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By Matt Landau
February 7, 2007
New eco-destination reveals that hunting with century-old indian tribes, spelunking through mysterious jungle caves, and exploring secluded Caribbean islands isn’t just reserved for Hollywood anymore.
With its teeming rainforests, hidden beaches, and rich history and culture, the tiny isthmus that was once only known for a Canal, is now making sound waves as perhaps the most authentic travel destination in Central America. Over the past few years, thousands and thousands of visitors have been flocking to Panama, the literal and figurative crossroads of the Americas, and the trend doesn’t appear to be letting up.
Panama’s high safety rating, tropical climate, and retirement incentives are drawing more and more visitors from the States everyday. Condos in cosmopolitan Panama City overlooking the Pacific Ocean for $200,000? Beach houses within walking distance from white sand beaches, $110,000? Giant tracts of oceanfront land selling at $0.25 per square meter? They sound too good to be true, but thanks to Panama’s low cost of living and still relatively young real estate sector, anyone can get a piece of the action. Pair that with its Costa Rica allure of secret waterfalls, uninhabited beaches, and spectacular wildlife to see why the growth in Panama in 2006 was bigger than any country in the region.
“You have to visit Panama to believe it” says Casey Halloran, owner of Panama Luxury Vacations, an American-style travel agency with offices in Panama. “By the time your vacation is up, you’ll feel like you’re on the inside of some travel secret”. With experience in Costa Rica, Halloran believes Panama is destined for greatness, if not having achieved it already. He’s quick to point out though, that things aren’t always as good as they seem. “As always for a developing or emerging country, you’re going to hit a lot of snags. Immoral practices are like snowballs in that once they start rolling, they become hard to stop, so you need to address them at inception.”
Panama has worked hard over the past decade to rid itself of the Noriega stigma that so many people still blindly refer to. The government has cleaned up its act, personal safety in the country is better than ever, and the expansion of the Panama Canal as well as a new seat on the UN Security Council will be drawing more international attention than ever—a watchdog-like effect that is sure to encourage good behavior.
See the nation’s deeply-rooted history in age-old ruins outside the City’s metropolitan skyline. Visit the Kuna Indians, a tribe who’ve fought off colonials for nearly 500 years, who now offer eco-resorts within their own private 360-island archipelago. Walk through the telling streets of Casco Viejo, the old city, where pirates like Henry Morgan stomped and trudged long long ago. And of course, how could we forget Panama’s biggest treasure and undoubtedly its greatest shortcut, the Panama Canal. For a country that’s long been a melting pot of culture, it appears that the world’s vacation and real estate trend-setters are now eyeing Panama as the hotbed for development.
Still partially considered a travel secret, the Caribbean and Pacific shores of Panama lie hushed, awaiting what will presumably be the fastest and most powerful tourism growth in Central America. The country’s capital, Panama City boasts a Miami-esque nightlife, the restaurant scene is innovative and constantly reinventing itself, the ocean-front banking skyline conjures up images of a young Argentina, and the cobblestone streets of Casco Viejo evoke a breezy afternoon Cuban charm. “Panama today is hotter than it’s ever been” Halloran says, “and for a secret that’s been kept quiet for so long, it’s about time we let it out.”
Matt Landau is the Founder of The Panama Report, a website designed to reveal the truth about traveling to Panama. To join the hordes of visitors uncovering the secret that is Panama, go online to www.thepanamareport.com and decide whether it’s really all it’s cracked up to be today.