Panama City surprises newcomers. It is by far the most cosmopolitan city in Central America, which becomes obvious as soon as one sees its densely packed towers. But its vibrant modernity really shouldn’t be surprising, given the capital’s status as an international banking center and its location next to the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal , the “crossroads of the world.” Panama City has been important to world commerce since its founding nearly 500 years ago.
It’s also an international city. The shops of Indian and Chinese merchants have been city institutions for generations. Any given day might find Colombian émigrés having a drink in a British pub, Japanese businesspeople making a deal in an Argentine steakhouse, and North American retirees looking for their place in the tropical sun.
The city’s rich diversity can be seen in its houses of worship : Along with its Roman Catholic churches are synagogues, mosques, one of the world’s seven Baha’i Houses of Worship, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitanate of Central America, a prominent Hindu temple, and gathering houses for every conceivable Protestant congregation.
The one faith that draws all these people together is business. Deals are being made everywhere at all times, from kids hawking cell phone accessories at congested intersections to developers determined to build on every square centimeter of open space. Life is fast-paced compared with the rest of Panama, and the city’s residents are comparatively assertive, street-savvy, and no-nonsense. Panama City is to, say, the Azuero Peninsula  as New York City is to rural Nebraska. Everyone on the road is in a great hurry, and skyscrapers pop up overnight.
Still, by the standards of many other countries’ capitals, Panama City is a mellow, fun-loving place. Any excuse for a party will do, and big celebrations, especially Carnaval, shut down the whole city.
Those who come to Panama solely for its natural treasures will be tempted to blast right through the capital on their way to the country’s forests, mountains, islands, and beaches. But it’d be a shame not to spend some time in the capital. Hundreds of years of history live on in its streets, and its more modern attractions are especially appealing after roughing it in the wilderness for a while. Besides, it has its very own tropical forest . Even city streets aren’t far removed from nature; an entire book has been written on the birds of Panama City.