The Golden Frog, symbol of Panama, is nearly extinct, making it that much more compelling for some to see. A current effort to revitalize the frog is being led by a Smithsonian research team based in the lovely mountain resort town of El Valle de Anton (El Valle for short) near to where the frog last had its natural habitat. The cumulative efforts to revive the frog are known as Project Golden Frog. In addition to Panama efforts, a major participant in the revitalization project is the San Diego zoo.
People often visit Panama but only see Panama City which does not have nice beaches. But leave Panama City and there are very nice beaches tucked away in hard to access places. Many people make a tradeoff of quality for accessibility. Some do it without knowing the options. So here’s the lowdown.
In Panama City itself, two beaches are worth a mention — Veracruz beach and Playa Bonita. Both are on the banks of the Canal and neither are particularly good. About two hours away by fast ferry are the beautiful beaches of Contadora. Still most tourists drive to the beaches around Playa Blanca (about one and one-half hours west of Panama City) because of their all-inclusive hotels. The beaches are not ideal due to strong undercurrents and cold Pacific waters.
I admit, I am conflicted. Should indigenous tribes change their way of life to satisfy tourism demands when tourism is their main source of income?
I’m in one of seven Embera indigenous villages located in the Panama Canal water basin. These native tribes live in the jungle on the banks of the Chagres River that feeds the Canal, without electricity, plumbing, nor cell phone service. Accessible by dugout canoe in one hour from Panama City, this is the only part of undeveloped Panama that can be easily reached from developed Panama.
Two fascinating early American churches in close proximity to each other are in easily accessible Panama, a lot closer than Europe.
Atalaya, Panama, about a half-hour drive west of Santiago, is home to an annual pilgrimage for Panamanians from around the predominantly Catholic country. Like many of the religious ceremonies throughout Latin America, it has a rich history and is fascinating to witness.
In international competitions, the best coffee isn’t a brand you know because these best coffees are grown and roasted in small quantities and do not sell to the mass market.
I wanted to understand what makes an award-winning coffee, so I visited a high-quality coffee farm in the highlands of western Panama, close to Costa Rica. Usually black coffee has a slightly bitter taste to me. Not so for the coffee made at Finca La Milagrosa (Miracle Farm) run by proprietor Tito Vargas, in Boquete, a town favored by ex-patriates for its cool climate despite being in the tropics and close to the equator.
Havana versus Panama City skyline
Sometimes I think it’s interesting to compare travel destinations. Today, I thought I’d compare Cuba and Panama. Traveling to either in a package will cost about the same, except that it may be cheaper to fly to Panama from Dallas since you currently have to fly to Cuba through Miami.
Feeling molafied is actually a made-up thing. In Panama, you see the mola everywhere–to the point that you have been overrun with them, thus “molafied.”
The mola is a distinctive artisanal product of the Kuna Yala (or Guna Yala) indigenous group that inhabits the San Blas island archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean near Colombia, technically a part of Panama, but actually an autonomous region. The mola is the most recognizable product of Panama other than, perhaps, the “Panama hat,” which in reality is from Ecuador.
If you travel to Panama (and you should) you should try to get to the San Blas islands, difficult as it is. If you can’t get there, at least visit the store I will describe. Here’s the story.
First discovered in 2011, scientists, including some from the National Geographic Society, are just beginning to uncover graves and a huge burial city near Nata, Panama, about three hours west of Panama City. The mosquito infected area sits in a triangle bordered by the Pacific Ocean and two rivers. On many busy days, archaeologists from institutions around the world are at work excavating on-site. On other days, such as the day I visited, the archaeologists are busy in a Panama City lab analyzing massive amounts of excavated material.