Located in the middle of the country roughly 2 hours from Panama City, Penonomé (pronounced pay-noh-noh-MAY) is the capital of the province of Coclé. The city’s very name reflects the encounter between Spanish colonists and indigenous people, with legends about the 16th century cacique chief Nomé’s interactions with the Spanish colonizers. Penonomé served as the country’s capital after pirate Henry Morgan’s invasion of Panamá Viejo, inheriting a Spanish colonial feel. The rich indigenous history of the region is also evident in the petroglyphs (rock engravings) found throughout the area. Archaeological digs have revealed pre-Columbian pottery, ruins and burials, and much still remains undiscovered.
Spanish colonialism has also fused into the region’s culture to inspire an old-word charm, particularly evident in the Catedral de San Juan Bautista, the Spanish-inspired church located in the town center constructed in the mid-1500’s. The surrounding province of Coclé is famous for its handmade crafts, including the large straw hats worn by many older men in the interior regions of the country.
Coclé is also a large agricultural center, producing sugar, salt, tomatoes, coffee and oranges. It is common to see tomato, melon and watermelon for sale in roadside stands. Spaniards, Chinese and Arabs have migrated to the region over the past 100 years, evident in store ownership, goods and food. Sugar cane fields, waterfalls, small rivers and mountain views, combined with many ranches and orchards, have inspired many aquatic and agricultural festivals. Decorative rafts through the local river form an essential part of Penonomé’s Carnival celebrations, reminiscent of the traditional indigenous forms of travel and trade. For the most part, Penonomé remains an untapped treasure of virgin landscapes and rich history.