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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Travel Panama , Five Greatest Hidden Tour Destinations

There's more to Panama than the Panama Canal! Although the construction of the Canal is one of the great historical epics of the Americas, Panama has centuries of history stretching across indigenous peoples, early colonists [and pirates!] and the more recent roots of modern Panamanian culture. The Panama Canal is huge, but even it isn't big enough to encompass the deep legacies and natural wonders of the country. When I lived in Panama I grew to truly love the country and felt privileged to discover amazing destinations beyond Panama City and the Panama Canal. Don't get me wrong: Everyone should visit the city and canal, but there are five places I love that aren't as well known, and that I try to incorporate into the tours organized by my agency, Condor Tours and Travel. Here they are.

Barro Colorado Island: This destination "hides in plain sight" in the middle of Gatun Lake, the huge artificial lake in the heart of the Panama Canal itself. Barro Colorado's unique ecosystem preserves aspects of the pre-Canal biosphere, with some influence from the surrounding waters of Lake Gatun. The Smithsonian manages the island as a nature preserve to study its unique ecology but it's still open to tour groups who respect policies designed to maintain the island's natural features.

The Bayano Caves: In the east of Panama Province, The Bayano Caves sit near the shores of reservoir Lake Bayano. Travelers can start their exploration of the caves by boat, as the Seco River allows water travel right inside. The first cave extends about two kilometers, revealing a unique ecosystem filled with birds, bats and snakes. A true adventure travel aficionado might journey even deeper if he or she can manage the crawling necessary to get into the second and third caves in the system.

Las Cruces Trail: Remnants of a centuries old cobblestone road, the Las Cruces Trail is a temptation for hikers who want to see the intersection of nature and history up close. Travelers follow in the footsteps of Henry Morgan, Gold Rush prospectors on their way to California, and the workers that completed the Panama Canal. Beyond five hundred years of history, the trail sits in a maintained ecological corridor to allow the passage of birds and other wildlife – all parts of the forest you'll see as you traverse the ancient stones.

The Chagres River: Although it was dammed to help build the Panama Canal, the Chagres River maintains its natural environment through much of its length as it runs through dense rainforest. It's an attractive route for kayakers. Besides the Chagres River itself, travelers will meet the Embera, one of Panama's seven indigenous groups. The Embera have only recently opened up their communities for regular visitors, making this one of the "newest" tour destinations [though of course, the Embera have lived there longer than anyone!]. The Embera's vibrant culture manifests in famous crafts and artwork, including baskets, Taguas and word carvings.

Portobelo and the Rainforest Canopy: Portobelo is a sleepy coastal city with a deep natural harbor. Its colonial ruins are a UNESCO Heritage site and not to be missed, but what is less well known is that it's a short trip from here to one of the best places to explore the rainforest. Facilities allow travelers to see the top canopy by zip line.

This isn't everything that flies under the radar when people think of Panama. The whole country is brimming with things to see and do. Take some time to explore yourself – you'll see what I mean.


the Rainforest Canopy

The Chagres River

The Bayano Caves

Barro Colorado Island

The Panama Canal

Panama City Beaches

Panama City ,Panam Beach

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