The Republic of Panama is a small country of 4 million people in Central America and is the geographical link between South America and North America through the 6-nation stretch of narrow Central America. When we talk about Panama, the first thing that comes to our mind is the Panama Canal, a quintessential engineering wonder that made the global logistics easier and faster for the last 105 years by artificially connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. This tiny nation is also famous for the Colon Free Trade Zone, the second largest free port in the world, ranking below the Hong Kong Free Trade Zone. From Aeropuerto Internacional de Tocumen in Panama City, the capital city, an hour northward drive will take you to the Free Zone. I visited Panama a few times, with the maiden one being in 2009, and took this drive. The road is very good and does pass through reserve forest area at a few places. And the way is sparsely populated, with plenty of greenery on either side. The Free Trade Zone is a profitable place for shopping as many factories like Nike, etc, have outlets at the Zone, selling at highly discounted prices, besides, no duties. If you are making trip to Panama for business or shopping, then visiting the Zone is unavoidable. And if you are a tourist, then leave the Zone and be at the Panama City.
In Panama City, the most attractive spot for a tourist is the Panama Canal, and witnessing passage of ship through the Canal is the height of that attraction. I was fortunate to visit the Canal and witness a passage. The Panama Canal is an engineering wonder that works based on gravity. The Canal was conceived by the French, and its constriction was started on January 1, 1881. But the French gave up the project in 1889 due to technological challenges. Then, the Americans took over the project and completed in 1914, with the fist passage of the ship, SS Ancon on August 15, 1914.
I will explain the passage process as I had witnessed during the passage of a ship. A sequential pictorial routing, along with explanations, of how the Canal works when a ship passed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean is given in the following picture-link:
Most of the traders based out of the Colon Free Zone are Indians and Lebanese. Panama has a mixed population of the Blacks, the Whites, the Indians and the Lebanese, with the Blacks being the majority. As Panama has the largest free port in the Americas, it is the transit route for both legal and illegal movement of goods to the neighboring countries like Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia , etc. Also, Panama is a shopping place for many Caribbean countries. At the Zone, we can many traders from Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico, etc, who purchase goods from the Zone and take home for trading. Most of the Caribbean countries, even neighbors, are not connected by air except by transit through the Panama City airport by Copa Airlines, the official airline of Panama. This is also one of the reasons of Panama emerging as a trade link. If you are holding USA visa, you can get visa on arrival in Panama.
More pictures and a video on the following links:
Panama is decked up for Christmas! Pictures from Tocumen Airport.