I have now travelled so much in the developing world, it’s normal for me. Tourists to Panama tend to be spoiled westerners, often spending a day or two in Panama City before joining a cruise ship. As previously noted, the economy in Panama is expanding rapidly and they are working on infrastructure so there will no doubt be improvements in the future. At present, it’s easy to walk around Casco Viejo but, if you want to see tourist attractions further afield, you will generally need a taxi or private driver. Neither is cheap and I just wanted to see a few attractions so decided to take a chance on the Hop on Hop Off bus I saw advertised on the internet.
The hotel approved of my choice and even gave me a discount coupon. You can get a 24 or 48 hour ticket. Since I wanted to see both the Panama Canal and the biomuseo, I opted for the two day ticket. It worked and the price was reasonable so I wouldn’t discourage you from following the same strategy. You just need to remember it’s a developing country. The hours of operation are a bit limited so it’s not great if you want to see a ship go through the canal, which generally occurs early in the morning or late in the afternoon. If you like to rush through attractions, you could see both on the 24 hour ticket. The second day the bus didn’t show up for the first departure. It wasn’t clear why but we did eventually get on the bus and I got to chat with strangers. It’s really a choice of budget vs convenience.
Whatever way you get to the Biomuseo, you should go. There is a cool Canadian connection. The building was designed by Frank Gehry so is an impressive and unique architectural structure. The museum design is by Bruce Mau who has collaborated with Frank Gehry before and is a fascinating and optimistic man. You feel that in the museum, which is so brand spanking new it wasn’t even fully completed when I visited in March 2017 so will continue to get better. There are lots of eager young Panamanian staff to show you around.
More importantly, you will likely learn some new facts about geology and biology. Until I visited, I hadn’t appreciated that long ago there was a North and South America. It was Panama that turned it into a contiguous land mass creating the question… how many continents are there really?
The Biomuseo’s permanent exhibition is titled Panama: Bridge of Life. Eight galleries and eight “devices of wonder” explore the origin of the Panamanian isthmus and its gigantic impact on the planet’s biodiversity.
Until about 3 million years ago, there was a gap between the American land
masses and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans co-mingled. Tectonic plates shifted and initially marine volcanoes created land masses on the ocean floor high enough to become islands in the gap between North and South America. Sediment kept building until a land bridge was created between the two continents in the area known today as the isthmus of Panama. This major geological event also separated the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and created the Gulf Stream and other disruptions to ocean currents and marine life.
This changed the composition of the flora and fauna in Panama. Since animals were now able to freely roam potentially from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn, Panama ended up with an incredible diversity of wildlife and birds. Since animals also often track seeds and the climate is very hospitable, it also has a wide diversity of plants. You can see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean easily in a single day.
The museum is new so it uses a multi-pronged approach to tell the story of Panama. There is a gallery of biodiversity, a three-story projection space with ten screens that immerse the visitor in an audiovisual rendering of the natural marvels that compose all of Panama’s ecosystems and a room filled with replicas of animals and plants that migrated through Panama. There is also information on the human history of Panama, estimated to have begun 15,000 years ago. Aquariums depict the impact of the creation of the isthmus on marine life in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. You will leave entertained and well-informed and ready to check out the incredible biodiversity of Panama.
A visit to the Biomuseo will encourage you to get into the rainforest and see the biodiversity for yourself. That is where we are headed next…