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An interview with our local partners in Panama

By Kati Taylor

Annie our local travel partner in PanamaPanama is the bridge between two continents and the divide between two oceans. There are mountains in the north-west, tropical wildernesses, forests and beaches scattered across the entire country, and the people are welcoming and ever-smiling.

We caught up with Annie, one of our local Panama experts, to find out more about her incredible country.

What is life like in Panama?

San blas islands in Panama

Panama offers a delightful combination of amazing history, diverse cultures, close biodiversity and national parks and, in Panama City, modern cosmopolitan living.

My fondest memories are always related to getting out into the great outdoors. I remember the weekends spent with my parents, exploring new destinations and going on picnics at San Lorenzo Castle on the Atlantic side of Panama. I’d sit there and imagine the time when pirates roamed the Caribbean. Still today, every time I go to Portobello or San Lorenzo I remember my mother’s stories about Sir Francis Drake and Henry Morgan attacking the Spanish fortifications.  She was very passionate about history and as a kid I just loved going on adventures with my family. 

Panama offers a lot of adventures for families, with great legends and stories that will stick with you for evermore.

Panama city view

What is your favourite place in Panama?

My favourite place is Boquete and the surrounding highlands of Chiriquí. This region offers excellent hiking, birdwatching and fantastic opportunities to observe wildlife. The weather is lovely; it’s like Spring all year round and Boquete is a charming town from which to set off on a hike. 

I’m also beginning to be interested in farming, so I’m often going there to plant in a little area of land that we got a couple of years ago.  I love that I can relax in hammock overlooking the Baru volcano or always explore a new trail with amazing local guides in the region. There is an added factor that there is a fantastic new cuisine in the region with an amazing local chef and I love to go there to eat!  Coffee is also a must try in that region. Boquete’s coffee is always within the top 3 of the world.

What three words most represent Panama for you?

Diversity

Panama is a diverse country with indigenous groups and Latin America sub-cultures with influences of Spanish conquistadores.  It also became a melting pot during the Transcontinental railroad and construction of the Panama Canal. 

Happy

Panamanians are happy people. When you visit the country, you will take back not only great memories, but also good friends.

Green

The natural environment in Panama is incredibly lush… close to the City we also have amazing national parks. 

What is the Panamanian culture like?

Here in Panama, we are a truly melting pot of Afro-Caribbean, Latin American and European cultures, and the gastronomy of Panama reflects the beautiful and diverse heritage.  From simple and delicious ceviche from the Seafood Market to exquisite recipes with influences and ingredients from our local indigenous groups to the modern and eclectic European cuisine, you won’t get tired of our food culture.

What is your favourite Panamanian food?

I love Ropa vieja (Shredded beef) and Tamal de Olla (Corn Casserole)

Do you know any cool facts about Panama that most people wouldn’t know?

Just a few:

- Did you know that the national flower is the Holy Spirit Orchid, a tiny specimen that seems to have a small dove in its centre.

- Panama boasts more bird species than the USA and Canada combined.

- At its narrowest distance, only 50 miles of land separates the Atlantic from the Pacific Ocean.

- In Panama you can watch the sun rise in the Pacific and set in the Atlantic.

What are the experiences people travelling to Panama definitely shouldn’t miss?

#1.  Historical city Tour – walk through Panama la Antigua and learn about the pirates, Conquistadores and the Panama Canal era, with a guide who will give you extra insightful information.

2.  Visit the Seafood market and walk or bike Cinta Costera and try a fresh seafood ceviche.

3.  Spend at least one night or two in any indigenous village or community

4.  Take a sailing trip

5.  Try some of the best coffee in the world in Boquete

6.  Kayak or boat around the Panama Canal

7.  Ride the Transcontinental train towards the Atlantic side in one day

8.  Enjoy the local gastronomy (tasajo, empanada, carimañola, yuca frita and amazing local seafood)

Do you have any top tips for anyone visiting Panama?

1.  Plan your trip with time in advance.  Plan for high season.

2.  Consider a guided tour to immerse in the country culture and support the destination.

3.  Learn some Spanish

4.  Respect the country and people (Ask if you want to take a picture)

5.  Avoid the crowds of all-inclusive holidaymakers and try more personalised boutique hotels

6.  If you want to save some money, avoid traveling during peak time

What is the story behind your company? 

After a backpacking trip to Central America and coming back home from studies abroad I realised that I wanted to work in tourism and conservation. I’m in love with the nature, people, history and culture of my country. So, with very little money and a big dream, this adventure started in 1999.

I have the privilege of having a job that I love and to work with amazing people that are also passionate about promoting local development and conservation through tourism in Panama.

I have always wanted to share authentic Panama while contributing to improve the wellbeing of our local communities. I discovered this could be done with a responsible approach to tourism and this is what we are striving to offer since I began this company. I truly believe that you have to dream first. It all started with a green dream!

What have been your favourite and most memorable experiences?

We are in the business of happiness and knowing that our customers are having a great experience makes us happy too!

I used to guide more, years ago, and I had to guide for a family that was very interested in the Canal. It was a group of grandparents, parents, children. It was the first day having an introduction to the Canal History and visiting the former Canal zone sites. We are at El Causeway, a narrow land-bridge, built with rocks excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal, that connects the continent with four islands next to the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Panama Canal.  And one of the kids, who was maybe 8 years old, asked me… so what is the Atlantic and what is the Pacific? Everybody laughed a lot. 

Panama canal from above

What’s next?

The trend today is to have authentic experiences abroad. It’s great as it allows travellers to truly get a feel for the culture and area they are visiting. This type of travel falls within our motto: Adventure, Conservation and Education. We do not want to sell tours but we want to share experiences with travellers visiting our country. We want to be innovative with partners like TravelLocal and promote Panama’s remarkable biodiversity and history - it is truly a paradise for those that want to visit a country that is not yet discovered! Our adventures will expose travellers to the country’s natural wonders, as well as teach them about Panama’s unique history.

And we’ve got to ask, out of the destinations TravelLocal offer, do you have a dream location that you want to visit?

I know Japan is now part of your collection… I would love to visit someday. I have never been to Asia and I dream of starting with Japan.

Make it happen

If Annie has inspired you to travel in Panama, then don't hesitate to get in touch with her and her team and they will get to work on planning your perfect, personalised itinerary. If you would like to speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call 0117 325 7898.