I love going to the Amador Causeway. It’s just a three-mile strip of palm-tree lined roadway connecting the Pacific Ocean islands of Naos, Perico, Culebra and Flamenco.
The causeway snakes from the bustling urban streets of Panama City, into the Pacific Ocean where it guards the southern entrance of the Panama Canal. Along the Amador roadway, mostly on the connected islands, there are stunning views and unparalleled options of activities for individuals of all ages.
It wasn’t always a vibrant and inviting recreational mecca, but rather a US military complex built when the Americans needed to find somewhere to dump the 258,000,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock cut out to build the Panama Canal. The buildings were painted dull, nondescript colors with fences and little boxes to accommodate guards who controlled the area around the clock. There are still a few military installations but mostly the land has been reclaimed and turned into an activity mecca for Panamanians and tourists alike.
Soon, the Amador Causeway is going to become one of the most visited places in Panama. There are two projects currently under construction, which will deliver jobs and world-wide exposure to Panama. The two projects cost more than 358 million USD and will result in a new convention center along with a double-pier cruise terminal capable of welcoming two mega-ships daily and up to 10,000 passengers. The convention center will accommodate 20,000 daily visitors and will be the largest convention facility in Central America.
Currently thousands of passengers enjoy cruising through the Panama Canal, but not many stop to actually enter or visit our beautiful country. Even cruise operators signal that Panama is not really a port of call. “The Panama Canal portion of the trip focuses on the transit itself, with onboard lectures as ships make their way through the locks. Within the rest of Central America, put on your hiking boots and head for the rainforest or kick off your shoes and hit the beach,” is currently being marketed on the popular website of Cruise Critic. Soon, cruise passengers will see there are plenty of reasons to put on their hiking boots or water-gear for kayaking and beach going in Panama!
This month, it was announced that Norwegian Cruise Line was the first to contractually agree to use Panama City as a “Home Port.” That means cruises will begin and end in Panama, with passengers arriving and departing through Panama City. This will increase the time and dollars spent on tourism in Panama.
I also noticed recently that new “excursions” are being touted on the web site of various cruise lines who previously only offered an on-board discussion of the Canal. The upscale, all inclusive Regent Cruise website describes one excursion as:
“Two Oceans By Rail-Dome Car—This completely unique tour could easily be the highlight of your trip. Just imagine traveling down the tracks of the first transcontinental railroad in a beautifully restored and richly adorned domed railcar, while viewing what is widely considered to be the 8th wonder of the world; the Panama Canal, as well as spectacular Gatun Lake and the extraordinarily beautiful flora and fauna of the surrounding countryside. Adding to all of that, the unrivaled experience of traveling from one ocean to another, crossing the amazing continent of the Americas in just one hour!”
Princess Cruises offers a total of nine options for passengers wanting to see more of Panama than just the canal. There are tours of Casco Viejo, the Aerial Tram & Soberania National Park, Kayaking on the Lake of Gatun, Monkey Island and a visit to the home of indigenous, Embera Indians—just to name a few.
The new cruise pier should start welcoming guests at the end of 2019 and the pier needs to be ready because people are already booked and looking forward to seeing Panama. According to the Panama Maritime Authority, there are already more than 60 berth bookings for the state-of-the-art terminal with world-class baggage handling, digital messaging and plenty of restaurants and art galleries.
In addition to the cruise ship pier, Amador Causeway is soon going to become the Convention Capital of Central America. A new convention center is scheduled to open later this year, with an area of 190,000 square feet of open space. Another 5,000 square feet will be available for smaller conferences and there will be 1,650 square feet dedicated to banquet halls and small meeting rooms. Adjacent to the center will be parking for more than 1,700 vehicles. At full-capacity, there will be enough space to accommodate 20,000 people per day.
The other day I was biking along the causeway and I started thinking what an additional 30,000 individuals crowded onto this narrow strip of land would mean to people like me. Did I want to dodge convention goers and groups of tourists getting on buses to take some excursion? Of course, YES! It is going to mean millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. It will increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of every Panamanian and it will allow the world to see the beauty and safety of Panama.
Vehicle traffic is already restricted to one side of the causeway allowing both visitors and citizens alike to enjoy leisurely walks, bike riding, jogging and even rollerblading There are buggies to rent, lots of vendors offering local food specialities, drinks and unique art. I’ll still be able to eat fresh lobsters pulled hours earlier from the waters of Bocas del Toro. The views of the Bridge of Americas and the boats transiting the Panama Canal will still be stunning. Soon, I’ll just be able to share it with more people!