Panama is one of those places that is easy to fall in love with, which is why so many Americans choose it as a place to retire. It has all of the amenities that we are used to; they have great hospitals, most people speak English, they use the US dollar and you can get a pizza when you need a fix. When you combine that with all of the things that make Panama great, you get a paradise. Things like; the weather is amazing, the food is great and the opportunities to eat healthy, natural foods are abundant and cheap.
The capital, Panama City, is a very modern city with tall building and tons of things to do. If you visit, the first thing you will want to do is visit the canal. It is a spectacular site with an interesting history and an even more interesting set of operational procedures. The precision with which the ships are moved through the canal is amazing.
The ships are guided by trains that are 100 years old and with only 1 foot clearance on either side. One wrong move and the ship can be damaged resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. It is a nerve wrecking job. The toll to past through the canal can range from $100,000 US dollars for small cruise ships to a million plus for large container ships. Oh and by the way, they only take cash!
Another recommendation is to take a tour to visit the native people that still live on protected land. A short canoe ride out to their village is relaxing and filled with sightings of wild animals.
The sights and sounds of the forest are also exciting. You may see a toucan sitting on a branch, get a visit from a hungry monkey or get a chance to hold a snake.
You may even get to see young caiman swimming around, with their mom no where in sight. It is a little scary because you can feel her watching you, daring you to touch!
After being surrounded by scary animals for a couple hours you may get hungry from all the excitement. The food in the village is very tasty and as authentic as it gets, don’t expect a plate, knife and fork because it is served on a banana leaf!
While eating make sure to take a look above you to scan the ceiling for bats. You are out in the rain forest after all and you don’t want to get any guano in your food.
Once you get over your fear of guano seasoning in your food, you might get lucky and the village girls will dance for you while you enjoy your freshly caught fish and plantains.
Another great day trip is out to the old Spanish fort, which are very similar to the ones in Florida, in the nearby town of Portobelo in the Colón Province.
One of the most interesting sites in the town is the Cristo Negro (Black Christ) with an crazy supernatural story which you can read here. Apparently the famous boxer, Roberto Durán has purchased over 10,000 dollars worth of robes for the Cristo Negro and there are times of the year when worshipers crawl on the bellies for miles to the church where it’s located.
Once you leave there you can charter a short boat ride on one of the near by islands. There you will find nice beaches to hang out and swim or take part in an adventure along the rocky shores.
Many of these islands are mountainous, so if you’re in shape you can even consider a hike to the top. Along the way you may even run into some leaf cutter ants.
At the top, these spectacular views of the coastline will take your breath away.
If you get the chance to make the trip to Panama you will enjoy yourself, I have gone twice and look forward to going again. Who knows, I might one day join the many expatriates and retire there.