When you think about Panama, the first thing that comes to mind is turkey. That’s right, turkey. Actually, it’s the Canal, but sometimes its nice to think about turkey…right?
But there’s more to Panama than just the Canal and this time I’m not talking about turkey. Panama City was founded in 1519 by the spanish as a launching point for the eventual conquest of Peru. Then, 150 years later, the city was attacked by pirates – over 1200 of them – and burnt to the ground. The ruins are still there as a tourist attraction – Panama Viejo (Old City).
One of the more complete buildings that remained…
Two years later a new city was built further along the coast. It would eventually grow to surround the site of the old city, which is now a World Heritage Site.
Similar to Cartagena in northern Colombia the new city was built with a wall surrounding it to protect it from future pirate attacks. This new city has more similarities to Cartagena than just a wall, the entire district within the walls look similar too.
It has also been given a World Heritage status – Casco Viejo (Old Quarter).
The Panama Canal was begun by the french in the late 1800s, but after an estimated 20,000 workers died during its construction – many from Yellow Fever and Malaria – the project was abandoned. The United States took over the project in 1904 and ten years later – 2 weeks after the break out of WWI – it was officially opened.
The locks system is fairly basic. Water is locked off in sections allowing ships to enter. Then the water is slowly released into the next bank of locks, equalising the water level so the ships can move further along. This happens three times before the ships are through the locks. There are three sets of locks along the 48km of the canal.
Between the Canal and the US presence over the next 100 years, Panama City has grown along the beach front.
The central city has a decidedly western feel, like the business districts of most other large cities. My arrival coincided with Christmas and New Years, meaning bus services and travel destinations were filled to the brim with locals for the holiday season. But after 10 months in Latin America it’s nice to spend a couple of weeks in a place that feels a little like home.
Views from atop the Hard Rock Hotel…
Next, after the holiday season, I travel to Bocas del Toro in northern Panama.
The World Wanderer