PANAMA CITY, PANAMA – November 23, 2015 This month, global NGO Sustainable Travel International met with Panama’s new Minister of Tourism, Gustavo Him, to discuss best practice approaches to the development of ecotourism in Panama. The objective of the work being conducted is a comprehensive and stakeholder-driven vision for the development of national parks and protected areas and their buffer zones that benefits of local communities. In a series of meetings the new Minister of Tourism Gustavo Him reaffirmed Panama’s commitment to pursuing tourism development in a way that improves livelihoods and conserves Panama’s world-class natural attractions and unique ecosystems.
Panama boasts some of the most diverse wildlife in Central America, including large rainforests that form a biological bridge between North and South America, and some of the world’s best bird watching, home to almost 1,000 different species. But, until recently, Panama has not actively promoted tourism in its parks and protected areas. Most of its 2.3 million annual visitors still don’t venture outside Panama City, where they come for shopping and business related to the canal.
An unusually large portion Panama’s land area—39%—is under protection. UNESCO Natural World Heritage site Coiba Island in the southwest of the country is part of the Pacific Marine Biological Corridor—a world-class destination for diving and whale watching. The island also has pristine beaches, mangrove forests, scarlet macaws, mantled howler monkeys, and four species of sea turtles.
In Boquete, Volcan Baru, a key destination for hikers, is the one place in the world with views of both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The legendary routes of Camino Real and Camino de Cruces, where the Spaniards originally crossed from the Pacific to the Caribbean by land (a predecessor to the Panama Canal) have the potential to be developed as ecotourism routes across highly diverse landscapes. They could link tropical rainforest and mountain ecosystems, and access rural and indigenous communities.
Since Panama’s formal commitment to ecotourism, in an agreement signed on Earth Day, April 22, 2015, Sustainable Travel International has been working closely with the Ministry of the Environment, the Tourism Authority, and private sector organizations in Panama, to conduct a comprehensive diagnostic of opportunities and challenges for developing tourism in Panama’s protected areas.
The project to develop a common vision for the responsible and sustainable development of ecotourism is due to be completed in January 2016. “Responsibly developed tourism offers unparalleled opportunities to stimulate the local economy, benefit indigenous communities and conserve rich biodiversity”, said Dr. Twining-Ward. “Panama is well on the way to the development of a world–class ecotourism offering. They are doing all the right things to maintain the authenticity of the experience, preserve ecosystems and keep visitors safe.”
The next step in the project is for Sustainable Travel International to develop a strategic vision and action plan for ecotourism in Panama. This will provide the framework for a coordinated approach to tourism in parks and protected areas.
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About Sustainable Travel International
Sustainable Travel International’s mission is to improve lives and protect places through travel and tourism. A global non-profit and industry thought leader since 2002, Sustainable Travel International has helped communities, hotels, airlines, cruise lines and governments to plan responsibly—to chart their road maps for responsible growth so that they can contribute to the economic and social well-being of people around the globe whose lives and livelihoods depend on the world’s wanderlust.
Visit us at https://sustainabletravel.org to learn more.