Panama is a country on the isthmus linking Central and South America. The Panama Canal, a famous feat of human engineering, cuts through its center, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to create an essential shipping route. In the capital, Panama City, modern skyscrapers, casinos and nightclubs contrast with colonial buildings in the Casco Viejo district and the rainforest of Natural Metropolitan Park.
Playa Las Lajas
Playa Las Lajas is a beautiful beach that extends for more than 13 km (8 miles) along the Gulf of Chiriqui on the Pacific Coast. With little current and perfect water temperatures, Las Lajas is ideal for swimming and bodysurfing. Rustic shacks and cheap restaurants are clustered on the beach at the end of the road. For now it remains a hidden treasure still undiscovered by the large hotel chains and hordes of tourists.
Following the destruction of the old city in 1671, Casco Viejo was built as a walled city on a peninsula a few kilometers away from Panama Viejo to protect its settlers against future pirate attacks. At the beginning of the 20th century Casco Viejo formed the entire city but as Panama City expanded, the city’s elite abandoned Casco Viejo, and the neighborhood rapidly deteriorated. However, following an ambitious reclamation of this colonial district in recent years, it has regained some of its former glory and has become one of the main tourist attractions in Panama City.
Indigenous peoples populated the Pearl Islands until Spanish Conquistadors discovered the archipelagos’ wealth of pearls in the 1500s. The islands gained new popularity after being featured on the reality television show Survivor. The islands feature lush forests surrounded by white sandy beaches. Contadora Island is the most developed of the Pearl Islands, with several resorts and an airstrip. Visitors can charter private yachts to cruise and explore the islands.
Panama Viejo (Old Panama) contains the remaining ruins of the first Spanish city on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Founded by Pedro Arias de Avila on 15 August 1519, the city was the starting point of the expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru. Most of the gold and silver that Spain took from the Incas passed through here. In 1671 the pirate Henry Morgan sacked the city with 1,400 men marching from the Caribbean coast across the jungle and today only the bits and pieces that Morgan left can be admired.