A Cultural Snapshot of Panama & its People

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I am reflecting on all the amazing people I met in Panama during my trip this Spring. In some cities, it’s the architecture that really blows me away and for others, it’s the food. In Panama, I fell in love with the people. Sure, the food was delicious, the buildings colorful and the culture vibrant, but ultimately, it’s the people that left the biggest and boldest impression on me. Here are a few of my favorite snapshots.

Look me in the eye

Here’s a close-up of one of the girls pictured above. I used to wear my hair the very same way, which of course, reminded me how different my childhood was from hers. I grew up in an upper-middle class home, attended private school and lived in a comfortable house with my own room. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that, I couldn’t help but feel guilty after peeking into this girl’s home, because she doesn’t have the things that I did…that I do. Yet, she is happier than most people. I was really inspired by her natural confidence and her positive attitude. She really didn’t have to say much to convey her strength. It’s just there in her being.

The Beautiful People of Panama

Girls just want to have fun

Don’t we all?! I stumbled upon these lovely little ladies during our guided walk with Fortaleza Tours via Esperanza San Felipe, a program that invests in the development and entrepreneurial endeavors of Casco Viejo’s ex-gang members (more on this in a later post). What struck me about these girls is that they were so eager to interact with me and they absolutely loved posing for photos. After I’d snap a couple, they’d all huddle around me to see how the pictures turned out. I would have gladly spent all day with these rays of sunshine if I could. Friendship is such a special gift and I think these girls know how lucky they are to have found that in one another.

The Best Way to Tour Panama

Contagious smiles

After our tour with Fortaleza, we headed to a quiet little corner of town for an impromptu mojito party. While these two definitely aren’t of age (don’t worry, they didn’t drink!) they were the life of the party. I spent nearly an hour snapping photos of them, lending them my hat to model and all sorts of things to keep them entertained. I really loved how sweet these two acted with each other. While I’m sure they do fight from time to time, they treated each other with kindness and respect. It was very impressive, to be honest especially considering their age. I think that a lot of people could learn a thing or two from these two. Plus, those smiles are seriously contagious.

cute kids of Panama City

Future world model

Ok, I know this girl is young and that she’s just having fun, but does she not look like a model here? Usually I’m hesitant to take photos of locals, or really anyone to be frank. I’m naturally shy and I hate having my photo taken so I tend to assume that other people feel the same way. With kids, I’m especially sensitive because…well, they’re kids. Oddly enough, I’ve found through many of my travels that they are the most eager to be photographed. I remember learning in one of my childhood psychology class that children are most confident when they are about 5 years old and that they achieve that same confidence again until 18. I hope she never loses her spark, not even for a second.

happy kids in Panama

Baby blues

The great thing about booking a tour with Fortaleza is that the founders (who are also the ones leading the tours) know so many people in the local community. Mid-way through our tour of Casco Viejo, somebody recognized our guide and waved us all inside a small room. Turns out, a class was celebrating their graduation and they were inviting us to join in on the festivities. I found that surprising, because I don’t think that would be my first reaction to seeing a group of strangers but in Panama, it’s not even a question. Everyone is welcome and hospitality is just a way of life. I’ve noticed this throughout Latin America and I was very grateful to experience it in Panama as well.

local culture in Panama City

Culture in colors

The next three photographs were taken during out tour of the San Blas islands. Home to the native Guna Yala tribe, this archipelago is made up of a slew of small islands stretching towards Panama’s border with Colombia. It takes a bit of effort to get here but it’s definitely worth the extra time. I was particularly hesitant to take photos here, as the culture is different than in downtown Panama City but when I did, I tried capturing everyday moments. I didn’t want the people here to change anything about their daily routine just because our group was there. After all, we were visiting their home and not the other way around. I wanted to capture normalcy.

the islands of San Blas

Family ties

This was one of my more impromptu shots and I nearly missed it entirely. The homes and buildings on the islands of San Blas might not look so impressive at first but it’s amazing how much your eyes wander all around when in an environment so rich in culture and tradition. At least, that’s what happened for me. I felt like I was a fish in a fishbowl and that I needed to see everything from every possible angle, which is why I almost didn’t even notice this tender moment between a grandmother and her grandchildren (or so I assume). No matter where we come from and where we’re going, family love is one of the few strings that tie us all together.

touring the San Blas islands

Calm and chaos

I’m not entirely sure why, but something about this image stuck with me well after our trip to the islands of San Blas. Perhaps it’s the contrast between her well-tailored school uniform and the more chaotic bits of fabric hanging out to dry, but I feel like this girl could be so many different people. Many times when I walk through cities, especially sensory-overloaded ones like New York or Hong Kong, I feel like I’m floating in a world of my own and even though things are going on around me, I’m still focused on the daydreams in my head. Maybe I’m reaching a bit on this one, but I guess I identify on some small level with this girl whose face I never saw.

best day trips in Panama

Where did you meet super friendly locals? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by the Panama Vacations / NAMU Travel Group. All opinions are my own.

 

Megan McDonough
Megan Eileen McDonough is writer, blogger and social media specialist based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails, a lifestyle blog designed for the savvy and stylish traveler. Bohemian Trails aims to feature must-see places around the world, covering everything from revamped neighborhoods and vibrant street art to innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Megan is also a freelance writer and social media specialist based in New York City. She contributes to various online and print publications in the travel and fashion industries and is an international correspondent for both Jetsetter and Northstar Travel Media.
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