April 3, 2014

Panama – both a parallel and a Dichotomy of Costa Rica

Schricker,-Mary-Dec2010By Mary Schricker Gemberling

After our adventure filled week in Costa Rica, we flew to Panama for the second leg of our trip. Panama, the southernmost country of Central America, is situated on an isthmus and acts as a biological land bridge between North and South America. Our first three days in Panama were spent in the Bocas Del Toro province just 120 miles south of Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica, an earlier destination in our Central American tour. A 45 minute boat ride took us to Popa Paradise. The resort, although appearing to be primitive, offered all the needed comforts and a variety of activities and excursions. After dolphin watching and snorkeling off Coral Key, we were taken on a jungle tour at Punta Solare, where we once again viewed the rain forest canopy and became acutely aware of the similarities of the fauna and flora of these two countries. The following day we climbed aboard the Popa Paradise catamaran and sailed across the crystal clear water to a local indigenous community on the fringe of Red Frog Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

The next destination in Panama was Finca Lerida Ecolodge, located in the middle of a coffee plantation near Boquete Panama, known as the “Valley of the flowers.” Boquete, nestled in the western highlands of Panama, shares some of the same mountain ranges with Costa Rica, as well as some of the incredible rain forests and wildlife. Its temperate climate, moderate prices, and carefree living have made it a popular retirement spot for boomers worldwide. The Boquete Valley is rich with agriculture as well as strawberries, oranges, and coffee. Finca Lerida produces the famous “geisha” coffee, which sells for hundreds of dollars a pound to the Japanese. Needless to say our morning cup of Jo was much less costly but nevertheless doled out frugally. One highlight of our visit was the International Flower and Coffee Festival. Acres upon acres of vibrant, multicolored flowers painted one of the most amazing natural canvases I have ever seen.

Our final days in Panama were spent at the Las Clementinas, in the UNESCO World Heritage Site historic district of Panama City. Our English-speaking guide was so knowledgeable and passionate about the city. As we walked and drove through neighborhoods old and new, we learned about the history of the largest city in Panama. With a metropolitan population of just over one million people, he explained that Panama City is the political and administrative center of the country. Originally founded in 1519, the city was the starting point for expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru. The original city was destroyed by fire in 1671, but the remains of these ruins, Panama Viejo, was part of our tour. The mix of architectural styles found throughout the old neighborhoods reflects the city’s cultural diversity. The second major tourist attraction in the city is its old quarter, Casco Antiquo which is undergoing major restoration.

The city’s number one tourist attraction is, of course, the Panama Canal. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut greatly reduced the amount of time needed for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. We watched several ships lock through the canal, and learned the details of the operations and immeasurable economic impact on both Panama and the entire world. The canal is now undergoing an immense expansion projected to be completed sometime in 2015.

As our journey came to an end, we reflected on both the similarities and differences between Costa Rica and Panama. Both have similar topography and exotic plants, birds and wildlife, as well as temperate climates. The main differences seemed to lie in the extent of Americanism and level of sophistication. While Panama is practically new to tourism, Costa Rica has been pushing tourism since the 70s. As a result, with the exception of Panama City, Panama was far more primitive and less developed. Language was a huge barrier, with very few Panamanians even in the service industry speaking English. Despite any similarities or differences our trip was a wonderful adventure to a picturesque and diverse part of our world!

Mary, a retired educator and former Seniors Real Estate Specialist, is the author of two books, The West End Kid and Labor of Love; My Personal Journey Through the World of Caregiving
(available at www.amazon.com ).

Filed Under: Personal Growth