This month I haphazardly ended up in Panama. Desperate for a few days off from the old cotton field, I jumped at the idea of accompanying a friend to Central America for a few days.

Smack in the middle, between North and South America is the lush republic of Panama. Though most of the country’s GDP stems from the Panama Canal, there is a palpable commitment to hospitality and tourism. The country’s wealth is astonishing. In fact, Panama has the largest and fastest growing economy in all of Central America and it’s dollar is at equal value with U.S. currency. All outlets accept and mostly disperse the U.S. dollar.

While Panama is not one of Central America’s most popular tourist destinations, they have and continue to make several strides to cater to their visitors. Upon arrival to the airport, each visitor receives a tourist card. Tourists are encouraged to keep this card on them at all times.  For 30 days, visitors are provided generous insurance options that include emergency dental care, hospitalization, and even return flights home. Prior to travel, tourism boards stipulate proof of access to $500 in cash in order to granted entrance to the city, this is by no means true, so don’t sweat it.

IMG_0942The most popular Panamanian destinations are Panama City, Colon, Boquete, Gamboa and El valle de anton, respectively. As a first time visitor, it is best to first explore the country’s bustling capital, Panama city. If you are looking for beautiful white sand beaches, a full on immersion of culture, and authentic eateries, you won’t find that here. One of the most beautiful but simultaneously tragic things about Panama is how indistinguishable the culture is. The city’s ethnically blended people are so beautiful. Chances are if someone isn’t walking around with a fanny pack and a huge SLR-camera around their necks, it’s hard to decipher whether or not their locals.  The city is also very Americanized. Desperate for authentic Panamanian eateries, our options were few.  Mediterranean and Peruvian cuisines are very popular in Panama. I was astonished by how difficult it was to find some Sancocho (the islands national dish-chicken soup).

Panama City is home to one of the Wonders of the World, which in itself makes it worth the trip. Though at its core lies a rather impressive skyline, the city is not a bustling metropolitan. It instead exudes a safe and pleasant laissez-faire approach to living. Another great thing about planning a Panamanian trip is that the costs are minimal. A cab ride will cost you just about a $1/mile. You can enjoy a large cup of fresh -from the sea- ceviche for just $3, and a large Corvina fillet with sides for just $8. Club/Bar covers are  also free or at most $10. Be sure to visit one of Central America’s gems before much more of it’s culture is lost.

For more on this trip and a detailed 4 night itinerary,  see the Venture|To Panama City post.

  All images © 2014 Donnatilda Tabana.