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An isthmus changed the world – Tourism minister presents Panama at ITB Berlin NOW

© Angel Silva

Panama is home to more bird and tree species than the whole of North America. That was one of the highlights that Ivan Xavier Eskilden Alfaro, the country’s tourism minister, personally presented at ITB Berlin NOW.

Panama wants to present itself to the world as a unique place of biodiversity as well as a melting pot of cultures, Alfaro said. When, around three million years ago the isthmus emerged from the ocean joining North and South America, it led to species migrating in both directions. On their trip many stayed in what is now Panama. At the same time the tropical fauna of the Atlantic and Pacifica oceans also kept them apart.

A similar thing happened to the cultures. When, several hundred years ago Europeans made the journey to conquer America, they set sail from Panama to take home their plundered goods. This is where legendary pirates first plied their trade. Later, slaves were brought westwards from Africa, which in turn set a new cultural tone.

Finally, the gold rush in America’s west triggered another wave of migration, because before the US transcontinental railroad was completed a trip on the Panama Canal Railway built in 1846 followed by a sea passage was the quickest way to reach California.

All these things, together with indigenous culture and ultimately the growing international importance of the Panama Canal created a unique multi-cultural environment, which is on display in many museums, in nature as well as in day-to-day life. 30 per cent of the country is a protected World Natural Heritage Site and offers every conceivable leisure activity for sports enthusiasts, including a climb to the top of 3477-metre Mt. Baru, a volcano with a view of both oceans.

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