While things get colder and colder at the north and south hemispheres, temperature in Panama keeps rising to host the perfect summer. However, Panama isn’t all about white beaches and suntan, and don’t be fooled by its geographical location: Panama’s culture is closer to the Caribbean than to its Central American neighbors.
Bocas del Toro might be the best example of Afroantillian culture in Panama. If you can´t understand what they are saying, don´t worry check out some basic words here. Spanish doesn’t sound like Spanish, nor English like English, fish and music are equally spicy. Portobello, at the Caribbean coast of Panama into Colon province is another cultural taste, this time from the heart of Africa, as they are descendants of the slaves during the Spanish Colony. Ask for the “plantintá” and be ready for “saus”. Don’t ask too much about what is in there, we can just tell you it is not Kosher.
Colon claims to be the craddle of reggaeton. El General, Chicho Man and other singers from this province form the basis of what later became commercialized with great success by Puerto Rico.
A 180 degrees from Colon and Bocas del Toro are the Chiriquí and Azuero regions. Azuero is a wild peninsula with a deep Spanish heritage mixed with Indian. Here you´ll find the iconic polleras and jewelry that has made it into every “Panama” photo worldwide. The pollera is said to be one of the most expensive traditional dresses in the world, weaved by hand by old ladies on their rocking chairs, it is a witness to the passing of the Spanish but also how they adapted to the luxury of the nature that surrounded them.
While Bocas del Toro is all white beaches, perfect blue waters, Chiriquí is all about mountains and the best coffee in the world. Literally, Geisha coffee cultivated at the Esmeralda Finca has been now the most expensive coffee by pound in the world. Beautiful cloud forest extends through the mountains forming a bi lateral natural park with Costa Rica: La Amistad.
One of the seven living Indian cultures live in most of the park: the gnobe bugle. The other culture that has gained international recognition through its colorful molas is the Kunas, who live closer to the Colombian border into the Caribbean.
A trip to Panama is a journey of discovery and learning. Everything is close and yet joined by the cosmopolitan international hub that is Panama City, which in itself host one of the most diverse historic colonial cities in the region: Casco Viejo.
In Casco Viejo (Casco Antiguo, officially) everything meets. Spanish colonial architecture meets with Caribbean, French and Art Deco. Its romantic plazas host some of the best restaurants and bars of Panama City. Hotels in Panama tend to be cater to a wide audience, Casco Viejo is the favorite flavor of the adventurous soul with a taste for authenticity. The first certified green hotel of the region, The Canal House, is located in this historic town and has been featured by several publications including Conde Nast and the New York Times. In the streets, Afroantillian descendants greet kunas and gnobes. Italians, French, Dutch, Americans and many other nationalities have made of this UNESCO World Heritage Site their home and you´ll see them walking and talking with different accents that remind of an early of Soho.
Some say Panama is Hong Kong meeting Costa Rica. Panama´s depth is there for the curious soul, but is also a place with a guilt free laid back culture that allows you to disconnect from the world if that is your choice. For sure, it is almost too much for a single vacation; Panama is a place to explore, enjoy, learn and to come back to.