Here’s the good news: After 10 days in Panama I have so much to share with you about my family reunion that I have been confuddled on how to condense it for the purpose of a blog and not a book. So I’ve decided to make this a two-part series. Today I’ll share with you my initial thoughts on the country, what surprised me on the trip, and the best time of year to travel there.
The small Central American country of Panama is remarkable as it borders the Atlantic (Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Oceans. The country, which was discovered by Columbus and defended by the Spanish in the 1500s, has also seen the influence of the Columbians, French and Americans.
What surprised me: Surprising to me is how new tourism is to Panama. Only since 2000 has the country begun to market itself as a destination. In fact, the country’s leadership has ambitions for the transcontinental spot to become a hub for central and South Americans from which to cruise and fly and development is underway for a major cruise and convention facility on the Pacific side of the country.
I’ve also heard stories for years of Panama because it is the birthplace of my mother-in-law, an American born in the U.S. Canal Zone of Panama. The country has been through much change, political struggle, and growth since then with more than three million people living on the isthmus. The U.S. Canal Zone no longer exists and the picturesque towns, homes and shops remaining have deteriorated with time and lack of care (but the history is absolutely fascinating).
There is a stark contrast between wealth and poverty with beautiful skyscraping condominiums jockeying for an ocean view amongst the dilapidated shops and apartments of the country’s poor majority. But, you can see the revitalization efforts underway, especially in cities like Colon. And the country is beautiful, its resources are enviable, and its people are friendly.
When to go: The dry season is January to mid-March. The rainy season is April through December with average rainfall totaling 200 inches annually. We went in August and it did rain every day. Most days, showers were in the early morning or the evening and only lasted an hour or so. The rain feeds the rivers, powers electricity and the important Canal. Shoulder seasons of December and late-March are also a great time to visit.
I’ll post Part II of my family reunion on Tuesday and tell you about what to see and where to stay in case you’re planning a trip to Panama!