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Cruising to Panama Canal Transit

The gateway to the world

If you were to try and pinpoint the centre of the civilised world on a map, you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere as befitting of that title as Panama City. Arguably the most audacious feat of engineering in human history, the Panama Canal dissects the American continent, connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and allowing trade ships to circumnavigate the globe by the most direct route. Because of the strategic importance of Panama's location, the country has been a meeting point for global cultures for several centuries, with colonial armies, pirates, traders and natives having clashed and intermingled here throughout the past 500 years - something that has been intensified further by the building of the canal.

There are several ways to explore the waterway close up, with most visitors choosing to head to the Miraflores locks, where the Panama Canal Museum is located. From here, you can watch the trade vessels pass along the canal as they make their way between the two great oceans, or even take a ride on a canal boat yourself.

The culture clash that has helped to define Panama for so many years can be experienced in the many different sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the capital city, and a great place to start is Casco Viejo - the old quarter. Often compared to Havana, this charming part of town is characterised by its colonial-style buildings, and is often considered to be the beating heart of the city, brimming with street artists, markets and some great restaurants. In recent years the area has been redeveloped, and is now home to some of the trendiest bars and cafes in Panama City.

What's particularly striking about Casco Viejo is the way that it is contrasted against the incredibly contemporary skyline of the city, which is by far the most developed capital in Central America. Skyscrapers glisten in the sunlight in this ultra-modern metropolis, which wouldn't look out of place in the US, and panoramic views of the city can be enjoyed from the water's edge, all the way from Casco Viejo to the centre of town.

By now you should be getting a picture of Panama City as a multi-faceted place of incredible contrast, and this is something that is continued in the local cuisine, which really is a cosmopolitan mix of global influences.

Traditional Central American dishes that feature fired plantain and local seafood are abundant, although you'll also find no shortage of Oriental, European and Middle Eastern restaurants.

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