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10 Reasons Panama Is The Best Place To Learn Spanish

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Written by Mary Beth Strawn   
Monday, 26 August 2013 15:51

Many people think, “I want to learn Spanish. Now where should I go to do it?” This takes them on a long complicated journey comparing different Spanish school programs in countries all over the world.

I’m here to make this decision easy for you - COME TO PANAMA! You will find great Spanish schools scattered all over the world, but what sets apart the best Spanish schools (Cervantes Institute-certified) isn’t necessarily their teachers nor programs (which for a IC accredited schools will be top notch), but instead the setting in which you will be learning.


1. Everyone is talking about Panama!

Be the cool person who goes to the NEW best destination before everyone else!

Who hasn’t been to Costa Rica or Perú? Panama is off the beaten path. Don’t join the same club, be the first of the new AWESOME club!

Look at all this remarkable press that Panama has been getting lately:


2. Panama is accessible

As Panama City receives more and more international investment and attention, airlines are starting to pick up on the trend. Currently there are direct flights from many major U.S. cities to Panama City: Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., Newark, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale. Copa Airlines recently announced that starting in August 2013, there will be direct flights from Boston to Panama City. Some of the airlines that have direct flights to Panama from the U.S. include American Airlines, Copa Airlines, Continental Airlines and Delta Airlines.

A popular travel website, Skift, wrote earlier this year that air travel to Panama City increased by 22% in 2012. It’s not difficult to understand why with Panama’s current economic boom. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, but the truth is Panama still receives WAY less tourists than Costa Rica, so come and check it out before it gets crowded.


3. Panama has a first world infrastructure

I think a concern that many people have when traveling to Central America is how is the domestic infrastructure? How will you get around safely?

Luckily you don’t have to worry about this when traveling to Panama. Panama has one domestic air carrier, Air Panama, who went through a fantastic overhaul at the beginning of 2013, and is now as easy to book flights with as a typical U.S. air carrier.

Plane picture (

Panama’s government has recently invested millions in local airports to support the growing tourism in the country and increase of air transportation of goods and products.

The bus and taxi system is also very modernized and regulated, and it is only improving year after year as the Panamanian government focuses more attention in this area of transportation. Within the last year, they replaced all Panama City metro-area buses with new models and a new payment system by rechargeable card. Though taxis do not use meters, they are required to carry a price chart in their car at all times.

Metrobus picture (

Something extremely exciting for Panama City is the new Metro system that is currently being installed. Though the construction is tedious and annoying for current residents and workers in Panama City, the end product is going to be amazing. The trains should begin running in the beginning of 2014.

Metro map picture (

Personally I was very impressed with the bus transportation system in Panama outside of Panama City. The long-distance buses are very comfortable and clean. Luckily the ride to David (Panama’s third largest city) is also smooth since it is along the base of the mountains rather than trailing through high altitudes and twists and turns. Also, in each large/medium-sized city you will find a bus terminal with smaller buses or vans heading to communities around the city. This is an excellent way to see Panama and experience how typical Panamanians get around! As an added plus, it is very safe to travel in the “interior” and the fares are very inexpensive.

Picture of Panama-David bus (

To top it all off, Panama City is a U.S. style capital city with high speed internet, the second largest Free Trade Zone in the world, a banking sector with 90 banks, tap water you can drink, first rate hotels and restaurants, and the best shopping in Latin America. The highway infrastructure, medical care, telecommunications and business services are excellent - comparable to the USA as noted in the ARRP's Modern Maturity magazine.

Panama’s government takes these issues seriously. Check out their 5-year investment program here:


4. Panama is Tourist Friendly

Traveling internationally is already a bit stressful, so it doesn’t help when your destination doesn’t speak your language, doesn’t want you there, and doesn’t want to take your currency.

Luckily for you, Panama LOVES tourists and is extremely welcoming! Panama is a dollarized economy, the people are open, comfortable and friendly with foreigners, and many people speak English (especially in Panama City).

Due to Panama’s position as a world business and transportation crossroads, there is a long history of living and working with foreigners. There's a saying that Panama was "born globalized". Historically a crossroads, Panama is home to immigrants from all over the world, and everyone gets along! Most common are "mestizos" or persons who are a combination of Spanish and native Indian and “mulatos” or persons who are a combination of Spanish and blacks. There's also sizable European, American, Chinese, Jewish, Indian and Arabic communities.

People picture (

Additionally, Panama gives FREE health insurance to tourists for their first 30 days in country!

Last but not least, Panama is very affordable in all areas - transportation, accommodation, food, etc. In 2012, Panama City was included in the Top 10 Cheapest Cities in the World by The Economist. You will find typical chain grocery stores in all major cities for your comfort and convenience (though we recommend asking where the local market is to get your fresh, local fruits and vegetables!).

Picture of produce seller (


5. Panama is Safe

Another common concern when traveling to a foreign country is safety. I have been living in Panama as a single woman for 3 years and I have never had a problem with safety. Panamanians are good people and have good values. They are extremely respectful to tourists. This is NOT to say that there is NO crime - of course there is, as is in any country in the world. But if you follow typical safety guidelines for tourists, you should have no problems when traveling in Panama. Check out Wikipedia if you don’t believe me. :)

Above day-to-day safety, there is no threat of a political revolution, no hurricanes nor major earthquakes, safe drinking water in urban areas (though tourists should drink bottled water in Bocas del Toro), and a safe and reliable transportation system to all popular areas of the country.

If you were to get hurt doing an adventure sport or fell sick during your stay, not only do you have free medical insurance for 30 days upon entrance to Panama, but you will be treated by good doctors! The best doctors are in Panama City and David (among other large cities), and these locations are only a short flight away from all major Panamanian cities (with an airport) if you are in dire need of serious medical help. Many doctors speak English and are American-trained. Major hospitals have the same medical services that you would receive in U.S. hospitals.

Picture of hospital (


6. Panama is world-class for adventure

Panama is amazingly diverse and is a treasure chest for adventure-lovers! What do you like to do? It would be rare for Panama to not have you covered.

Do you like the water? For ocean sports, Panama has world-class fishing, diving, snorkeling, surfing, sailing. Piñas Bay (in eastern Panama on the Pacific) holds 170 world fishing records. If you love to snorkel and scuba dive, you will be blown away with the abundance of Panama's marine life in the five excellent diving and snorkeling areas: Coiba National Marine Park, the Pearl Islands, Bocas del Toro archipelago, Portobello and the Chiriqui Coast.

Scuba photo (

If you prefer rivers, Panama offers you superb rafting and kayaking. During the rainy season, you will find rivers with 20 sets of rapids in one go!

Rafting picture (

If the mountains are your thing, you will find Canopy Tours, Hiking from coast to coast, hiking and camping on Volcan Baru, Rock climbing, and rappelling.

Hiking photo (

Have you seen the show “Survivor”? Believe it or not, 15 countries filmed their Survivor programs in the islands of Bocas del Toro and the Pearl Islands. CBS's Survivor filmed four series in Panama's Pearl Islands. We are lucky to say that in no other country did Survivor take place more than once.

Survivor Panama photo (

Now if that doesn’t convince you of Panama’s niche for daring adventures, I don’t know what will.


7. Panama is the best place for nature travel and ecotourism today

Panama is seriously so lucky. It’s position as a narrow land bridge connecting two continents endowed it with some of the worlds most pristine and bio-diverse rainforests, with national parks covering 5 million acres.

There is a local saying: "In other countries you have 20 tourists looking at one bird, while in Panama you have one tourist looking at 20 birds." A key indicator of its bio-diversity: Panama has 944 recorded bird species, more than the U.S. and Canada combined.

Naturally if you are a bird lover, Panama will be your paradise. Pipeline Road, the scene of a world record (350 bird species counted in one day) is scarcely a half an hour from Panama City. There are 13 main birding sites in Panama, spread all over the country.

Picture (harpy eagle) with link

If wildlife viewing is your thing, then you will be pleased to know that there are said to be over 10,000 varieties of plants and 1,500 species of trees, and more than 1,000 species of birds in Panama. This is more than can be found in North America and Europe combined, and it includes some of the rarest on Earth. There are also 220 mammals and 354 reptiles and amphibians.

Picture (bug) with link

Do you love the ocean and the marine habitat? Panama has hundreds of islands and kilometers of protected coral reef, which shelter a wide diversity of marine life. It is also home to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, where scientists from around the world study Panama’s unique ecological heritage.

National Parks cover almost 29 percent of the total area of the country. There are 14 national parks, more than a dozen forest reserves and 10 wildlife refuges.

National park map (


8. Panama is a great place to visit living Indian cultures and learn about Panama’s rich history

Panama is one of the few countries in the world where the traditional Indian culture has not disappeared. You will find the 3 largest Panamanian Indian groups very active - they are the Kuna, Emberá, and Ngäbe. It’s very easy to arrange tours to visit any (or all!) three of these cultures during your visit to Panama. Habla Ya does two tours to indigenous Ngäbe communities to experience the culture of the Ngäbe tribe (Soloy and Oreba Chocolate Tour).

Picture of kids dancing in Soloy (

Most people only know Panama for what it is today - an up-and-coming international capital city with a hugely popular canal running through it. They didn’t achieve this status quite so easily!

Panama became independent from Spanish rule in 1821, but didn’t fully become an independent nation until 1903. At this point, Panama started making a name for itself because the canal was being built, first by the French and finished by the United States. The Panama Canal was finished in 1914, but was under U.S. control and administration until Dec. 31, 1999. With the canal now in Panama’s hands, Panama finally has the funds necessary to really own their country and make investments to advance into the modern world.

Panama Canal photo (

You can learn about the tumultuous history of Panama in Casco Viejo (a restored historical section of Panama City), where there are numerous museums for the history of Panama and for the canal. If you want to experience the canal up close, we can schedule a tour to take you to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center or to ride on a boat through part of the canal.

For the archeologists (or hopefuls!), Panama has some neat archeological sites dating back to A.D. 900, when the Mayan civilization in Mexico was beginning to unravel.


9. Panama is HAPPY

You are going on vacation! You want to go to a happy place, right?! That’s why Panama is perfect. Panama ranked #1 on the December 2012 Gallup Poll “Highest Positive Emotions Worldwide”. Happy Planet ranks Panama #7 Happiest Countries Worldwide.

Carnival photo (

Panamanians are some of the nicest, kindest, most warm-hearted people on the planet, especially those who live in the “interior” (meaning countryside, anywhere outside of Panama City). They are accepting of all people of all cultures and don’t try to judge you or meddle in your personal business. Passing the time talking about the weather, sports, growing season, politics, family, children, etc. are typical conversations in the interior. Simplicity at its finest!

Panamanian family (

I’m a happy person when I get to enjoy good healthy food and Panama does not disappoint! The region where I live produces the majority of Panama’s fruits and vegetables. Many organic farms are popping up as people are realizing the importance of naturally grown food. It’s also very common in the countryside of Panama to grow your own fruits and vegetables organically, as many families own plots of land.

Most people would say that they are happy once they have had their coffee in the morning. Well Panama is your haven for delicious coffee! The Chiriqui region (Boquete in particular) produces some of the world’s best coffee, of the Geisha tree.

Coffee tree (

Coffee isn’t my vice, but instead chocolate! The most wonderful chocolate in the world is grown in the region of Bocas del Toro. Most of the producers are indigenous Ngäbes who have had cacao trees on their family farms for decades, who grew up amongst the trees harvesting and eating the chocolate.

Chocolate balls (

Panamanian culture is rich in tradition, which is always beautiful and inspiring to see and experience. Dancing is a major part of Panamanian culture. There are many traditional dances where the women dress in special dresses (called a pollera) and decorate their hair with beautiful ornamental clips (called tembleques). The dresses and hair pieces are individually made by hand and are very intricate.

The men dress in traditional shirts (called montuno) and black slacks, with sandals made of leather (called cutarra), the sobrero pintao’ hat and a woven bag (called chacara).

Another traditional Panamanian event is the “décima panameña”, which is a 10-verse song, each verse sung in 8 syllables. It is poetic and improvised! There are usually 2 singers singing to each other, either about religion, something funny, an argument, love, or controversy.

Each indigenous group also has their own traditions that come together to make Panama a special place in Latin America.

Emberá dancing (

Dancing makes some people a nervous wreck and it brings other people to life. I have yet to meet a Panamanian who didn’t know how to dance. They are BORN knowing how to dance! Even if dancing isn’t your thing, you will not find a sweeter and more patient partner/instructor in a Panamanian. The most popular dances in Panama are tipica, salsa, and cumbia. Bachata and congo are also popular in certain regions.


10. Top for Relocation

If you are retired, you will LOVE Panama, especially our Boquete location! Panama has been ranked as one of the top relocation destinations in the world for the past few years. The quaint town of Boquete, where one of our Spanish schools is located, especially has received lots of media attention for being a retirement haven. (International Living Magazine ranked Panama #2 in Dec. 2012, AARP Magazine Best Places to Retire Abroad)

Boquete town (

Our “older” students (“old in number but young at heart”, as many of them refer to themselves) feel right at home getting to meet expats from all over the world and share stories and journeys. Though if you prefer to mingle just with the locals, that’s fine too as really only a small percentage of the whole Boquete population are foreigners.

We have many students come to study with us as new Boquete residents and others who love Boquete so much, they decide to stay! Among the top reasons why Boquete is ranked as one of the best retirement destinations in the world are the relaxed Visa policies, great health care, use of the dollar as currency, very friendly local population, amazing natural surroundings from the beach to the mountains in an hour and a half, low cost of living, and retiree discounts.

Retirees photo (

So, once you’ve decided to study Spanish in Panama, it’s time to choose which school. This following article about different Spanish schools in Panama should help:


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Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 00:39