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VOL. 12 #22 -- Oct. 20-Nov. 2, 2006
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Tourist News


Chiriqui turtle release becoming major tourist attraction

Protecting sea turltes is becoming a popular tourist activity.

It is a warm summer’s night on La Barqueta beach on the western tip of Panama’s Pacific coast. The moon occasionally peers out between small gray clouds. The beach is deserted except for the dark lumbering shape that is slowly emerging from the ocean.

The 88 lb. Olive Ridley turtle painstakingly struggles up the beach. She is oblivious to all around her – she is a mariner on a mission. At the nearby sand dune, she digs down about 15 inches and deposits a clutch of 110 small white eggs.

Carefully, she uses her flippers to cover her brood and then she struggles back to the ocean. The eggs will take about 50 days to incubate in the sands of Panama, all the while at the risk of being destroyed by human and animal predators.

Only a few of these turltes are able to reach the ocean.
Sólo unas cuantas de estas tortugas son capaces de llegar al mar.

At dawn the next day, the solitude of the beach is broken by the figure of a young man running. For 16 years, Marcial Rojas, a marathon runner has used this cool, peaceful time of day to indulge in his passion for exercise. The clutches of highly vulnerable eggs share the loneliness of this long distance runner. On this deserted beach their survival depends on being discovered by a friend like Marcial and not by human poachers or feral dogs.

Marcial’s eagle eyes spots the tell-tale flipper signs from the night before and soon the 100 or so Olive Ridley turtle eggs are deposited safe and sound in a nearby sanctuary.

It is now 5.30 in the afternoon of October 10th at La Barqueta Beach. The 110 four-inch-long Olive Ridleys are ready for a swim. Local conservationist, Sue Waligora is there to inform the crowd of almost a hundred onlookers as to why conservation is so important. On this occasion $195 is collected in donations to help build a new protective corral for the hatchlings.

The ocean voyage begins.
One by one, the small Olive Ridley turtles make it to the water. Today, the large admiring crowd of nature lovers protects them from scavenging birds. A variety of video and still cameras catch them as they depart on an epic ocean voyage that could take them 1,600 miles in 113 days.

Marcial Rojas, the turtle protector.

Increasing awareness.
A year ago I watched a similar release and barely a dozen or more people attended. This year the number has increased almost ten fold.

Marcial Rojas is instrumental in saving and releasing about 3,800 turtles in Panama each year. This November he anticipates seeing the return of hundreds of Leatherbacks that he had previously saved and released two years earlier. This would be critical as the Pacific Leatherback population has declined sharply and possibly only 25,000 are left worldwide.

In his 16 years, Marcial has helped release an estimated 50,000 turtles. He uses his own money, and receives no outside financial help although he is now working with the CREA (Conservation, Research, Education and Action) group, that sponsors conservation in the nearby National eco-reserve.

Thankfully, Olive Ridleys are not yet an endangered species, perhaps due in part to the efforts of people like Marcial Rojas and conservationist Sue Waligora.

If you would like to participate in an up-coming release please contact Sue Waligora at:


Relaxed air travel security measures

The Transportation Department of the United States (TSA) has recently announced the relaxation of a number of security measures on all U.S. carrier flights departing from U.S. and non-U.S. territories, except the United Kingdom. These are:

  • Passengers are now allowed to carry on travel-size toiletries (3 oz. Or less), which can easily fit into a carry-on bag.
  • They are now able to carry on medicine, including non-prescription ones through security check points.
  • Passengers are now free to bring beverages on board, as well as other items purchased in the "sterile area".

Focus Publications takes part in promotional "Caravan" to Colombia

Representantes de Copa en Cali, dando el recibimiento a los invitados y haciendo entrega de El Visitante y la guía “Focus”

Focus Publications, the parent company of The Visitor, will take part in a "Tourist Caravan" (promotional tour) to Colombia, organized by the Panama Government Tourist Bureau this month.

"Tourist Caravans" are part of IPAT’s annual international program, which also includes participation in major tourism fairs in Europe, North and Latin America.

Scheduled October 8-14, the upcoming "Caravana" will visit the Colombian cities of Cartagena, Barranquilla, Bogotá, Cali, and Medellín.

Focus’ representatives at the Caravan will be Roquelina González (distributing the FOB Zona Libre catalogue and demonstrating the website, and Patricia Puentes (Focus on Panama guide and The Visitor).

Participantes en la "Caravana" en la orden usual de izquierda a derecha. Nayiris Redondo, Gerente de Decameron Explorer para Santa Marta, Sr. Jairo Torrente, Director Decameron y Radisson Decapolis en Colombia, Sra. María Isabel Aronne, Representante de Hotel Soloy y el Panamá, Licda. Leslie Sánchez, Hoteles Riande Continental, Licdo. Omar Ching, Jefe Mercadeo Internacional del IPAT, Sr. Alfredo Tor-Paz, Gerente de Playa Blanca, Licda. Priscila Vásquez, Gerente Ventas Hotel Meliá Panamá, Sr. Alexis Zapata, Viajes Arco Iris, Sr. Luis Arguedas, Grayline Panamá.

The Coclé Tourism Cluster is born

Standing, from left to right/De pie, en orden usual, Hermann Gnaegi, (Finca Hermann Gnaegi Lesbia Benuzzi (Tropic Tours), Antonio Hincapié (Hotel Campestre).
Seated/sentadas: Esther Carles (Descubra Panama); Jéssica Lau de Velázquez (Forestour Panama), Grace Acedo (La Casa de Lourdes).

Un grupo de siete empresas relacionadas al turismo de Coclé fundaron, recientemente, el Cluster Turítico de la provincia, con el fin primordial de promover la región como un destino reconocible en los mercados internacionales con el lema “Coclé su mejor destino”.

El Cluster de Coclé recibe asistencia técnica de "Compite Panamá", programa auspiciado por el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo y el gobierno panameño.

La provincia de Coclé es la vecina occidental de la provincia de Panamá, y cuenta con dos regiones turísticas bien definidas: las frescas montañas del norte y sus amplias playas hacia el sur. La provincia también cuenta con un gran potencial para el desarrollo del agroturismo, además del turismo histórico y cultural.

Esta fotografía fue tomada durante una reciente reunión del Cluster en el Restaurante Tinajas, de la ciudad de Panamá.


South Corridor to be extended

City to gain new recreational spaces

The plan to extend the South Corridor expressway, from its present terminus in Paitilla to the Bridge of the Americas, has also revived an old ambition for Panama City, the construction of what government officials call a "cinta costera", a 100-meter-wide landfill around the Paitilla area and Avenida Balboa, which will create additional space for parks and recreational areas –a much needed commodity in a city undergoing an unprecedented real estate boom.

The Ministry of Public Works (MOP) recently divulged the plan to extend the South Corridor, which links the suburbs surrounding Tocumen Inter-national Airport with downtown. The extension is necessary because the corridor currently puts too much traffic on Avenida Balboa, especially during the morning rush hours, between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. With scores of luxury high-rise apartments presently under construction in the area, experts say that traffic will come to a standstill on Avenida Balboa and surrounding streets if the corridor is not extended.

The extension entails the construction of an overpass starting at the present Paitilla terminus and ending over the Matasnillo river. From there onward across the bay, the road will continue at the level of the landfill, connecting to the Bridge of the Americas via a tunnel (dug through solid rock) across San Felipe and El Chorrillo, thus allowing drivers en route from the interior provinces access to the airport completely avoiding downtown.

City planners envision the "cinta costera" landfill as a green lung, similar to Omar Park and the Amador Causeway, with parks, gazebos, boutiques and restaurants. This part of the project also entails the construction of water treatment facilities needed for the sanitation of Panama Bay.

There will be a number of exits to and from the downtown area, One of them will be located near the seafood market, on Avenida 3 de Noviembre, which will provide direct access to the North Corridor via the new Albrook system of overpasses. The project is expected to cost between US$80 and $100 million.

According to Lider Sucre, the Executive Director of the National Association for the Conservation of the Nature (ANCON), the proposal to create the "cinta costera" will not have a significant impact on the environment. He said: "Any project consisting of landfill will not have a significant impact on the fauna and ecosystem of the Bay of Panama." He said that the discharge of untreated sewage waters and other pollutants into the Bay of Panama has caused significant damage to the sea floor, and that the creation of an additional strip of landfill along the coast is a relatively small sacrifice which will not have significant consequences.

MOP authorities and city planners are currently making the final touches to the plan, which is expected to be announced in detail in the coming weeks.


U.S residents get housing tax break

The Treasury Department and IRS issued Notice 2006-87 today, which permits individuals who work outside the United States and live in foreign countries with high housing costs to deduct or exclude a greater portion of their housing costs.

Although U.S. citizens and residents are generally subject to U.S. tax on their worldwide income, section 911 of the Internal Revenue Code permits individuals who live and work outside the United States to exclude from U.S. tax portions of their earned income and housing costs. The Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (TIPRA) made several changes to section 911, one of which effectively placed a limit on the amount of housing costs that could be taken into account under that section. TIPRA provided the Treasury Department with authority to adjust the new housing cost limitation based on geographic differences in housing costs relative to housing costs in the United States.

In the Notice, using the approach suggested in the legislative history to TIPRA, Treasury exercises its authority to increase the housing cost limitation, setting forth new higher housing cost amounts for specific locations. The relief provided by the Notice is retroactive to the effective date of TIPRA. The Notice also requests comments regarding the determination of locations and housing costs in future taxable years.


International consortium plans dolphinarium

But environmental groups oppose it

By: Rainier Guillén A.

The dolphinarium on Jamaica’s North Coast.

The company, Ocean Embassy Panama plans to build the first dolphinarium in Central America with an investment of US$2.5 million, in the community of El Higo, San Carlos, an hour-and15-minute-drive from Panama City. The park will include a reception building, an area for tourists and a tower from which tourists can observe the dolphins.

The intention of Ocean Embassy Panama is to attract tourists from Central and South America, since the nearest dolphinarium is in Veracruz, Mexico, and to the south, in Brazil.

Based on current expectations regarding the growth of tourism in Panama, the company is expected to generate between US$25 and $33 million per year. The project also entails the construction of lodging facilities in the area.

Region of most potential
The company, owned by Robin Bennet Friday, a U.S. Citizen, selected the property due to the fact that there are no major communities in the area. It will cover 4.07 hectareas with eight buildings, and eight lake-size pools, in addition to three private beaches where visitors will interact with the dolphins.

The park will be located in Panama's "Fourth Tourist Zone" (a region encompassing the coast of the western sector of the province of Panama and Coclé), which, according to the Panama Government Tourist Bureau (IPAT) is the region with the most potential for tourist development. It encompasses 75 kilometers of beaches on the Pacific, and features three major beach resorts: Coronado Resort, Hotel Playa Blanca Resort and Hotel Decameron.

Conservation issues
The project has faced fierce opposition by a number of conservationist groups, alleging that the project violates various international treaties.

One of the first complaints was presented by Marine Connection, a British organization, which stated that Panama would violate international law if it allowed the country to import Bottle-nosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), from the Solomon Islands. The group cites the fact that Panama is one of the countries that approved the Convention on International Trade of Wild, Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1978.

In June of this year, the national director of Protected Areas and Wildlife, Aleida Salazar, issued a statement disapproving the project, citing possible damage to the dolphins, as well as the project's incompatibility with the CITES Convention.

Salazar's report states that "there is a tendency towards the prohibition of this activity (dolphins in captivity) due to the incompatibility between conservation and the harmful trade of marine mammals."

The report also made reference to the controversial background of the capture and trade of dolphins from the Solomon Islands to other countries. In 2005, the Solomon Islands banned the export of live dolphins to other countries due to a series of scandals involving marine centers similar to that which Ocean Embassy plans to build in Panama.

Interacting with dolphins.

Despite these arguments, the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) approved Ocean Embassy's Environmental Impact Study through Resolution No. IA-076 of July 17, 2006. Nevertheless, ANAM stated it had only approved the environmental study for the construction of the facility, adding that the capture of live dolphins required additional studies.

ANAM's decision prompted the entities opposing the project to take their protest to the media, hoping to force Ocean Embassy to capture local dolphins instead of the idea of importing the mammals from the Solomon Islands.

The problem didn't end there, however. A group of technicians of ANAM's department of Protected Aareas and Wildlife, issued a report warning about the environmental and legal problems caused by the capture of live dolphins in Panamanian waters, stating that "the capture would entail high mortality rates among the mammals, a fact that could result in legal action against the company, due to the violation of Law No 5, which regulates ecological damage."

But not everybody at ANAM shares the same point of view. "Why can't children in Panama visit a good zoo, or in this case, a good water park, if these are considered places of learning?", asked ANAM's director, Ligia Castro. "I understand that Ocean Embassy is a prestigious international company with no obscure legal background", she commented.

The final phase of this "Disney"-type park will cost US$10 million, and will generate up to 1,100 jobs in seven years. If the park becomes a reality, it will be the world's 31st of its kind.


Couple starts Chiriqui info service

Steve & Gloriella Hendrickson.

A U.S. Resident of Chiriquí, Steve Hendrickson, and his Panamanian wife, Gloriela, have started an information service to help expats in the province. "Our pricing is very reasonable and we will hunt down anything they may need and research the best options for them", says Gloriella.

Our photograph shows the Hendricksons posed against the backdrop of a painting by Gloriella, who is a talented artist.

The couple can be contacted at or (507) 6667-0606 or 6531-4232.


Construction begins at Palo Alto Mountain Club

House at Palo Alto.

27 residential projects under way in the Boquete area of Chiriqui. Boquete has become well known for its extremely pleasant and cool climate, lush vegetation, the beauty of its mountains, its internationally recognized specialty coffees and the magnificence of the two rivers, the Cochea and the Caldera, that run through it and provide an endless source of fresh water.

One of the most elegant of the projects is Palo Alto Mountain Club, a development of villas and condominiums designed to satisfy the most demanding of the people seeking a second or retirement home. This master-planned gated community project is being built on 74 acres of nature-friendly surroundings offering an active lifestyle in a pleasant and safe environment.

The villas are available in four models: Villa Girasol, Villa Chavelita, Villa Camelita and Villa Gardenia. Villa Girasol is a strikingly beautiful 255m2 (2,744 sq. ft.) home featuring three bedrooms with baths and a walk-in closet in the master bedroom. Villa Chavelita is an impressive 290m2 (3,120 sq. ft.) 2-story home with 2 bedrooms with baths, and two terraces to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding areas. Villa Camelita, on the other hand, is a grandiose 455m2 (4,896 sq. ft.) 2-story home with 4 bedrooms and baths. The fourth, and latest addition to Palo Alto Mountain Club is Villa Gardenia, a truly spectacular and totally different 300m2 (3,228 sq. ft.) home featuring 4 bedrooms with baths and includes a Jacuzzi.

All the homes have spacious bedrooms, and beautiful views of the mountains. They all have fireplaces in the master bedrooms and living rooms, large kitchen areas with luxuriously finished cabinets, and first-class fixtures, marble and granite countertops, laundry areas, visitor’s baths, terraces, and very ample grounds.

Rose Condos.

In addition to the villas, Palo Alto Mountain Club also has three models of spacious and comfortable condominiums: the two-level Rose condo with two bedrooms and baths; the Orchid condo, also with two levels, but with three bedrooms with baths, and the majestic Lirios condo with three levels, three bedrooms and baths plus maid’s quarters. All have terraces with magnificent views.

In order to preserve the natural beauty of the grounds, all utilities, including high-speed internet service, as well as water, electricity and phone lines are underground.

Residents at Palo Alto can meet with friends and neighbors at the Mountain Club House, enjoy tennis and horseback riding, or work out in the fully equipped gym and spa. The Boquete area offers river rafting, kayaking and mountain biking, as well as walking along trails, bird watching and going to nearby beaches. There are two golf courses nearby.

Palo Alto Mountain Club is within walking distance of the quaint town of Boquete with its stores, supermarkets, churches and restaurants.

Construction of the main road at Palo Alto Mountain Club has already begun, and the first two villas and a condo will follow shortly. More information:


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