When control of its canal was handed over to Panama by the US on December 31, 1999, the Panamanian government saw it as an opportunity to give its tourism industry a shot in the arm. New attractions are currently under construction, designed to entice the passengers of the many cruise ships that bob in the waters off the Panamanian shoreline, or traverse its canal.
The cruise through the canal is the most commonly sought Panamanian experience, but venture deeper into Panamaís interior and travelers will discover a vast realm of unspoiled tropical habitat. Naturalists can enjoy the immense variety of bird species that populate the rainforests of Panama. Hikers can trek through wilderness that begins less than 10 minutes away from the bustling metropolis of Panama City, the nationís capital. The capital itself is a thriving conglomeration of modern urban amenities including museums, world-class restaurants and luxury hotels. Panama Viejo, the old city, is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast, and its historic significance has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Panama Viejo is replete with historic buildings and streets dating back to the 1500ís.