmus of Panama,  to this day it transports 4% of all goods traded in the world, and it is still being enlarged.   You can take a trip through the six locks that lift huge container ships 85 feet (25.9m) up over the Continental Divide and down into the ocean on the other side.   The canal surely defines Panama and its people and is a must-see in Latin America.

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