¡Panamá lo tiene todo!

The 2024 Summer in Panama Program has started! Twelve students with Assistant Director Chassidy Simmons and the Cuban and Caribbean Studies Institute Associate Director Carolina Caballero traveled to Panama to study at Ciudad del Saber campus and learn about the country’s rich history, culture, and biodiversity. In the next four weeks, we will be reading about their experiences, so stay tuned to not miss any details! Read our first piece from student Lily Markus below.  


Written by Lily Markus


Que xopa! My name is Lily and I’m a rising senior majoring in International Development and Latin American Studies. It’s my first time in Panama, and it may be yours too! Let’s explore Panama’s wonders together!  

On our first day, we had an introductory presentation by the staff of Ciudad del Saber. Attending the presentation really helped me understand the history, concept, and function of Ciudad del Saber. Ciudad del Saber is a remodeled U.S. military base designed to foster education and research. Home to many local and national non-profit offices, Ciudad del Saber has academic and recreational facilities, including a bowling alley, gym, and various parks with monthly artisan markets. We were introduced to our tour guide Nafi and bus driver Miguel who guided us throughout the weekend excursions. After the introduction, we headed off to the Miraflores Locks Visitors Center to see the Panama Canal. I learned about the complex history of the creation of the Panama Canal through a 3D IMAX movie. I was particularly blown away by the amount of labor it took to build the Panama Canal and the expertise it requires to navigate cargo ships through the canal. In fact, at some points in the canal, there is only about twelve inches between the sides of the ship and the concrete canal walls! While we didn’t get to see an actual ship passing through the canal, we did get to experience the beauty of the rainy season in Panama. When we entered the center, the sun was beaming down on us. By the time we left, the sky was misty and it had rained. So remember, don’t forget your rain boots and umbrella when you come to Panama. The weather can be unpredictable. Then, it was time for our grocery haul at Xtra, the local grocery store at Albrook Mall. This mall is so big that it requires animal guideposts to find the appropriate entry and exit points. Finally, Nafi and Miguel took us to Casco Viejo, the historic district of Panama City. Did I forget to mention that Nafi and Miguel spoke to us in Spanish? So, get ready to be fully immersed! Our first stop in Casco Viejo was the Panama Canal Museum. The Panama Canal Museum supplemented the knowledge we gained at the Canal by providing specifics about Afro-Panamanians’ and women’s histories during the construction of the canal. The museum primarily explored the political context under which the Panama Canal was built and exists today. After becoming experts on the Panama Canal, some peers and I explored Casco Viejo for a few hours. There are numerous viewpoints where you can take marvelous pictures of the downtown area. Seeing the markets and talking with local vendors was also a highlight of Casco Viejo. Because of similar colonial histories, the architecture of Casco Viejo actually resembles the French Quarter!  



Our weekend didn’t stop there! The following day, we visited the Biomuseo which traces the natural history of Panama’s biodiversity. The Biomuseo was one of the greatest excursions of the weekend! It really helped me fall in love with Panama’s natural side and introduced me to creatures like the elephant-sized Giant Sloth which used to roam Panama in prehistoric times. My group was so inspired by the museum that we even decided to visit one of Panama’s aquariums immediately after, even though it wasn’t in the itinerary. The aquarium was outdoors and had a beautiful view of the beach and the mountainous horizon. The highlight of the day was seeing a real-life sloth sleeping in a tree!



Can’t wait to hear more about our summer in Panama? Stick around to hear about next week’s adventures!