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Thursday, September 19 2019 @ 02:56 am EDT

Striking gold in Panama

Travel & TourismBY SHANNON MELNYK, CANWEST NEWS SERVICE - It's a new day in Central America. The impending $5.5-billion US expansion of the hydraulic eighth wonder of the world, the Panama Canal, is expected to have a major impact on global trade in what has steadily become a bustling business hub of the Americas. Widening and deepening the passage will make room for a new generation of monster ships carrying anything from human cargo to one million barrels of oil, shaving weeks off current transport times and reshaping trade patterns throughout the world. With the entrepreneurial enthusiasm of the former Wal-Mart employee and new Panamian President Ricardo Martinelli, his government plans to live up to its namesake in profiting from world business with the birth of the bigger, better Canal. It's also injecting undisclosed millions into welcoming the world for holiday fun. With sights set on giving neighbouring Costa Rica a run for its tourism dollars, Panama is gearing up to becoming a cosmopolitan and resort destination, luring tourists with not only old-world history, but offerings of hurricane- free tropical beaches, luxury shopping and jungle adventures. (more)

Development has been equally heavy in other parts of Panama City, in addition to resorts and all-inclusives dotting the coast and nestled in the tropical splendour of the vast rainforest. Tour companies are beefing up adventure-'til-you-drop fare, including fishing, diving, hiking, wet rappelling, zip trekking and jungle excursions.

Beach life meets the tropical surroundings of exotic fruit, monkeys and misty cascading falls: Panama is home to some of the sweetest pineapple in the world, and many species of rare flora and wildlife.

In what constitutes rural rainforest neighbourhoods, tourists will also spot curious quirks of Latin life, such as the industrious drive-in motels for lovers adorned with unassuming white signs and candy red hearts. Tu y Yos (You and Me) are what look like North American garages and are rumoured to be owned by the crooner king of Latin America, Julio Iglesias.

Ecotourism is also growing in the little country that could. Volunteer-work holidays and visits with indigenous rainforest cultures are growing industries. Tourists can board tiny piraguas paddled by semi-clothed natives in crocodile- infested waters to see an old way of life relatively untouched by modern society. Tribes that include the Kuna and Embera Indians have been working with the government and tour companies to increase tourism opportunities by showcasing their authentic jewelry, crafts, cuisine and dance.

The new Panama Canal may not open until 2014, but Panama is intent on encouraging a rebirth of its nation in the meantime.

Calgary Herald

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