What's the history of the NAMU Travel Agency?
Two of my business partners originally founded the firm in 1999, five years before I came on board.
When and how did you fall in love with Panama and Panama City?
For the company's first five years it focused exclusively on vacations to Costa Rica. At that time, we were known only as 'Costa Rican Vacations.' After exploring Costa Rica's nearby neighbors for 'the next place,' we settled on Panama in 2004 and decided to begin offering vacations there. I took on the lead role in our expansion into Panama and made my first trip to the country in September of '04. At that time, Panama was in the beginning stages of a ten-year boom. I suppose I fell in love with both the city and the energy around the business environment at that time. Opportunity abound, and it was a totally different setting than Costa Rica's capital. Panama City is the most cosmopolitan of the Central American capitals, it is pedestrian-friendly, the cost of living is cheaper, it has great weather, and it's right on the Pacific Ocean. There wasn't much not to like for a 23-year-old starting a career in tourism.
When you bring friends to Panama City where are three places you take them (you can be very specific here)?
The Canal. One doesn't have to be an engineer to appreciate the history and the magic of this unique waterway. I like to take people specifically to the rooftop of the Miraflores Locks Center. Guests get a bird's-eye view of boats going through the Canal, and it is a short drive from downtown.
Casco Viejo.This is the old Spanish- and French-colonial district of the city. Think Cartagena or Antigua, Guatemala here. This is the cultural and now nightlife hub of the city. The architecture is lovely, there are no towers, it's easy to walk around and there are great restaurants around every corner
Ancon Hill. Cars are no longer allowed along the route, and the hike, while challenging, is also lovely. This is a gem in the middle of the city as a mere ten-minute drive from the center of the city puts visitors in the middle of fairly thick forest where minds are blown with the unique wildlife. It is super-rare to find an ecosystem like this in an urban setting. The views of both the City and Canal are unmatched.
What’s your perfect week in Panama if you’re in Panama City?
Perfect week in the country of Panama is two nights in the City, two nights in Boquete, and three nights at the beach.
Stay at the The Bristol downtown or for a colonial experience in Casco Viejo at La Concordia. Visit the Miraflores Locks Museum, Casco Viejo, and the Amador Causeway. Take the Canal Railway over to the Caribbean side and check out the Aguas Claras Canal Viewing Center as well as the ancient Spanish fort of San Lorenzo. Day trip to the San Blas islands. Embera Indian village visit inside of the Chagres National Park. Boat ride through the Panama Canal. Light hike through the Soberania National Park
What’s the coolest thing you’ve purchased or acquired in Panama?
Ahhh, probably the intangibles—great memories and experiences. If I had to choose an actual item, I might say a rare bottle of Panamanian rum from Abuelo. Quality rums are not well distributed or well known in the U.S. They are incredible in this part of the world and Abuelo deserves solid credit for producing a rum product on par with the famous Guatemalan and Dominican houses.