The construction of the Panama Canal demanded a whole lot more than just digging a really long trench—the engineering required manipulation of an entire geographical system. To calm the ocean waves around the Pacific entrance to the Canal, a colossal breakwater was constructed, that reaches out to the sea, connecting three islands along the way. After its construction in the early 20th century, Fort Grant was established here in 1913, and the area was militarized and fortified by the United States during the World Wars. It was entirely off-limits to Panamanians until 1999, when the zone was finally officially returned to Panama. A road and sidewalk running along the top of this breakwater are the thoroughfares of the Amador Causeway, a great stretch of road for walking, jogging, biking, and especially for the phenomenal views over the Bay of Panama to the city beyond. Because of the heat on the un-shaded road, daytime activity is mostly confined to a few restaurants that make the most of the panorama, along with sightings of boats and brown pelicans, and a smattering of scintillating resorts. Come evening, a bevy of restaurants that double as nightlife spots open on each of the three islands that make up the Calzada. A teeming hive of activities, this waterside avenue hosts a range of attractions including the Centro Artesanal Market, the futuristic Biomuseo and the Punta Culebra Nature Center - which chronicles Panama’s natural heritage - and many others.
A truly beautiful wall standing along one of the charming streets of Casco Viejo, sprouting a few weeds from the uneven top of its brickwork, is the surviving façade of the colonial Convento de Santo Domingo. The 17th-century church and monastery were burnt to the ground twice and not rebuilt after 1756, so that little was preserved through the centuries except the front of the building and an archway within it. Known as the Arco Chato, this brick arch eventually became pivotal to development in Panama. Its survival despite a remarkably precarious construction proved to engineers that an interoceanic canal built in Panama would not be destroyed by earthquakes; the rest is history.
Nestled in Panama City, Biomuseo deftly chronicles the natural, cultural and ecological heritage of the country. The labor of love of eminent architect Frank Gehry, the museum boasts a futuristic facade, while the main building has an equally innovative and distinctive design, which is billed to be the only one of its kind in Latin America. Here, a wide arsenal of buildings, galleries, exhibits and artifacts together, illustrate some of the country’s most pressing aspects including its dynamic biodiversity, the evolution of the Pacific and the Caribbean, the country’s cultural and communal legacy, as well as the importance of the Isthmus of Panama, which has been an integral catalyst in carving out the landscape of the country. A wonderland for science aficionados and nature lovers alike, this elaborate museum is educational and inspirational in equal amounts. Its frontage enlivened by splashes of solid blues, yellows and reds, the cutting-edge Biomuseo is one of the major tourist draws, and contemporary landmarks of the city.
A legend of human struggle, a marvel of economics and a daily triumph of engineering, the Panama Canal is a captivating story, as well as an awe-inspiring system to watch at work. The tale of the effort to connect two oceans began in 1539, when the first Spanish team studied the feasibility of such a project, and in 1880, the French began actually attempting the construction. After several workers perished during the course of construction, the canal was abandoned until the United States bought control of the zone in 1903. After completion in 1914, it stretched 48 miles (77 kilometers) between the coasts, and today about 13,000 ships representing 5% of global maritime trade pass through the canal each year. Ships around the world are built to fit smoothly through the three locks that function like enormous steps over the isthmus, and pay a fee according to weight to make the 8- to 10-hour transit. The record for the heaviest ship to pass through the canal is frequently redefined, but the smallest fee was paid in 1928, when Richard Halliburton swam through for PAB0.36.
The presidential palace in the oldest existing neighborhood of Panama City, with its neoclassical architecture and unsurpassed views directly over the Bay of Panama, is popularly known for its pets. In the early 20th century, President Belisario started the tradition of keeping pet herons and egrets in the Moorish interior courtyard of the Spanish colonial mansion. The same president commissioned the 1922 renovation of the 1673 building, originally built for the Spanish crown, to its current appearance. It was put to good use in the interim as the Royal Customs House in the 18th century and a government house in the 19th century, and the President now resides upstairs with the executive offices on the ground floor. Expect to show identification at either end of the guarded street if you'd like to walk past the front of the building because the beautiful birds in their Palacio require very tight security.
Permeated with a dazzling viridescence, this park is where time halts and nature outdoes its own self. Sliced by the meandering Chagres River, this 48,000-acre (19424.91 hectare) rainforest reserve spectacularly brims with both native and migrant birds — over hundreds of species have been spotted on just the Pipeline Road trail — and mammals including jaguars, ocelots, howler and capuchin monkeys, anteaters, coatis and agouti, among many others. Tourists are often thrilled to see toucans and leafcutter ants, and the incredible flora playing host to all these animals includes kapok trees, strangler figs, and liana vines. Perhaps the most remarkable attribute of the park is that this wilderness is situated only a few miles northwest of ultra-urban Panama City, running along the eastern edge of the Canal, and has only been a national park since the land was handed over to the Panamanian government in 1999. Its sylvan terrain interspersed with a nexus of winding trails, the park is especially enlivened by the cries of fascinating birds including hummingbirds, crowned woodnymphs, motmots, togons, parrots and more. The very embodiment of Panamanian wilderness, the enchanting Soberania National Park is one of the most prized natural possessions of the country.
Continual renovation projects in Panama Viejo, the original Panama City site which was sacked and destroyed by pirates in 1671, has produced a number of spectacular opportunities to explore eye-catching colonial architecture: the Torre de la Catedral is preeminent among these restored buildings. A recent five-year-long renovation produced a near-intact tower rising tall from its square foundation and ringed with solid bits of crumbling stone walls. A steel staircase has been installed in the interior of the tower so that visitors can climb to new heights for panoramic city views, and a speaker recreates the chiming of bells three times each day; an actual bell replica would be too heavy for the tower to support. The Torre de la Catedral is located across the street from the Panama Viejo Visitors' Center and Museum, where visitors can pay the combined entrance fee to access both attractions. A good handicraft market is located inside the Visitors' Center.
Magnificently defining the northern border of Panama City, the entrancing Parque Natural Metropolitano sprawls over 265 hectares (655 acres) of thick forest and incredible biodiversity. It is a valued research site for the Smithsonian Institute and other organizations, and is unique in the Americas as a protected tropical forest within the city limits of a major urban area. Numerous species of mammals like deer, sloths and the archetypal rufous-naped tamarins, over 200 species of plants, hundreds of birds, and special treats like blue morpho butterflies are supported by this nature reserve, and much of this vibrant life is visible from the cleared paths. An assemblage of trails wind through verdant groves, where most visitors embark on hiking expeditions which unravel the truest, most entrancing silhouettes of the park. Having been officially opened in the June of 1988, the park harbors a look-out which proffers scenic vistas of the dazzling silver high-rises of Panama City. Having been utilized as a repository of experimental aircraft during World War II, the park is made more atmospheric by the presence of myriad historic, concrete-clad remains from the war.
Is an area of a big real estate development a few minutes from dowtown and the international airport.