Churches and Shrines
Despite being an overwhelmingly Catholic country, Panama has a live-and-let-live attitude toward the many minority faiths brought by immigrants from around the world or still practiced by its indigenous peoples. The Baha’i House of Worship and Hindu Temple are especially prominent and draw curious visitors.
Santuario Nacional del Corazón de María
The National Sanctuary (tel. 263-9833), on Calle Manuel María Icaza near Calle 53 Este, was dedicated on August 22, 1949. It’s a relatively simple church with pretty stained-glass windows and a modern interior, but atmosphere is provided by a riot of peacocks. Other domesticated birds wander around a fountain near the crypts.
The crypts themselves are a bit creepy but worth a look; they’re out the side entrance to the right as one faces the altar. Masses are held several times daily. The church’s facade is attractive at night, when it’s illuminated and provides a striking contrast to the glittery modern buildings that surround it.
It’s not worth making a special trip for, but given its central location it might be convenient to pop in briefly.
Iglesia del Carmen
The Iglesia del Carmen (tel. 223-0360), at Vía España and Avenida Federico Boyd, across the street from the Hotel El Panamá, is the most conspicuous church in modern Panama City. A cream-colored, neogothic confection with tall twin towers, it was built in 1947. It’s a Panamanian landmark and worth a quick peek for those in the neighborhood.
Baha’i House of Worship
Panama’s Baha’i House of Worship (tel. 231-1191, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, free), the only one in Latin America and one of only seven in the world, is an impressive structure that resembles an egg, with huge, open arched entrances that let the breezes blow through but keep the rain out. The temple interior is entirely unadorned. It has an unusual panoramic view of the city, the Pacific Ocean, and the surrounding countryside.
The temple is northeast of Panama City, near Las Cumbres. To get there, head east and then north on the Transístmica (Vía Simón Bolívar) from downtown Panama City. After about 15 kilometers there’s a big intersection with Tumba Muerto (Avenida Ricardo J. Alfaro).
Continue north on the Transístmica. About four kilometers past the intersection there should be a Bacardi rum factory on the left. Turn left here and head uphill for 1.5 kilometers to the temple.
The Hindu Temple (7:30 a.m.–noon and 4–8 p.m. daily, free) is less impressive than the Baha’i House of Worship, but easier to get to. It’s a rather modern, spartan place that looks more imposing from a distance than it does close up. The most interesting thing about it, at least when worshipers are around, is the sense it gives you of how extensive and well-established Panama’s South Asian community is.
The temple is off Tumba Muerto (Avenida Ricardo J. Alfaro). Head east a couple of kilometers past Calle de la Amistad (Friendship Highway) and make a left turn. Visitors must sign in at the gate. The temple is a short drive uphill.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition