Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Panama, the country that Panamanians return to and foreigners fall in love with

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DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions.

By H.E. Ms. Elizabeth Ward Neiman, Ambassador of the Republic of Panama to the Kingdom of The Netherlands. 

My name is Elizabeth Ward Neiman.  After September 9th upon handing credentials, I became Panama´s third Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Initially I intended to write about the excellent bilateral relations Panama has with the Netherlands.  This of course would include the similarities such as each country´s strategic geographic location, the extensive service center, the globally known logistics network we have both enviably developed, the international airports that serve as hubs to our respective regions, amongst others.

However, after the initial intention dissolved into the decision to write about what is most meaningful when thinking of my country, I decided to write about Panama.

Panama, the country that Panamanians return to and foreigners fall in love with!

Very probably, the first thing that comes to the mind of most people when hearing of Panama is its century old engineering feat – the Panama Canal, followed by the expansion of the Canal that opened June of 2016 and both exceeded traffic expectations and reaffirmed its environmental leadership in the maritime industry.

Cargo ships at the entrance of Miraflores Locks. Panama Canal, Panama City, Panama, Central America. Photography by Promtour Panama.

In many ways it is the Canal that forged our country.  Started by the French and finished by the North Americans with workers primarily from Asia and the Caribbean islands, the origin of our multiculturality was marked.  Historically prevalent are the indigenous as well as the Spanish descendants that chose Panama to become the first settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas in 1519.  Each nationality brought and maintained its language, religion, gastronomy and traditions.  We learned to live with respect and in harmony embracing each other´s individuality combining the uniqueness into parts of a whole.

With the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south, Panama has 10 provinces and 5 indigenous territories in a total area of 75,400 km2 and approximately 4 million population. It is what you see and experience traveling from one border to the other when the journey begins! 

A commitment to the global environment has confirmed Panama`s determination to maintain the Darien jungle a natural lung for the planet.  Therefore, our eastern border is a lush tropical dense jungle housing uncountable species of flora and fauna with more discovered every year.  Close by is the Guna Yala indigenous territory, a must-see for anyone who visits Panama!  The Gunas are known for their colorful handwork called molas.  These are layered pieces of brilliant colored fabric intersewn to create spectacular designs representing the nature that surrounds them and the life they lead.  The pristine turquoise water surrounding the 365 islands, the fresh seafood and their hospitality are commented by any visitor.

Continuing towards the western border is the unexpected contrast of Panama City, and what a contrast it is!  More architecturally interesting skyrise buildings as well as variety of restaurants are found in Panama than anywhere in the region.  From here you can visit the Canal, the Biomuseo, go shopping, climb the Cerro Ancon or venture to Colón and go scuba diving in the Caribbean Sea in the morning, drive back and dive in the Pacific Ocean in the afternoon.  Fly or boat to Las Perlas islands, ferry to Taboga…or drive on towards the western border and continue discovering.

Cinta Costera, Coastal Beltway, Balboa avenue city skyline at night, Panama City, Panama, Central America. Photography courtesy of Promtour.

In the central provinces the continental divide mountain range creates a unique climate contrast in such a small territory.  Although it may be ¨summer¨ (dry season from December to April) on the Pacific side, it will be ¨winter¨ (rainy) on the Caribbean side.   The sounds of the beating tropical rain with the brilliant lightning display and the background rumble of thunder humbles anyone under the wonders of nature…and not enough time has gone by to get over the awe when you are sunbathing again!

Whether you venture inland to El Valle de Anton, the second largest inhabited volcanic crater in the world, or stay on the coastal path to enjoy the endless kilometers of sand beaches ranging in colors from bleached white to iron black, visit the El Cano desert and its archeological discoveries, or camp in the La Yeguada Forest Reserve you will experience the geographical and folkloric contrasts Panama is known for. 

Sunken ship at the reef in Kuna Yala. San Blas archipelago, Caribbean, Panama, Central America.

Whether you go northeast to Bocas del Toro or northwest to Chiriquí you are marveled by scenery along the way.  ¨Bocas¨ is laid back.  Time is of no essence as you surf, swim, walk, bike, or simply hang out.  In contrast, Chiriquí is known as ¨Little Switzerland¨ being the agricultural center, the highest mountain range, the coolest temperature, the most hospitable area in Panama.  Whether visiting Boquete, Volcan or Cerro Punta a required stop is a coffee plantation.  Many offer tours and sampling of the most expensive coffee in the world…the Geisha variety, truly sublime.

However, sublime not only describes our coffee, it describes the unparalleled exotic beauty in a territory of contrasts that is PANAMA.

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