Panama on the Edge of its Next Growth Spurt
Saturday, January 27 2007 @ 08:53 pm EST
Contributed by: Don Winner
The Panama Canal has been the center of controversy since its inception and now again following a recent referendum to expand the canal, perhaps the country’s number one attraction. The U.S. has never stopped trying to annex the Canal, but the Panamanians have won at least a piece of the action that earns the country millions of dollars annually. The expansion will cost about $5 billion yet promises direct employment opportunities (an estimated 6,750 new jobs will be created); an increase of 50 new hotels and a rise in visitor traffic. The project, which begins this year, is expected to reach completion by 2014 according to the administrator of the Panama Canal Alberto Aleman Zubieta.
The World Travel Organization recently reported the number of tourists visiting Central America increased by 11 percent worldwide during the first six months of 2006; and increased by 15 percent in 2005 compared to 2004 for a visitor count of over six million visitors.
According to Panamanian minister, Ruben Blades, the cruise sector is expected to see an increase in the number of ships and tourists – for the 2006-07 season the country will welcome some 207 luxury cruise lines. Cruise passengers generally stay long enough to take in a visit to the Canal, the rainforest, the historic old quarter of the capital, Panama City and to shop at duty-free prices in the city’s malls.
Besides Panama City and the all-inclusive resorts such as Gamboa, the country counts the pristine San Blas islands among its tourism treasures. Home to the native Cuna Indians, these islands are an indigenous protectorate and the land, the sea and the way of life is preserved by the watchful Cuna tribe.
According to William H. and Irma Coleman, organizers of the TravelMart LatinAmerica, which took place in Panama City in September, “Central American destinations are beginning to "come on line" and mature. Costa Rica is still the "standard" which all others are striving to reach, but Panama, Nicaragua, and Guatemala are making great strides.”
Among the major tour operators with products that focus on Panama is Condor Outfitters, which offers a package for under $1,000 that features the city, the rainforest and the beaches of Panama. Visit http://www.condoroutfitters.com
Additionally, Solar Tours, offers a program that combines the jungles of Panama with the San Blas Islands, one of the most authentic archipelagos in the country. Additionally, Solar offers the Panama Rainforest and Playa Bonita that combines the Gamboa Rainforest Resort located at the banks of Panama Canal and the recently inaugurated Intercontinental Playa Bonita Resort while the Native Cultures of Panama includes a one-hour dugout canoe transfer up the Chagres River.
While staying at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, participants visit with the Embera Indians and Gatun Lake to observe the wildlife, travel to San Blas to spend a day with the Kuna Indians and spend some time in the Chiriqui Valley, Known as the 'Valley of the Moon' by the Ngobe-Bugle (Guaymi) Indians. Call 800-388-7652; http://www.solartours.com
Tara Tours has developed an all-inclusive island vacation in Panama’s Contadora Island also known as Pearl Island. The week-long stay costs about $1,700 per person double with airfare from Miami and a stay at the all-inclusive resort the Hotel Contadora. Visit http://www.taratours.com
For information, the Institute for Panama Tourism (IPAT), 800-962-1526; http://www.visitpanama.com
For consolidator airfares and tour packages to Panama see page L38 of the Listings Section.