Pinto McBean

Panama City has held global attention for over a century, thanks to its position along global trade routes. Indeed, the Panama Canal is a fixture of the country’s geography and psyche while anchoring growth in Latin America’s fastest-growing country.

The city’s chic, sparkling skyline stretches along the Pacific, bookended on both the North and South by the historic Panama and Casco Viejo neighbourhoods.

Within Panama City’s gleaming towers and Spanish colonial architecture is a lively city eager to make visitors feel at home. That’s not an accident.

Panama is leading tourism growth with 22% growth in 2015, outpacing countries like Iceland which have captured North America’s collective imagination over the past few years. And the hub of Panama City’s tourism industry is Casco Viejo, celebrating its twentieth anniversary as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Casco is a microcosm of the entire country. Luxurious condos are adjacent to ramshackle buildings that are – at times – handcuffed by the rules that accompany UNESCO designation. Despite the obvious disparity in wealth, there is no feeling of tension. Israeli-owned cafes and Chinese-run corner stores blend seamlessly with Panamanian pursuits and visitors from North and South America.

Indeed, with a long history as a global trading port, Panama has the confidence to welcome the world, knowing it isn’t compromising itself. That attitude has the rest of the world taking note.