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Panama is the best-connected country in the Americas, on both national and international scales, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). With 54 airports and runways throughout the 75,000 square miles of national territory and the best connectivity from an international hub in the Americas at the Tocumen International Airport, travelers not only have the diverse tourism on offer within the country at their fingertips, but international connectivity as well.
Copa airlines, ‘Hub of the Americas’ at the Tocumen International Airport fly to 66 destinations in 29 countries and also have alliances to other companies such as Avianca, South African Airlines and Air China to mention a few. Other European companies like KLM, Iberia, Condor and Air France also go directly from Panama to Europe.
Connectivity will increase significantly as the international airport expansion plans include serving 18 million passengers in transit in the coming decade. Over $200 million has been invested over the last three years in restructuring the national airport network alone. Airports in Albrook, David, Colón and Río Hato received the most attention with new control towers, widening of runways, new buildings and customs facilities so these airports can begin to receive international flights.
The hub for national flights is at the Marcos Gelabert Airport, in the Albrook neighborhood of Panama City, from where many national flights and some international flights are available on Air Panama. Helicopters and light planes are available there for charter.
Air Panama travel all over the country including Las Perlas Archipelago in the Pacific, San Blas on the Caribbean, the Bocas del Toro and Chiriquí provinces in the west of the country as well as the surfing paradise of Pedasí in the central province of Los Santos.
Another important terminal that will bring tourists to the Pacific beaches is the Scarlett Martinez Airport; located in the Cocle province, a few minutes from the beach resorts of Bijao, Playa Blanca, Farallon and Decameron. It is designed to allow the landing of Boeing 757-200 crafts with a capacity for up to 228 passengers.
The Scarlett Martínez Airport is going to be inaugurated on November 14, 2013 and already chartered flights from Canada and the United States are planning to use the airport.
Getting there without getting on a plane
Panama offers so much that it is not necessarily a requirement to get on a plane to get a taste of what the isthmus offers. Many destinations are located within 90 minutes of Panama City, making them perfect for those who are in town for business and those who choose to take a free stopover when flying Copa or United.
Secret fishing hole
La Arenosa in La Chorrera, is not the kind of place you find in the tourist guides. This is the reservoir of the Gatún Lake and was created between 1910 and 1914 when the waters of the Chagres River were dammed to store enough water for ships to transit the then new canal. This lesser-known destination is an angler’s paradise with peacock bass and royal tarpon. Local fishermen rent not only their boats, but also fishing rods,
nets and bait as well as providing tours of the islands.
On the other side of La Chorrera another natural marvel awaits to be discovered, Caño Quebrado, a waterfall which is well-known to locals, but not to tourists. The area is famous for its pineapple plantations and their fragrance permeates the air. The magnificent waterfall is 30 meters high and does not fall directly in the middle of the river, but on rocks that help to minimize the water impact. The pool has deep areas for expert swimmers and a shallow spot for novices.
Sloths, monkeys and pigs, oh my!
Past La Chorrera, past the town of Capira on right hand side of the Panamerican Highway is the Campana National Park, a place famous for its temperate climate, great
hiking trails and magnificent mountain and sea views. See monkeys, sloth, wild pigs, more than 268 different bird species and many reptiles, such as the endangered golden frog. The park has an administration office and a research lodge. On the nearby town of Chicá accommodation and food can be found at reasonable prices.
A chance to enjoy a canopy zipline, horseback riding, hiking and river tubing is available just over an hour from Panama City in Maria Chiquita, Colón on the Caribbean side with Panama Outdoor Adventures, an eco-friendly tourist facility located on 69 acres (28 hectares) of lush tropical rainforest. The facilities have a large covered common area with tables and chairs, bathrooms and changing rooms, and hammocks for relaxing.
For more information: www.PanamaOutdoorAdventures.com
The Panama Rainforest Discovery Center is located on the border of the Soberania National Park, just past the town of Gamboa, and within 40 minutes of Panama City. This ecotourism and environmental educational project dedicated to bird conservation implements eco-friendly elements like solar panels, and rain collection systems. The Discovery Center structures themselves were built from recycled materials. The visitor center has a small store to purchase drinks, snacks, souvenirs and has binoculars for rent. Well-manicured hiking trails have resting areas along the way, and an observation tower that is located 100 feet (32 meters) above the rainforest’s floor. Consider taking the Sunrise tour, Sunset and Nighttime tour, or Bird Watching classes to learn and practice the basics of birding. For more information: www.PipelineRoad.org
On the island
Taboga Island is also known as the “Island of Flowers”, located about 20 km from Panama City in the Bay of Panama, the island is reachable by ferry which takes around 45 minutes one way and leaves daily from La Playita, Amador Causeway. The island is also reachable by a smaller, faster motorboat that leaves from Balboa Yacht club and takes about 15 minutes. With its close proximity to Panama City and daily transport to and from the island, this is the perfect daily beach escape from the city, and perhaps best of all, no driving required! There are hotels, restaurants, shops and small grocery stores for basic needs. Hike up to the cross on the south end of the island for the best view!