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Sunday, April 20 2014 @ 06:46 AM EDT

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Hanging Out With Humpback Whales and Dolphins In The Bay of Panama

Travel & TourismBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Last Saturday my wife Rossana, daughter Sarah and I went on an all day trip with Whale Watching Panama. Sarah loves anything to do with the water and boats, and we never got a chance to go to Dolphin Bay in Bocas del Toro when we were up there a couple of weeks ago, so it sounded like fun. Thousands of humpback wales migrate up to the warm waters surrounding the Las Perlas Archipelago in the Gulf of Panama every year to breed and give birth. This trip from Antarctica to Panama is the longest migration by any mammal on earth - approximately 8,300 kilometers. The biggest draw seems to the water temperature, they like it at about 28 degrees Celsius (or 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit), and calves born in warmer waters seem to grow faster and larger, and have a greater chance of breeding themselves. Anyway, you get the idea. Humpback whales really like Contadora. They start showing up in July of every year, and they will stay through the end of October, with stragglers hanging around through November or December.

Dolphins First - Lots And Lots Of Dolphins: On the way out to Isla Contadora encountered a huge group of dolphins - about 300 or so. And that's no exaggeration. They were everywhere, and we were the only boat around. The dolphins would come up to our boat and play with our bow wave or tail wake. Some of the younger immature dolphins were jumping and slapping their tails, and I had lots of chances to get both video and photos. Sarah was thrilled. At one point the dolphins were swimming right next to the bow and Sarah had her head hung over the side. As the dolphins would come up for air they would blast some water up into her face - and she laughed with glee saying "he spit on me" - loving every minute of it. We drove around in circles for about a half an hour or so until we actually got tired of looking at dolphins, so continued on our way to Contadora to look for whales.

This was the one photo I was able to get of a "breaching" baby whale. He was just learning how to do it, and playing. You can see the snow white flipper on his left side. This guy is only about two to three weeks old. Newborn calves are roughly the length of their mother's head. At birth, calves measure 20 feet (6.1 m) and weigh about 1.8 tons. The mother, by comparison, is about 50 feet long (15 m).

The Elusive Deep Diver: Our first spotting was with a long whale. Our guide Beny spotted a tail off in the distance, which means a whale was about to dive deep, to feed. We went over there and waited around for about 15 minutes, hoping he would surface. After awhile we gave up and started back towards Contadora, and as we were leaving the "deep diver" surfaced. Took a breath of air, and then dove again. So we saw this guy twice, but only at a distance, and he was busy...

As you can see in this drawing, humpback whales have the characteristic "bump" on the center of their heads and forward of their eyes, then the dorsal fin is located on their backs where the "hump" is located. In the video you will see first the bump, then the hump, then the dorsal fin as they come up for air.

Newborn Alone On The Surface: As we were heading towards Contadora, we spotted a relatively small calf on the surface. According to Beny a baby that small was only a couple of weeks old. It was resting calmly on the surface, and we spotted him before he saw us. So we very slowly and gently eased our way over, not wanting to scare him. And we were all thinking the same thing - "where's mama?" After a few minutes as we got closer, eventually the little guy became aware of our presence and he probably called for mama. Within 30 seconds there she was on the surface. She positioned herself between us and her baby, naturally protective as all mothers are. We eased away and so did they, nice and calm all around. They would come up to the surface to breathe about every two minutes or so, and we were able to get some nice photos and video of this encounter. The guys at Whale Watching Panama do it the right way. They follow Panamanian rules, laws, regulations, and guidelines which you might be surprised to learn, actually exist. They are the only (and best) (and serious) Whale Watching outfit in Panama. However, there are knuckleheads out there...

Dropping Snorkelers On Mama And Calf: Off in the distance we saw four local pangas in a tight group. Beny said those guys might be on a group of young males who like to "put on a show" by jumping out of the water and making huge splashes with their backs, so we headed over that way to see. But unfortunately it was another mother paired with her newborn calf. The boat drivers had been hired by tourists from Contadora (on a Saturday afternoon) and they were actually waiting until the whales would come up to breathe, then they would quickly motor very close to the whales, and the tourists would jump over the side wearing face masks and snorkels. They wanted to swim up close with the whales. Of course, this is illegal. It stresses out the whales. It's not a good thing. So, we grabbed some photos and video. I made sure to get enough details of the boats and their drivers. I also caught the GPS coordinates off of our boat's navigation gear. Once I get the photos and video from the rest of the people who were on the boat with us, I will be making a formal complaint with the Autoridad de los Recursos Acuáticos de Panamá (ARAP) (Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama). They are the ones who are supposed to regulate and enforce the conduct of this activity, and they are not doing their jobs. The rules and regulations are in place, but what is that worth if no one is enforcing those rules? Anyway, moving on...

Time For Lunch: We went over to Contadora for lunch at a restaurant. Then we had about 30 minutes to swim on the beach and from the boat, before we headed back towards Panama City. All in all, it was a great trip. If you see eight humpback whales and about 300 dolphins on a trip like this, then it can only be categorized as a success. Right now is the "peak" of the migration season. Anne Gordon tells me that on some trips they have seen as many as 20 whales or more, in a single day. In short, they are all over the place, doing what they do. Lot's of fun, educational, well done, safe and sound, highly recommended.

Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Whale Watching in Panama - Book Your Trip Now, Before The Season Ends!

Travel & TourismWhale Watching Panama has had an incredible Whale Watching season so far this year. We have found the humpback whales on 100% of our Pearl island tours from Panama city or the Pearl islands and whales 85% of our Panama city-Taboga island tours. During the months of July through mid October Panama is blessed with over 2,000 humpback whales who migrate from Antarctica to breed and give birth. The best months are August and September with the most whales. Last week on one trip we saw over 20 whales and several pods of dolphins.

A friendly reminder if spending a day out on the water with the humpback whales and dolphins is on your bucket list, now is the time to book your trip before the whales leave our waters for 8 months. September is best, as you know, in October there are more rainy days and also choppy seas, and less whales.

Due to a great success in also finding dolphins this season and having several magical swims with the dolphins coming to check us out, we will be offering Dolphin & Snorkel trips in the Pearl islands throughout the rest of the year. These trips will be as day trips from Panama city or from Contadora island. Stay tuned for more details.

Contact me to book your whale watching tour before they head South in mid October.

There are also many photos on our Facebook page.

To book your whale watching trip in Panama, contact: Anne Gordon de Barrigón, Anne@WhaleWatchingPanama.com, cell phone on Panama 6758-7600, or visit our web site www.WhaleWatchingPanama.com.

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Tourism To Panama Increasing - Could See 2.2 Million Visitors This Year

Travel & TourismMore tourists have been arriving to visit Panama in the first seven months of the year, albeit at a slower pace compared to the reported increase in the same period last year. In total, between January and July more than 1.2 million tourists visited the country, or about 63,000 more than during the same period in 2011. This represents an increase of 5.4%.

Although Panama continues attracting more tourists, the volume has not been sufficient to fill the 4,000 new hotel rooms that have been built in Panama City in recent years. This difference has caused hotel occupancy in the capital city to drop by 7% in the first half of this year. In order to maintain occupancy rates above 60%, hoteliers say tourists would have to register a growth of 15% monthly. This year it is estimated occupancy rates will fall 50%, especially in hotels with less than 100 rooms.

As for average tourist spending, it is estimated that during the month of July tourists spent $1.315 billion dollars in Panama. When compared to the numbers of 2011, it shows an increase of $221.6 million dollars. This assessment made by the Comptroller General does not include the purchase of airline tickets.

By country, the United States remains at the top of the table as the nation that brings more visitors to Panama, followed by Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and Spain. While by geographical area, South America is the region that is bringing more tourists to the Panamanian market.

Tocumen is still the main port of entry for tourists, although movement through Paso Canoa, on the border with Costa Rica, has rebounded this year. About 70% of tourists enter Panama through the Tocumen International Airport, while at the border there was an increase of 1.3%, after the decrease reported last year.

By the end of 2012, authorities hope Panama will have received more than 2.2 million visitors, surpassing the 2 million reported last year. To increase the flow of visitors to the country, they are currently negotiating direct flights from Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil. The government is acting as a mediator between the South American operators and LCCs for the deal, which could begin in October. They are also establishing negotiations with the Spanish airline Iberia to enhance frequencies from that country. Currently Iberia takes five weekly flights to Panama. (Prensa)

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The Villas at Red Frog Beach Resort

Travel & Tourism By: Betsy Arrocha - Bocas del Toro, August 2012 - Red Frog Beach located in Bocas del Toro offers guests the combination of luxury accommodations, an island rainforest landscape and some of the best beaches in Panama!

See photos: click here

Red Frog Beach is an island resort community a short boat ride from Bocas Town. The island is renowned for its beaches and biodiversity. Guests can experience incredible ocean views from the elevated hillside Villas or unwind on one of the several beaches. For those seeking an adventure while on vacation, there is much to do here: zipline, hiking trails, surfing, snorkeling, horseback riding, sailing cruise, fishing and other tours.

Villa rental rooms start from $99/night and a complete private villa with pool from $250/night. (more)

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Rates to Guatemala and Panama get affordable

Travel & TourismBy Clara Bosonetto For the AJC - A pair of special airfare rates from American Airlines to two popular Central American destinations are more affordable than a trip to California. So why not change up your next getaway and head south of the border at super affordable rates.

For instance, a round-trip fare to Guatemala City, Guatemala is $338.40, inclusive of all taxes and fees (a round-trip ticket from ATL to Los Angeles is $353.60). This special price is valid on trips taken seven days a week, based on sale seat availability and through Nov. 15. To qualify, give a two-week or more advance notice of travel. A minimum stay of any two nights is required.

A second destination on this sale is Panama City, Panama at $378.40 round-trip (round-trip airfare to Salt Lake City, Utah is $457.60).

Additionally, these low rates are about $200 per round-trip less expensive than published rates on other carriers.

This exclusive sale rate permits one free stopover in Miami en route to Central America. A stopover is considered four or more hours. It's become rare for airlines to offer the free stopover option. It's a nice way to get a two-for-one vacation (airport transfers, hotel, transportation and other expenses during the stopover are not included).

American has filed an Aug. 27 ticket-by date on these offers, but don't fall for it. If you're interested, act now. I suspect this offer will expire sooner.

Sale airfares are always subject to change. Every seat on every flight is not offered at the lowest rate. Since only a limited supply of seats is available, act quickly to make your purchase.

I recommend starting the search for available seats at Kayak.com vs. calling an airline directly. You can also search for the sale at travel websites such as Expedia or Travelocity, etc.

Clara Bosonetto is a retired travel consultant.

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The Strengths And Weaknesses of Isla Coiba

Travel & TourismThe implementation of Management Plan for the Coiba National Park (CNP) is a very complex action because it requires the participation of all sectors involved. Within the Board there are some who have a vote, and other who only have a voice, which is why they lose interest in attending the meetings held from time to time in different parts of our country. The Management Plan of the Coiba National Park is the managerial guidance document that includes goals, standards, guidelines, possible uses, actions and strategies to be followed within the protected area, which is a Natural Heritage of Humanity, adopted by UNESCO. The comprehensive planning process developed involved the technical analysis of natural resources, consideration of the management category assigned to the protected area, the potential, and problems encountered with the dynamic participation of different stakeholders.

Gradually implemented - Evidelio Adames, a member of the Board for the University of Panama and on behalf of the Regional University Center of Veraguas (CRUV), considered that the management plan is not implemented ideally, because the biggest obstacle is the lack of resources suitable for operation. The university professor said that thanks to the institutional effort by the PNC, which is very complex, it has the support of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP), Mar Viva Foundation, the University of Panama, the local mayors, the Tourism Authority of Panama (ATP), and lately, the Naval Air Service (Senan), which maintains a naval base that contributes to the safety and security of the protected area, covering 537 km2 of land area and 2,024 km2 of sea surface.

In addition, Senacyt provides resources and equipment for scientific research within this natural jewel on the Veragüense Pacific. Evaluation of the Management Plan will be made in 2014, five years after it has been implemented, to determine its strengths and weaknesses.

Meanwhile, Santiago Rojas, a manager of PNC, said the 37 buoys are to protect the ecosystem to maintain the reefs in the different marine areas, which is why companies involved in the transfer of tourists for diving should moor their boats to these devices and avoid heavy anchors from touching the seabed.

Data -

  • Annually about 7,700 tourists visit Coiba.
  • It is beautiful with pristine beaches, and if anyone dares, there are even nude beaches.
  • It has a naval base that cost nearly $2 million dollars to build.
  • There is water 24 hours a day.
  • There are 37 areas of diving and safety buoys for boats.
  • There are six cabins equipped for 12 people each.
  • There are several routes to reach this natural site: Puerto Mutis, Santa Catalina, Playa Banco, Mariato, and by plane from Santiago and Panamá.
  • The infrastructure dates back 40 years and every day it is deteriorating.
  • There are only eleven park rangers who alternate their shifts every 15 days for the ecological and marine patrol.
  • The park has an annual budget of only $60,000 dollars.
  • Tourists have to land on the beach because there is no dock.
  • The trails are neglected due to lack of maintenance. (Mi Diario)
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    Panama Should Create Tourism Schools

    Travel & TourismJaime Campuzano, President of the National Tourism Council, suggested today on the channel 2 TVN morning news program, that free public schools should be created in the interior of the country to teach Tourism, and the National Assembly should approve incentives for the development of tourism in these regions. Campuzano also recommended that high schools teaching tourism should emphasize the technical side (maids, bell boys) and the universities should focus their attention on hotel management. He believes that although Panamanians are cheerful and spontaneous by nature, they don't meet up with international standards. (TVN)

    Editor's Comment: I just got back from a trip to Costa Rica. As we came out of the airport we had to find a shuttle bus to take us to the rental car company. There were literally people tripping over themselves trying to help us. One guy broke out into a run (I looked for someone with a gun who might have been chasing him) but in fact he was going to a pay phone to call the cell phone of the shuttle bus driver, to get an update on his status, location, and how long we would have to wait. Every Panamanian who works in the tourism industry should simply take a trip to Costa Rica, to see how it "should" be done. Panamanians are only cheerful, happy, and spontaneous when they're drunk. The rest of the time they're grouchy, surly, angry, and generally unhappy. Those two chicks in the photo are in Costa Rica. See how happy they are? Yeah. More like that. Take notes...

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    National Crafts Fair Opens at Atlapa

    Travel & TourismThe XXXV National Crafts Fair was opened yesterday at the ATLAPA convention center by the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Ricardo Quijano. The organization of the show has cost approximately $200,000 and approximately 1,200 artisans are participating from around the country. The National Director of Handcrafts of the MICI, Damaris Delgado de Tribaldos, said the activity will have 500 tables, 65 workshops, 22 craft stalls for consumption, with 15 vendors selling food and another 43 food sites located in the lobby. It is expected that about 45 thousand people will visit the fair. (Siglo)

    Editor's Comment: This is always one of the "coolest" shows at ATLAPA every year. You can find all kinds of stuff there, made by talented hands. You'll see some stuff you're probably already familiar with like molas, and some other stuff you've never seen before. If anyone knows the hours, please post in the comments section. Thanks.

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    52% OFF Banana's Village Resort, Isla Grande

    Travel & TourismOfertaSimple.com always features amazing deals on local Panama restaurants, hotels, and activities. Today, there's a special treat in store for those of you looking for a pure Caribbean escape. Enjoy a beautiful ocean view room with balcony, breakfast and welcome cocktail at Banana's Village Resort on Isla Grande at 52% OFF. Banana's Resort is located just 90 minutes from the city, but is a true world apart.

    Click here to view the offer: www.ofertasimple.com

    As always, OfertaSimple is available in English as well as in Spanish. The customer service team is bilingual and is happy to help answer any and all questions related to the deals. Purchase these deals now and use anytime over the next 3-6 months, depending on the offer.

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    Panama Travel Unlimited - One Of Panama's Leading Tour and Travel Agencies

    Travel & Tourism
    Dog Island in the San Blas Archipelago
    Dog Island in the San Blas Archipelago
    Panama Travel Unlimited opened it’s door’s less than a year ago and has fast become one of Panama’s leading tour and travel agencies. After spending a number of years living, working and owning businesses in the Panamanian tourism sector two expats, Will from Wales and Stuart from Australia, noticed there was a real need for a full service tour and travel agency providing the quality and levels of customer service foreign visitors to Panama expect while maintaining reasonable prices. Panama Travel Unlimited initially opened offering a budget friendly Panama City airport shuttle service and from there started operating day tours in and around Panama City to some of Panama’s premier tourist attractions such as the Panama Canal, Casco Viejo, Portobelo, Isla Grande, Fuerte San Lorenzo, El Valle and the beautiful Pacific coast beaches. Once the Panama City shuttle service and Panama Pity day tours were up and running the next logical step was to develop tours in the beautiful San Blas islands of Panama. (more)
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