Venice City Guide

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Top Vacation Destinations

Venice is made up of over 100 islands, all linked together by Venice‘s unique canal network. As one of the most beautiful cities in the world Venice won’t disappoint its visitors. Explore Venice’s famous canals, old bridges, stunning palazzos and great art. What to do and see in and around Venice

St Mark’s Square

The crowded St Mark’s Square is probably Venice’s most famous square. Enjoy a coffee in one of the cafés while admiring the beautiful architecture surrounding you. Lots of Venice’s main attractions, such as the Campanile and the Clock Tower, can be found close by. Don’t miss the golden altar piece in the impressive St Mark’s Basilica.

Gallerie dell’Accademia

The Accademia Gallery has one of the finest art collections in Europe. The walls are lined with works by Venetian master painters including Bellini, Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto.

Palazzo Ducale & the Bridge of Sighs

The Palazzo Ducale was the home of the Doges from where they ran the Venetian state. You see all aspects of the life of the Doge from where he lived to where state matters were discussed and justice dispensed. Walk over the infamous Bridge of Sighs, whose name comes from the time when the bridge led from the court to the prison cells. The Prisoners saw the view of the beautiful lagoon and sighed.

Ca’ d’Oro

Ca’ D’Oro (House of Gold) located on the Grand Canal is a beautiful palazzo and a great example of gothic architecture. The Palazzo shows a fine collection of sculptures, tapestries and paintings.

Santa Maria della Salute

Guarding the entrance to the Grand Canal is Santa Maria della Salute a Venetian landmark and a magnificent Baroque Church. The sacristy boasts paintings by Titian and Tintoretto’s Marriage at Cana.

San Giorgio Maggiore

The San Giorgio Maggiore church is a well known Venetian landmark designed by Palladio the famous renaissance architecture. Inside, you will find several of Tintoretto’s paintings including “The Last Supper”.

Canals

It’s impossible to think of Venice without thinking of canals and Gondolas. Cars are not allowed in the city and all transportation is on water. Travel like a true Venetian, hop on the Vaporati (water bus) and travel along the Grand Canal. It will take you under the Rialto Bridge and is a perfect way to admire the beautiful palaces lining the Canal.

Rialto Markets

The lively Rialto Markets are open evey morning. Fruit, vegetables, souvenirs and clothing are on offer. The Fish market has been held here for 1000 years – don’t miss the live lobsters and crabs.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco is one of Venice’s finest art museums with an impressive collection of more than 50 of Tintoretto’s works.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

The Venier dei Leoni Palace was the home of American collector Peggy Guggenheim for 30 years. Now it is a museum with a most impressive collection of modern art. Artists represented include Magritte, Picasso, Pollock and Kandinsky.

The Lido

20 minutes by waterbus from Venice

The Lido is a long strip of sand sheltering Venice lagoon from the Sea. The island’s sandy beaches make it a popular day trip destination for families and sun worshippers.

Verona

80 minutes by train from Venice

The charming city of Verona has plenty to offer its visitors including roman monuments, impressive architecture and delightful restaurants. Make sure you don’t miss the Roman Arena where an open-air opera festival takes place every year.

New York City Popular And Populated!

August 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Destinations

New York City, New York is said to be the most popular city in the entire United States. It also is one of the most populated cities in the US with more than 8 million residents. New York City plays a very important role in the global economy. It is a very important location for the United Nations who works to bring peace to the world through international relationships. It is an area well known for financing, and trading. Some of the world’s highest skyscrapers are found in the business sector of New York City.

Due to the large amount of people in New York City, roads are very congested. Many people take modes of public transportation to commute including taxi cabs, buses, and the subway. It is not uncommon for residents of New York City to not own a vehicle.
New York City is known for being a trend setter from fashion to food. In 2005 it became the first city to ban trans fats from the restaurants. This will be effective by 2008.

New York City is divided into five main areas. Each has a history and character of its own. Manhattan is the least populated area of New York City. Skyscrapers and historical landmarks make this a common area for tourism. The arts and entertainment are popular here as well. The Bronx has a rap/hip hop culture to it. This is a very poor area of New York City with low levels of education, high unemployment rates, and one of the highest crime rates.

Brooklyn is an area full of history. It is also a huge residential area. People come here to experience the fun of Coney Island including the beach and amusement parks. Queens has three major airports and is a hub for the other areas of New York City. Staten Island is connected to Manhattan via a ferry. It is undergoing construction to become the largest urban park in the US.

Perhaps the most historical event to take place in New York City is the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11th of 2001. Two planes taken control of by terrorists crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. This was an event that took many lives and affected the economy of the world.

Romantic City Guide Sacramento

July 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Top Vacation Destinations

Sacramento is the capital of the state of California, but surprisingly, many areas in the region retain that old small town charm. It is a great city for couples to visit, especially those who are more interested in the history of the area, but there are activities for those who may not be into going to museums and historical places.

Old Sacramento is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. The area looks like a section of the city stuck in the 1800’s, and although there are a few modern businesses in the area, Old Sacramento is more of a hotspot among tourists rather than a residential or commercial area. There are several museums and quaint shops in the area, as well as a few restaurants. The most visited part of Old Sacramento is the California State Railroad Museum, full of artifacts and trains, many of which are intact from the time they were last used. (Travel to California became much easier and quicker with the introduction of the Steam Engine.)

The city of Sacramento is also home to many festivals that many people come from all over the world to attend. The Traditional Jazz Music Festival is held annually over the Memorial Day Weekend and the California State Fair is one of the most popular events of its kind in the world. Held annually for the last 152 years, the California State Fair draws in more than a million visitors each year and is always filled with fun exhibits and entertaining performances.

As far as dining is concerned, Morton’s Steakhouse is a wonderful upscale restaurant to spend the night at, as is the Biba Ristorante Italiano, which has won the “Best Restaurant in Sacramento” award multiple times. If you are in the mood for Chinese, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro is always a favorite spot among couples.

Sacramento is a city that is buzzing with excitement and there is plenty to do and see in the wonderful city.

Orlando The Haven City For Tourists

June 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Top Vacation Destinations

Did you ever sit down with your family to plan your next vacation and then realize that you just couldn’t find that special somewhere where the parents and the kids, and perhaps another relative or 2, could all find something interesting to do?

And on top of that, maybe you’ve been to all the interesting places within your travel budget anyway? Well then you probably haven’t been to Orlando, Florida. Otherwise you’d realize that even Orlando ‘V-V’s’ (Vacation Veterans) can always find something to see and do in Orlando that they didn’t do the last time they were here, or even the time before that.

I’ve long wondered what it is about Orlando that draws so many people to this, the sixth largest city in Florida. Well, a city of less than 200,000 people that draws about 52,000,000 (yes, Million!) tourists a year must be doing something right.

It’s almost an understatement to say that the good people of the city want to give you the chance to see and do something new and fun (or even something old and fun, because many of the city’s attractions do bear repeated visits).

This attitude, and the countless opportunities for the fun-loving and health-loving and education-loving visitor, is one reason that Orlando is called ‘the amusement capital of the world’, as well as ‘the city beautiful’.

Step by step I’ll take you through a lot of the city’s tourist attractions (not the least of which are the fine accommodations for visitors, from hotel rooms to fully equipped apartments). In this article I’ll start with some of the more famous attractions, since these are what many people are initially interested in.
Not that you’re unfamiliar with Disney World. We may safely label it as the world’s favorite children’s theme park.

This grand creation has 4 different theme parks full of shows, rides and other attractions. As well it provides plenty of shopping and eating opportunities for those who may be ‘themed’ out for awhile.

The first park is Magic Kingdom, Disney’s first theme park. Second is Animal Kingdom Park, combining an animal experience with classic rides, attractions and shows. Epcot Park takes you into the future, cleverly combining fun and learning. The MGM Studios contains among many other things, a tower of terror which is pleasant looking from outside but may, once you’re inside, frighten your heart out.

Another famous tourist haven in Orlando is Universal Orlando Resort, which has five theme parks, including the Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, Wet ‘n Wild Water Park, Sea World, and Busch Gardens. Add to this the dining, nightlife and shopping venues and you may just find the ideal place for at least one full vacation. The resort also contains the Universal Studios where you can enjoy the ride while watching movies. If you have a budding Hollywood star in your brood they can learn how movies are made and the secrets behind some movie effects. Within this resort each theme park stands alone.

Perhaps two of them at this resort are most famous One is The Islands of Adventure, which certainly live up to their name, with wild rides and roller coasters in this quite new park in Orlando.
There is also Sea World, a well known aquatic park, which offers breath-taking rides as well as animal shows where you can see smart animals doing their amazing stunts.

We are just scratching the surface of this amazing town. We’ll follow up with more on Orlando in future articles and I won’t be surprised if you write me sometime to say you’ve planned several vacations there for the near future.

Hello From Mexico City

May 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Top Vacation Destinations

After our visit to the huge government-owned pawnshop, Nacional Monte de Piedad, we saw a side view of Mexico City’s and Latin America’s biggest cathedral: the Catedral Metropolitana. It is also at the heart of the world’s largest Catholic diocese. Due to the fact that Mexico was built on the former Lake Texcoco, the cathedral is slowly sinking and scaffolding in the interior of the building attests to the efforts to try to stabilize it.

In front of the Cathedral are numerous merchants that sell all sorts of handicrafts to the tourists. The wide open public space in front of the church is called the Zócalo and it is said to be the second largest public square in the world, after Red Square in Moscow. An indigenous healer was performing a cleansing ceremony in public with a local couple. He had a variety of herbs and was burning incense for this purification ritual.

To the left side of the cathedral is the Palacio Nacional which today houses the office’s of Mexico’s president. One of the typical “organiceros” was stationed outside, playing his automated melody, but none of the organ grinders we saw today were willing to have their picture taken and they always conveniently looked away when a camera was pointing at them.

We had to talk our way into this beautiful building since a guard stationed outside demanded that we show identification which we unfortunately did not have on us. However, with Vanessa’s feminine charm we were able to obtain a few minutes in this astounding building.

The National Palace was built on the site of Montezuma’s Palace and was initially the residence of Hernán Cortés after he conquered Mexico. The building has a beautiful courtyard with arcades and a fountain in the middle. The staircase to the 2nd floor and the walls on the upper floor are adorned with a series of murals by Mexico’s most famous muralist, Diego Rivera. The wall paintings illustrate the history of Mexico, from the pre-Columbian peoples, to their subjugation by Spanish conquerors, the fight for independence from Spain, revolutionary leaders, as well as the dictatorship under Porfirio Diaz which was put to an end by Francisco I. Madero.

We then walked around the crafts market just outside the Cathedral and had a look at the Templo Mayor, an imposing complex built by the Aztecs in the 14th and 15th century. It was at the heart of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec city that, like so many others, was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. The Spanish invaders had a habit of destroying any preexisting architecture and building their churches and palaces on top of them.

Calle Tacuba took us towards our well-deserved late lunch in the historic Café de Tacuba, a famous restaurant located in a building from the 17th century. The café itself dates back to 1912. I had a very tasty sopa de ajo (garlic soup) with some even tastier quesadillas con guacamole which were even hotter. Vanessa strengthened herself witha tamal (spicy rice cooked in a husk of corn). We needed the strength since our next adventure was a ride in Mexico City’s subway.

I always love riding in public transport in other cities, particularly in subways, since they all have their own peculiar atmosphere. Mexico City’s subway stations are quite utilitarian (not a lot of spectacular public art in the stations we saw) and the subway cars themselves ride on rubber wheels. This contrasts quite strongly to the metal clanking of our subway cars here in Toronto. Vanessa indicated that you have to be careful in public transit here and during rush hour the subway cars are subdivided in cars for men and for women.

We took several subway routes to the Universidad Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a former monastery dedicated to the nun of the same name who was an interesting character and lived from 1648-1695. She was colonial Latin America’s pre-eminent poet and scholar during the 17th century. Around age 19 she became a nun, declaring that only life in the monastery would give her sufficient opportunity for her studies and intellectual pursuits. Today her monastery is the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana and we explored this historic building and were impressed by the inner courtyard that was full of eager students and, interestingly enough, numerous hungry cats waiting to be fed by the staff.

On the subway ride back to Vanessa’s parents’ apartment I reflected on my first day in Mexico. It is an immense city, and the downtown just swirls with people. One thing I noticed was how ethnically homogeneous Mexico City is: the vast majority of people I saw were of indigenous or mixed indigenous / mestizo background and we both mused about how few tourists / foreigners we saw.

We saw a ton, and Vanessa is certainly a phenomenal tour guide and local expert. I just wish I had more time to explore all the historic buildings with their fascinating inner courtyards. There is just so much to see and so little time…

How To Get Around China

April 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Travel information

Whereas Shanghai and Hong Kong predominate in the economic field, Peking is widely recognized as the political, educational and cultural centre of the Country, with a jurisdiction over 18 districts and counties. To get around this metropolis you might find useful these brief suggestions on public transports once you land there.

Public Bus and trolley Bus: you need to keep in mind some numbers. Buses Nos. 1-200 and trolley buses run in the city ( 1 yuan per person); buses Nos. 201-212 run at night; buses Nos. 300-599 go to the suburbs, charging according to the distance covered. Air conditioned buses starting with n. 8 are charged according to the distance covered. They usually run through the bustling streets. Buses starting with n. 6 go to the residential areas and so on. (for details see bjbus.com).

Beijing Capital International Airport (010 645 63 604) is one of China’s major gateways. It is 28 km from the city centre, about 40 minutes’ ride by car. Taxi costs about 100 yuan.

There are 4 railways stations in the city: Beijing Railway Station (ph. 5101 99 99), Beijing West (the largest; ph: 5182 6253), South (ph: 63030031) and North Railway stations. Passengers may buy train tickets from the ticket offices 10 days in advance or book by phone ( ph. 010- 51827188 from 9am-9pm every day) or internet (036.com.cn ) 5 to 11 days in advance.

There are 3 different types of taxi charges (1.2, 1.6, and 2 yuan per kilometer) and they are very convenient to explore the city. ( Call the taxi centre: 010- 683 73399)

Subway: 4 lines criss-cross the city of Beijing . Line 1, Line 2, Line 13 and Batong line. The latter two are city rails. They run from 5am till approximately 10 or 11 in the night. Subway entrances feature a gray cement structure with a symbolized lamp box. A one-way ticket is about 3-5 yuan.

Bikes and bikes! As always we cannot avoid mentioning a healthy, environmentally friendly, convenient, economical, safe and fun means of travel transportation and recreation! The bike! China truly is the ‘Bicycle Kingdom’, producing and using more bicycles than any other nation in the world. Cycling in China is a kind of life style for the Chinese people. Don’t forget that in the traffic and in the narrow alleys of the Hutongs bikes are the best means to explore the city and is a super-individual way of transport by your own pace! Try companies like The Bicycle Kingdom to rent your own bike.

Also, to avoid long stressful researches on where to go and what to do, here we have highlighted for you some of the central Beijing districts divided by main interest. Haidian District is home of China’s Silicon Valley -Zhongguancun- and 39 universities including Beijing, Tsinghua and Renmin Universities, so basically good for shopping feaver. Xuanwu District is a good area for everything related to traditional medicine whilst the Chaoyang District is the 798 Art District and flea market district. Dongcheng District is an area where many nice backpackers youth hostels are located. Just to mention some names: the 9 dragons youth hostel, Beijing City Central youth Hostel, the Courtyard Hotel, Beijing Harbour Inn Hostel, the Saga youth Hostel, the Beijing New Dragon Hostel.

Xicheng District hosts some public parks as the Beihai park, Jingshan Park, Yuetan Park and the Beijing Zoo. In the area the famous Zhongnanhai and the popular Houhai bar . If you like this ‘green’ area, we also suggest a very nice boutique value hotel nested in an hold traditional hutong called the Spring Garden Courtyard Hotel. A hotel in a Chinese traditional, deluxe courtyard, comprises a autumn and a spring garden offering a unique cultural connotation. In fact, each of the rooms introduces you to the life of different distinguished emperors in Chinese history and the dynasties that they lived in. In the multifunction hall, there are approximately one hundred photos with English translations depicting Beijing (Peking) past. These include places of interest, culture, religion, and every day life in the city. There is also a staff member available to answer questions and explain the 800 years of Beijing history).

Other central location districts are: Fengtai District; Shijingshan District; Chongwen District.

Cambridge City Guide, Including Cambridge Hotels

April 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Traveling tips

Cambridge combines the best of traditional and modern life in one city. The towers, quadrangles and gardens of its 31 colleges create the Cambridge’s spectacular landscape. At the same time, visitors enjoy the best in theatre, music and live entertainment in Cambridge’s many festivals and theatres. A great spot to visit all year round, Cambridge is host to many thousands of visitors, and endures as one of England’s most popular places to visit.

Places of Interest

On every corner of the city, there is at least one building or view that is worth visiting and exploring. There are also places off the beaten path that are definitely worth a short excursion.

The University—take a guided tour of Cambridge’s 31 famous colleges. You can spend time investigating these colleges for a day or for weeks.

Moggerhanger Park—This Georgian Grade I Historic house is a jewel in the Bedfordshire Countryside. It has undergone a gradual renovation process, and fits the striking and original design of Sir John Soane.

Cromwell Museum—Sir Oliver Cromwell, born in 1599 attended this former school along with Samuel Pepys. Now a museum, this collection features objects once belonging to the former Lord Protector and his family.

Fenner’s Field—Have a pint, some crisps and watch a cricket match in the University’s cricket field. You can view a match in April, May or June.

ADC Theatre—The oldest theatre in Cambridge, this venue is home to the finest student productions as well as community theatrical projects.

Things To Do

Whatever your interests, you can find a variety of activities in Cambridge. Whether music is your passion or you prefer taking a nature hike, there is always something going on in Cambridge, regardless of the season.

Corn Exchange Festival—In the summertime, Cambridge is home to one of East Anglia’s finest events during which you can experience the best in every genre of music, comedy and drama.

Cambridge Folk Festival—described by the Daily Telegraph as Europe’s most celebrated folk festival, this frequently sold-out event features folk music from every corner of the world.

Fireworks Display—Cambridge hosts the largest free fireworks display in England, and along with the impressive show, there is also free, live entertainment and a bonfire.

Debenham’s—no trip to England is complete without a shopping excursion at one of the most frequently visited department stores in the country. Whatever you are looking for, you will find it here.
Roman Road Walk—take a stroll back in time on a circular Roman road that will lead you through local fields and villages.

Food & Drink

In addition to visiting Cambridge superb sites, you will also need to grab a bite to eat now and again. Whether you prefer a formal meal, a light snack or a traditional English tea, you can easily find a place in Cambridge that suits your appetite and your budget. If you fancy a pint, there are many pubs to choose from as well.

Red Lion-16th century country pub in the lovely village of Hinxton serves traditional English fare and drinks.

Bun Shop—if you are looking for a restaurant and pub with a Mediterranean flavour, enjoy the tapas, the continental food and the Flamenco dancing at the Bun Shop. There is also a Quiz Night every Tuesday.

Maharaja Indian Tandoori—This is one of the oldest Indian restaurants in Cambridge, and it serves traditional Indian favourites, including Madras, Tandoori and Bhajis as well as piping hot vindaloo.
The Anchor—This classic English pub has a riverfront terrace and serves English breakfasts as well as Sunday roasts.

Tatties—A good place to grab a quick bite to eat, this charming establishment specializes in jacket potatoes, snacks, coffee and tea and has a great selection of vegetarian dishes.

Hotel & Accommodations

Whether you are looking for a five-star hotel or a budget bed and breakfast, it is quite easy to find what you are looking for in Cambridge. There are many medium-priced Bed and Breakfasts or Guest Houses which are family run and provide amenities such as cable TV, quality bathrooms and showers, and hot beverages. Many offer free continental breakfasts or low-cost English breakfasts. For the adventurous, there are many camping grounds located outside of the city centre if you are keen on renting a caravan. For those who prefer self-catering, there are many houses and apartments available to let by the week.

Aylesbray Lodge
Brooklands Guest House
Sorrento Hotel & Restaurant
Cambridge Garden House Moat House
Centennial Hotel
De Vere University Arms Hotel
Royal Cambridge
Acorn Guest House
Best Western Gonville Hotel
Ashtrees Guest House
Arundel House Hotel
Carolina Guest House
Sleep Inn Cambridge
The Meadowcroft Hotel
Best Western-Connoisseur, Cambridge Quy Mill Hote
Kirkwood House
Hotel Felix
Express by Holiday Inn Cambridge
Dresden Villa Guest House
The Cambridge Belfry
Alpha Milton Guest House
Cambridge Apartments Ltd
Black Horse Motel

Entertainment

Theatre has a long and well-respected tradition in Cambridge, and it is in this city that many of today’s popular entertainers made their foray into the performing arts. The Corn Exchange Theatre is the largest venue in the city, and hosts operas, large-scale professional productions and stand-up comedy. It is also worth investigating student talent as well, and the ABC, the oldest theatre in Cambridge, is worth a visit. The Mumford is the legendary student theatre in Cambridge and is the largest student venue. Drop by the Corpus playroom, which features student productions throughout the year.

If you prefer cinema, visit the Arts Picture House, which features foreign and mainstream films and also sponsors children’s programs. The Vue Cinema has an 8 screen selection, with enough choices to suit every film fancier.

There are several notable festivals in Cambridge during the summer. The Cambridge Folk Festival is the finest of its kind in Europe and features an impressive and eclectic mix of traditional music, from Irish favourites to American blue grass. At the Corn Exchange Festival, you can hear any style of music that suites your taste. There are also comedy programs and theatrical productions on the schedule.

Regardless of your interests or the time of year you are planning to visit the city, Cambridge an outstanding array of nightlife, dining, entertainment, and sightseeing options. Even if you stay for months, it is unlikely that you will be able to experience everything Cambridge has to offer, so a return trip to this fantastic city should definitely be in your plans.

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City Breaks In New York City

March 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Travel information

When Henry Hudson arrived in 1609 few could possibly have anticipated the legacy he would leave behind. From humble beginnings, New York City has developed into the greatest metropolis on the planet.

Far from the crime ridden cesspit portrayed in films from the 1970s, New York has cleaned up its act. Many visitors are pleasantly surprised at the new found order and obedience within the present city.

Few places can compare for modern human spirit, depicted perfectly in the mass gathering of human emotion that is the New York City Marathon. Sunset in Central Park is the motivation for training.

But New York is also a place for individuals. The mammoth manmade canyons – a consequence of New York’s endeavour to reach the sky with its epic buildings – provide a space to reflect on its worldwide fame.

For many New Yorkers the sun can prove pretty elusive. The rousing skyscrapers shroud the Big Apple in shadow for much of the time.

For the tourists however, New York is blessed with iconic landmarks on every corner. Make your way to the summit of the Empire State Building to witness a magnificent 360-degree view that is the glory of Manhattan.

Art lovers should make their way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and revel in its noble works from America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Alternatively you may try the more enigmatic collections housed at the Museum of Modern Art and purchase eccentricities within the gallery stores.

If you’re fortunate to be in town at Christmas, don’t miss the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting including the wonderful festivities. New York captures the full Christmas flavour; maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to see some snow.

The bottom line is New York – and Manhattan in particular – is a living organism. The city that gave the world legends such as Miles Davis, Irving Berlin and Martin Scorsese quite literally shakes you by the shoulders and pushes you into the 21st century.

Many have succumbed and sought refuge in this vibrant theatre. John Lennon, Andy Warhol and the great lady herself, The Statue of Liberty – a gift from Paris – have all yielded to the cities charm.

When you find yourself entering the gates of New York for the first time, ignore the lousy coffee, New Yorkers’ dress sense, and the constant irritation of ‘wacky’ mobile phone ring tones. Just take a breath, grab a seat and go along with the ride.

24 Hours In Panama A Travel Guide To Panama City

March 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Top Vacation Destinations

Panama is an adventure wonderland just waiting to be discovered. The country’s expansive rainforests are among the richest and most complex on the planet. It’s the only country where jaguars and pumas prowl just a short drive from the capital. Its vast, roadless jungles are home to over 940 recorded bird species and 105 endangered species, including the spectacled bear, the Central American tapir, the American crocodile, the scarlet macaw, as well as several eagle species.

This small, untapped country offers some of the finest diving, birdwatching, and deep-sea fishing in all of the Americas—yet only the most avid adventurers are aware of it. Panama boasts scores of deserted palm-lined beaches, miles of lush rainforests, great national parks, mysterious mangroves (where you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to a time when dinosaurs walked the earth), steamy cloud forests, mountains, waterfalls, raging rivers, abandoned forts, as well as desert.

In Panama you can spend the morning diving in the Caribbean and the afternoon swimming in the Pacific. You can explore historic ruins of the colonial era…dive for Sir Francis Drake’s lead coffin (supposedly buried at sea near Portobello Bay)…see the rainforest in an aerial tram…ride a dug-out canoe to a native Indian village…discover the remote and mysterious forests of the Darién region right on the border of Colombia (where the roads end a few miles before the border, leaving you with the feeling you’ve reached the end of civilization)…come nose-to-nose with a red-napped tamarind monkey or a trio of colorful toucans…

Conde Nast Traveler, in an article from its February 2005 issue said “Panama has temperate rain forests, great surf and beaches, and more birdlife than any other country in Central America. Now…it also has a newly elected administration that wants travelers to enjoy every bit of it.”

Fortunately, Panama is a small country. In a short one- or two-week trip, you can see much of what this diverse country has to offer.

In this special report, the IL team proposes a plan to get the most out of 24 hours in Panama. From a traditional Panamanian breakfast to a trip to the Miraflores Locks to evening drinks in a little boutique hotel overlooking the Bay of Panama…we have it all thought out.

Breakfast in El Trapiche

Exploring the best Panama has to offer is hungry work. Start your day on a full stomach and head for breakfast in El Trapiche, a busy diner in El Cangrejo (Vía Argentina, tel. (507)269-4353). Here you can enjoy breakfast Panama style and indulge in a hearty feed of carimañol—a yummy roll made of mashed yucca and stuffed with ground beef and boiled eggs—and a side of corn tortillas, that more resemble silverdollar pancakes than taco shells. The bill should be less than $8, even with that second café con leche.

Trip to the Miraflores Locks

No trip to Panama is complete without seeing the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Panama Canal. According to the Panama Canal Authority “The history of the construction of the Panama Canal is the saga of human ingenuity and courage: years of sacrifice, crushing defeat, and final victory.” This statement, while true, doesn’t go far enough to describe the mighty toll taken by the building of the Panama Canal. Construction began in 1904 and took 10 years to complete. It remains one of the greatest engineering achievements of all time, completed despite landslides, disease, setbacks, and the loss of 75,000 lives in total. Engineers directed most of the actual construction, which cost $375 million, and involved the excavation of 240 million cubic yards of earth.

The Canal, 51 miles long, opened to shipping in August 1914 and was formally dedicated on July 12, 1920. In 1921, the U.S. paid Colombia $25 million as redress for the loss of Panama; in exchange, Colombia formally recognized Panama’s independence.

On average it takes a vessel eight hours to travel from one ocean to the other, passing through three sets of locks. The best place to see the Canal is from the Miraflores Locks (open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., admission free). Make sure to get to the Miraflores Locks for 9 a.m. as this is when you are most likely to see large ships passing through.

Tamales in Casco Viejo

By now you’re probably feeling a tad peckish… Time to hop on a bus or hail a taxi and make your way toward Casco Viejo for tamales. If you’re in luck, you’ll bump into Luis Antonio Visuette on the streets of Casco Viejo, where he has been selling delicious homemade tamales, wrapped in plaintain leaves, for more than 10 years. With his Yankee cap and five-gallon bucket of hot and spicy tameles calientitos, Luis is hard to miss. These lunchtime treats are available in both large (50 cents), and small (25 cents), and are a real hit when washed down with an ice-cold drink. International Living’s local office is located in the Casco Viejo area, in the Cathedral Plaza, next to the Panama Canal Museum and just in front of the stunning Metropolitan Cathedral, so if you want to enjoy your tamales in our office (Luis will be making the rounds) call in for a Panamanian style “power lunch.”

Explore Casco Viejo

Located at the mouth of the Panama Canal, Casco Viejo is the oldest city on the Pacific Coast of the Americas…although it was there long before the Canal was built.

In fairness to history, the original Panama City (now known as Old Panama or Panama La Vieja) was founded in 1519, about two miles from the center of Panama City as we know it today. From here, expeditions were mounted to conquer the Inca Empire of South America and all of the wealth pillaged from Peru, Chile, and California flowed to Spain through Old Panama. It is no surprise that this booty attracted pirates like Henry Morgan, who looted the city in 1671.

During Morgan’s attack, this original Panama City was burned to the ground. Two years later, in 1673, the capital was moved two miles to the west, and present-day Panama City was founded. This is the area now known as Casco Viejo.

As the city was being rebuilt by the Spanish settlers, they decided to build a massive surrounding wall and a stronger fortress for its protection and to ensure that the enormous wealth in gold and silver that passed through it would never again be susceptible to the likes of Henry Morgan.

The new city boasted a cross-sectioned design of 38 blocks, with three main streets running from east to west and seven streets running from north to south. Unfortunately, this urban development was interrupted by various fires that devastated its streets. In 1737, the “big fire” destroyed two thirds of the city, and the “small fire” of 1756 destroyed more than 90 houses. These and other catastrophic fires help explain why so few true examples of Spanish colonial architecture exist today.

The fortress still survives, though, and today houses several important, cultural, and historic buildings and monuments. But it is the architecture of Casco Viejo that makes it so special. The old Spanish colonial style is overlaid with French balconies and architecture, remnants of the French inhabitants who made the initial attempt to build the Panama Canal in 1881. Over the years, a Caribbean influence also took hold and, today, Casco Viejo is a melting pot of architectural inspiration and style, with some buildings dating as far back as 300 years.

Museums, shopping, and fortune telling

Up until the early parts of this century, Casco Viejo remained a thriving cultural center. But as Panama City modernized, and as the automotive age made transportation easier, it spread outward, leaving Casco Viejo behind. The old city’s narrow labyrinth streets were difficult for cars to maneuver and its buildings were obsolete in comparison to modern skyscrapers being built. By the mid 1900s, Casco Viejo had gone the way of most city centers of that century. No longer the center of Panama City, it was too oppressed for the upper class and quickly became a poor area of tenement-style housing.

The area is currently undergoing a complete transformation, however. Restaurants and bars are opening with gusto, tourists are coming in growing numbers, and people from all over now want to make their homes in Casco Viejo.

In 1997, UNESCO declared Casco Viejo a Patrimony of Humanity. Today, it is revered as the historic center of Panama City. Two- and three-story houses with flower-adorned balconies overlook narrow streets. At its tip is French Park, where you will find the French Embassy and a monument to the hardy French builders who began the Panama Canal. On one side is an historical Spanish building called Las Bovedas, now housing an art gallery and French restaurant. Panama’s Supreme Court was once housed here. A walkway around the monument offers a nice view of the Amador Causeway, Bridge of the Americas, and Panama City’s skyscraper skyline to the east. A plaque commemorates the firing of canon shots to ward off a Colombian warship and solidify Panama’s independence from Colombia in 1903.

There are excellent museums in the Casco Viejo area, including the Museo de Canal. Here, you can learn about Panama’s history as the connector between the Atlantic and the Pacific from pre-Hispanic to modern times. Next door is the Museum of National History and across the way is the National Cathedral. Nearby is a small museum dedicated to religious art, found in the old Santo Domingo monastery. This is where you will find the famous Flat Arch, which reportedly helped convince engineers that Panama was earthquake-proof and a geologically stable area for building the Canal. A few blocks away is the old San Jose Cathedral, with gleaming spires inlaid with mother-of-pearl and its beautiful gold altar, intricately carved of wood and gilded with gold. This is a must-see when you visit Casco Viejo.

Casco Viejo is home to the Presidential House. If you want to see this, be sure to come on a Sunday as it is closed to the public for the rest of the week. Famous sons and daughters of Panama also make their homes here, including actor/singer (and now Panama’s minister of tourism) Ruben Blades, and boxer Roberto Duran.

Bargain hunters can take a break from the historical sights at Salsipuedes, which roughly translates to “get out if you can.” Located just before the entrance to Casco Viejo, it is Panama’s bizarre bazaar, a street so narrow and filled with vendors that it is dark at noon. A few steps away is Santa Ana’s Plaza, where you can have your fortune told for just $5.

Dine at The Bristol

To finish off your day in style, make your way to The Bristol Hotel, just a short taxi journey from Casco Viejo. Dining at the Barandas Restaurant at The Bristol Hotel is an event to savor. The Panamanian-inspired gourmet cuisine, restful ambiance, stunning presentation, elegant settings, and attentive service combine to create an unforgettable dining experience.

A Trip To Panama Caught Your Fancy?

Hopefully, this special report has given you a few ideas on how to spend your time in Panama, but don’t forget that this amazing country has much more to offer. Pacific Coast beaches near the city; Coiba Island National Marine Park; and the Darién Province to name just a few.

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