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Panama City: the most cosmopolitan capital in Central America.
If the idea of Panama hardly conjures up the image of a tourist destination, think again. Its capital, Panama City, features on the Lonely Planet’s Top Ten Spots in Central America, and according to International Living magazine, has been among the top five places for retirement in the world. The fact that temperatures remain constant throughout the year, averaging around 27 °C (81 °F), enhances its appeal.
As a hub of international banking and commerce, Panama City is the most cosmopolitan capital in Central America. This buzzing town, at the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Panama Canal, has a dense skyline of high-rise buildings (pictured) and is surrounded by a large belt of tropical rainforest. Not only is it a gateway to the country's natural riches (the canal has unique bird species and other animals such as tapirs, pumas and alligators) but it’s also a vibrant destination in its own right.
The city has numerous tourist attractions in the old colonial quarter (the Casco Viejo). Once dilapidated but now on the up, as artists and small businesses move in, a café culture and hot nightspots are starting to appear. You can also visit Las Bóvedas, a waterfront promenade jutting out into the Pacific, The National Institute of Culture Building and the nearby French Embassy (which is surrounded by excellent restaurants), the Cathedral on Cathedral Square and Palacio de las Garzas (Heron's Palace), the official name of the presidential palace.
The new Bridge of Life Museum on the nearby Amador Causeway is also a must-stop visit. It’s the first building designed by the American architect Frank Gehry, famous for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, in Latin America. The museum is dedicated to biodiversity, of which Panama is a veritable showcase.