Free from the tourist crowds, Panama’s natural gifts shine. While most backpackers in Central America set their sights on tourist-soaked Costa Rica and Guatemala, it is difficult to avoid the feeling in Panama that you are a secret the rest of the world traveling has yet to be discovered. Although the ‘gringo trail “has swung south to the Caribbean archipelago of Bocas del Toro, the neglect overdevelopment that plagues most cities of the Costa Rican beach remains refreshingly absent here. In fact, highlights of Panama is still far off the beaten-path destinations, although it is likely to change in coming years.
Until their exploits anticipated tourist boom, however, Panama is still accessible to backpackers on a budget, and no shortage of beaches, mountains and jungles to explore. The Pearl Islands in itself could occupy your entire trip, with its endless islands and islets, sublime beaches and crystalline waters. Volcan Baru National Park is home to only volcano in Panama and some very picturesque trekking opportunities, while the interior is a veritable gold mine of colonial cities, exquisite handicrafts and friendliest people in the country. Panama is also home to one of the most independent of the indigenous groups in Central America, the Kuna, who live independently in the Kuna Yala, as well as one of the last real frontier in the Americas, the notorious province Darien.
In short, the most famous city of Panama is a sprawling slum of decaying colonial grandeur and desperate human existence. Before 1869, the Panama Railroad connects Panama City and Colon was the only rapid transit around the continental Western Hemisphere. However, once the U.S. transcontinental railroad was established, Columbus became an economically depressed city overnight. Although the city was revived temporarily during construction of the Panama Canal, the city’s economy collapsed after the completion of the canal, as it simply was not enough work for the thousands of unemployed workers soon.
In 1948, Zone Libre (Free Zone) was created at the edge of Columbus, in an attempt to revive the city. Today, the 482 hectares of the Free Zone is the largest free trade area in the Americas. That connects North America, the Far East and Europe with the Latin American market and is home to over 1600 companies and banks of several tens. Unfortunately, none of the 10 million U.S. dollars in the annual trade turnover seems to go beyond the walls of the compound and the Free Zone exists as an island of materialism floating in a sea of unemployment, poverty and crime.