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Panama, Paradise Without the Guilt?

by Cristiane Roget, correspondent AdAvenueGroup.com  Paris/Florida

Just because something is moving forward, doesn’t necessarily mean it is ‘progress’.  

A recent whirlwind tour of Panama’s capital city and outer environs found this writer wanting to delve deeper into the country’s take on eco, golf and medical tourism.   An in depth search at Los Angeles and South Florida bookstores, libraries and Amazon turned up “Lonely Planets, Understanding Panama-Survival Guide, 6th edition, 2013”.  Perusing past issues of Afar, Travel & Leisure, National Geographic and Destination not a mention or review on Panama,”Nada”.   Kuala Lumpur, Shenzhen and even Cartagena garnered copious amounts of editorial coverage.  Editorial spotlights on Panama were M.I.A.

Panama City_VIPictures_AdAvenue Group_Cristiane Roget

Does this look like a place that demands a ‘survival guide’? Yes if the quandary is, “should we opt for marble over granite in our newly acquired 1.2 mil canyon condo? Or will it be 9 or 18 holes today at Club de Golf  before a massage and a Lightplex Pigment Balancing ™ treatment at the Bristol Spa?

Bristol_Catering_Salad_Bar

Bristol Panama’s , Salsapuedes chefs are epicures preparing simple dishes that exude flavor for guests and locals to savor ingredients harvested at local farms , vineyards and ranches. Panama is an inventive, earth-friendly getaway and an exercise in contrasts.

Taking a mental inventory of other high ranking tropical destinations that beat to an urban drum such as the Seychelles, Malaysia’s Sabah Island in the South China Sea, Brasil’s Buzios or even Panama’s closest neighbor, Costa Rica one may ask why a bustling, robust Boom Town in an oasis of untrammeled tropics is but a blip on the media’s ‘luxury travel’ radar?   

sarah-with-a-massive-tree

With coasts on two oceans, coral-lined beaches, luxury resorts, roaring rivers and the richest  biodiversity  found anywhere; one sees simultaneously a country pursuing relentless expansion, a hub of global trade, a Swiss style global banking system underpinned by a flurry of private and governmental development.

Panama Canal_AdAvenueGroup_Cristiane Roget_FRancois HUynh_VIPictures

The Panama Canal’s recent 5 billion US retrofitting in order to accommodate the world’s biggest mega ships (and perhaps thwart a proposed joint venture between China and Nicaragua too construct a competing waterway) the entire country is energized.

Upon arriving Tucuman International Airport one might momentarily confuse this glass and steel Mecca as an accidental rerouting to Dubai.  Air Emirates has laid claim to the world’s longest scheduled direct flight connecting Dubai with Panama City to commence in late 2016.  A vision of luxury shops and elegant cafes catering to a myriad of airlines; belies a misinformed perception of Panama as a sleepy regional fly over.   In fact, Panama’s over twenty airports serve as a central international hub and global artery, non parallel.  “We firmly believe in the potential of Central America, and remain keen to link the Emirates network to the region,” confirms a company spokesperson.

Historically Panama, like developing nations everywhere placed greater emphasis on the expansion of the economy while paying little heed to the damage that irresponsible development had on the quality of life and the environment.

With an economy inextricably linked to its unique location dating back to the Spanish gold trade and pillaging in the 17th century, this tiny isthmus has been the focus of trade, natural resource extraction, and transcontinental economic exchange for centuries.  All of this came at a cost; exacting a huge toll on nature.

Like other countries throughout the Americas, Panama faces serious environmental issues.  Neo imperialism, nearsightedness, bottom line driven commerce and the ethic of ‘man over nature’ historically took precedence over conservation.

“As a result, sustainability is a relatively new term and has taken on the gloss of being cool and au courant, “ according to Gustavo Villa, Supervisor of Guest Services – Bristol Panama, a 5 star styled property in the heart of Panama’s ‘Wall Street’ district.  Reminiscent of a languorous, member’s only British gentlemen’s club, Bristol is replete with a library and fine dining at Salsapuedes and for a late night repose the 8’ 58’ Lounge.   

Where one hotel’s idea of ecotourism may be another hotel’s ploy to cash in on conscience.  Some eco-sensitive retreats ask guests to avoid a daily change of sheets, insisting this will save the world.

Miguel Ordonoz and Anabelle Narbona de Martin

“Green initiatives not only assure a sustainable future but provide citizens with Bragging rights & a special brand of bragging rights, “ says Annabelle Narbona de Martin , Santa Maria’s Director of Marketing & Sales with Miguel Ordonoz  2nd in Panama in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™.  Watch for him at the Augusta Masters.

“Others can’t seem to do enough to serve the three-tiered mission of responsible tourism:  positive impact on the environment, on the local culture, and on the traveler”, to paraphrase writer David Hochman of Travel and Leisure.

Sustainability in Panama falls mostly within the realm of eco-tourism projects,  field to table agriculture, grass roots programs, protection of natural preserves and indigenous cultures.

The country is making strides toward environmental protection as a survival imperative and a matter of national pride.  Panama’s 76 protected areas are composed of marine parks, natural reserves and first growth forests.

Pride in green initiatives such as the Santa Maria Golf and Country Club (built over an unsightly land fill of excavated rubble) has been transformed into a chill-worthy, billion dollar residential development and golf course all within an alligator toss of downtown Panama City.   

“The fact we won, ‘Excellent Service and Quality’ given by Air Transat Group in Toronto and ‘High Standard Holiday’s United Kingdom,’ is a testament, in part, to strides our moderately priced property has made in eco tourism”, confirms Wilson Ospina, Golf Professional at the Royal Decameron Golf Beach & Resorts Villas.      

Flying in the face of opposing powerful special interests that exploit rather than preserve the country’s natural resources, the people of Panama have embraced a long view in protecting the environment over immediate gratification.

VISTAMAR

“As far as water, energy, and human security are concerned; Panama’s leaders and citizens alike are embracing the dual purpose to sustain a strong economy and mitigate the effects of climate change. “It is crucial for Panama to protect natural ecosystems and create sustainable economic alternatives for stakeholders” according to Marcelo Joffe, General Manager, Vista Mar Golf and Beach Resort.

Chef PascalOne would be remiss to make mention of world renowned French Chef Pascal Finet, brought the sea to the banquet with a saffron scented  Spanish paella and a medley of baby greens.  The consensus among the dozen writers on tour was “the best dish served while in Panama”.

On a fast track to become the 21st century ‘Gateway to the America’s’  playing out against a backdrop of moderation and environmental protectionism; Panama is perfectly positioned to become the Western Hemisphere’s most visited and most vital cross roads for commerce and as a world leader in environmental stewardship.

 

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