(Pozoni.com) Panama is a marvellous little nation. At just 47,897 square km (29,762 square miles), Panama has the second largest import and redistribution centre in the world (due almost entirely to its canal which moves over 15,000 million-plus ton ships each year), boasts an international banking centre with more than 100 banks, the highest per capita income of its region, has a literacy rate of more than 90 per cent and an inflation rate of only 1.2 per cent. It also has some of the world’s most bio-diverse rain forests, over 1,000 bird species and more than 5 million acres (2 million hectares) of national parks.
Aside from its role in world economics, Panama is increasingly becoming known for its myriad of rain forests, relatively untouched indigenous peoples, pre-Columbian artefacts and ruins, hundreds of islands, 780 km (484 miles) of Caribbean coastline and 1,200 km (745 miles) of Pacific beaches, peaks towering to 3,500 metres (1,148 feet) and lush hill country and valleys formed by extinct volcanoes.
Panama, unlike many other countries with equatorial rain forests, depends upon rainfall to maintain the water level of its economic lifeblood, the canal. Over ten per cent of the land is part of a protective network of national parks, harbouring more than 10,000 species of trees, 950 species of orchids, over 100 types of palms and 800 bird species.
Panama City, the capital, even hosts Metropolitan Park, a rain forest within its city limit. Visitors are welcome in the Smithsonian Institution’s Tropical Research Centre (Barro Colorado Island), open to the public for a nominal admission charge. The city is actually ‘three’ cities: the modern capital with its skyscrapers, sprawling highways and sleek waterfront luxury apartments; the 17th century Casco Viejo, which is the chic colonial section being lovingly restored; and Panama Viejo, the ruins of the 16th century city where the Spanish settlers established themselves.
Ecotourism agencies are abundant and eager to take visitors to see toucans, macaws and endangered Harpie eagles, to name just a few. From Panama City, it’s less than an hour to the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, where you can spy from a close distance on exotic tropical birds and animals from a 100-foot nature observatory tower.
Finally, be sure to visit the San Blas Islands, a palm-bedecked 300-plus island archipelago stretching across approximately 200 miles of the country’s Caribbean coastline. This area is particularly noted for its world-class diving and snorkelling, and with over 500 species of fish found in Panama your eyes are surely in for a treat!