Sunday, July 12, 2009

Trip to Central America, Days 1-2: Panama City, Panama

It may be one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Central America, yet it feels like many different cities in one.

Simply put, the contrasts are striking.

The slums of the Old Town (literally Old Compound), Casco Viejo, contrast to the skyscraper replete skyline (a la Dubai). Beggars roam the streets that are dangerous to visit, according to the locals at least, yet Casco Viejo's architectural beauty is hard to overstate. Its multi-colored buildings have a wiff of Cuba's Havana in them.

The city feels busy any day of the week, as Panama's transport hub. Even on a humid Monday, commerce and globalization are in full blast. And the Panama Canal, located on the outskirts of the capital, is an interesting site. Perhaps not as amazing or particularly interesting as it sounds, but it is definitely worth a visit, not least because it's just one of those sites you have to visit, such as the L'ouvre in Paris or the CN Tower in Toronto.

Prices are refreshingly low for a country of relative wealth. Again, the keyword is relative, since, by global standards, Panama is a poor country. Yet its wealth compares favorably to that of its neighbors, Costa Rica to the north and Columbia to the south.

A conglomeration of many different cities into one, Panama City is definitely worth a visit. True, it may not be the world's most interesting place, but this city better than any other in Central America defines the economic future of the region better than any other. That is, if corruption were stifled and more funds began flowing to the right places, but that is a whole different story.

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