As a meeting point in the history of the countries of Latin America, Panama is a country forged by various cultures and traditions that come together to create a unique complexity and exotic environment. The country’s ethnic diversity is reflected in the traditional products, such as woodcarvings, ceremonial masks and pottery, as well as in its architecture, cuisine and festivals.
To visit Panama is to dazzle the senses, where indigenous and European cultures combine to create a country without equal. Panama’s architecture is a reflection of the different groups that make their home there. The Guna Yala region, home to the Guna Indians with their traditional huts, stands in contrast to the homes built by Swiss, Yugoslavian, Swedish, German and American immigrants in the styles unique to their respective countries.
Casco Antiguo, A World Heritage Site
The ancient city of Panama, currently undergoing restoration, is a site of great historical and architectural importance, and was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO on December 6, 1997. Visitors to the site can see homes built at the beginning of the last century, narrow lanes with ancient ruins, beautiful colonial churches, the National Theater, the Church of San Jose, with its famous golden altar that was saved from the greed of the pirates and the ruins of the convent of Santo Domingo and its famous Low Arch, which is over 300 years old. Panama City also has several museums, such as the Canal Museum, the History Museum and the Reina Torres de Arauz Museum, which focuses on the anthropology of the isthmus -the Art Museum and the Museum of Natural Sciences – among others.
Panama’s Rich Cuisine
Panama is an ideal place to enjoy local cuisine, which varies from region to region. Some of the local dishes include sancocho de gallina (chicken stew), carimañolas (deep fried meat rolls), new corn fritters, fried pork rinds and jerked beef, a delicacy for any discriminating diner. Fish and seafood are prevalent in several areas, including the famous dish known as “Fu-Fu”–a soup made from coconut milk, green plantains and fish with a pinch of a distinctive spicy condiment called “chombo” chile.
Dance, a Symbol of the Diverse Cultures That Come Together in Panama
The local folklore can be experienced through a multitude of festivals, dances and traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. The beautiful “Pollera” is the typical dress for the Panamanian women. The “Pollera” is embroidered on fine weave fabric with intricate, brightly colored designs that take over a year to complete. The men’s finery consists of embroidered, long sleeved shirts, three-quarter length pants and the traditional “Montuno” straw hat.
The different festivals reflect the influence of the different ethnic groups that make up the country. To the north, in Colon Province, one can observe traditions of African influence, such as Congo drums dating back to the era of slavery and the Black Christ feast. In contrast, the May Pole ceremony is found in Bocas del Toro, which is a European tradition. Throughout the country year-round festivals take place in each town in honor of the Patron Saint of each town.
The Panamanian Carnival, which is held before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, is world famous for its processions, bands and singers – which, together with the rich folklore of street musicians and beautiful women dressed in the traditional “polleras” and adorned with gold jewelry – make it a colorful celebration of the mix of different customs of all the ethnic groups.
The artisan pottery offers visitors a great variety of designs to choose from. Styles range from imitations of Pre-Colombian motifs to folk images and of varied uses–from dishes to planters. The Panamanian Institute of Tourism (IPAT), is a governmental entity that promotes Panama’s various travel products such as ecotourism, sport/adventure tourism, archaeological tourism, historical tourism and meetings and conventions on a global scale.