The glorious, fascinating peninsula of Azuero

March 3rd, 2015
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The glorious , fascinating peninsula of Azuero

Azuero – the name is derived from the color blue. The blue of the sea and sky. Green is the other color of the Azuero Peninsula which juts out a hundred kilometers into the Pacific in lonely isolation.

There are other colors-white for the sand of an island beach , silver for the flash of a fighting fish, red for the homemade clay tiles on the roofs and a myriad of colors for devils’ masks and polleras from a Colonial past.

The remote peninsula,  insulated from change and revered by Panamanians for its colonial cultural roots, traditional festivals and extravagant carnival celebrations, is now attracting the attention of a wider public. The Spanish colonists, driven to the central parts of the country in search of gold , recognized the beauty and potential of Azuero. Centuries later our visitors are discovering the area.

Watch out for Dirty Devils

Diablico SucioDirty devils are a Panamanian speciality and the Azuero Penisula is the place to encounter them. The dance of the Diablico Sucio is the most colorful of traditional dances. The dancers wear masks depicting evil spirits, dragons and animals, topped by long cockatoo feathers representing fire. The diablicos carry a “tajona “, a whip made of a cow’s bladder, which they use (in fun) to inflict fear into the populace.

Making the devil masks is one of the old crafts of Azuero. They make a good souvenir. Anyone will tell you where the devil mask shop can be found.

Surfers, backpackers, fishermen and divers, were the first. Celebrities too. How they discovered the Azuero

Peninsula is puzzlement but apparently word gets around in the world of the rich and famous.

Apart from these groups, discerning tourists and foreign home- seekers are beginning to make their presence felt, especially in the tiny town of Pedasi, right at the tip of the peninsula.

The Azuero Peninsula is probably where  the “land  banking” aspect  of Panama ‘s real estate boom  has been most pronounced. The market is still viable  and  good  deals  can  be  had for  homesites,  hotels  or  investment. Today, beautiful  homes can be found sprinkled along a magnificent  virgin coastline.

The Journey

Unless you take  an  Air  Panama or charter flight to the airstrips  at Chitre or Pedasi or take a bus from the Albrook terminal you will drive up the Panamerican Highway from Panama City and head south down the peninsu­la in the province of Herrera. If deserts interest  you  take  a  left  turn  into  the Sarigua National Park. It is Panama’s only desert. Sarigua National Park is 8,000 hectares of arid coastal region. Many areas are treeless but there are areas of deciduous forest, typical of the dry tropical species found on the Pacific coast. The park contains several of the most important archaelogi­cal sites in the country. To visit the park , call the regional office of ANAM (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente) in Chitre, 996-82 16. A guide is necessary.

Parita , founded in 1558 is the oldest Indian Hispanic settlement of Azuero. It’s original plaza is intact and the St. Dominic’s of Guzman church, a National Historic Monument (1556), has an ornate tower and is distinguished by the beautiful woodwork of its altar and frescoes.

A few kilometers further on is the town of Arena, known for its pottery, reproducing    pre-Colombian   designs, influenced by the ancient Monagrillo culture discovered nearby. You are welcome to stop and watch the potters at work.

Continuing our drive in Herrera province, Pese, Las Minas and Los Pozos  are  typical  small   provincial towns. Pese is circled by sugar cane plantations and has an important liquor industry producing seco, the Panamanian national liquor.

Hacienda San Isidro, home of the celebrated Ron Abuelo, offers tours of the property in picturesque ox carts. There is an annual Cane  Festival, but the most interesting event, which Panamanians flock to see, is a Jive representation of the Golgotha drama on Holy Friday. A hot spring, Pozo de la Salud (Health Well) is said to be curative.

Next is Chitre, the provincial capi­tal , a sizable town with a good range of amenities. The pre-Colombian pot­tery excavated in the Azuero Peninsula is the most elaborate to be found on the isthmus and the best examples are in the Herrera Museum  in Chitre.

It has a large collection of prehis­toric remains found in Sarigua as well as gold ornaments excavated in the region. A small Zoo, Zoologico Los Rios, may be of interest ..

Chitre’s twin city Los Santos, was declared an “heroic city” by Latin American hero Simon  Bolivar  since it was in Los Santos that Panama’s “Cry  for  Independence”  was   made on November 10th, 1821 , leading the country to become independent from Spain. It is a picturesque town with colonial architecture illustrated by the 18th-century San Atanasio church with baroque wooden decoration s. The Nationality Museum occupies the home of the “cabildo” (local gover­nment) of Los Santos and contains documents signed by Bolivar and objects from the era of the Spanish conquest.

The town of Guarare  is  famous for its festival, The Mejorana , named after a type of guitar distinctive to the area. Manuel Zarate Museum displays a personal collection of Professor Manuel Zarate, all linked to national folklore and includes the oldest pollera and musical instruments. It is in Guarare and Las Tablas that women sew the magnificent national attire “the pollera”,and make its adornments of filigree gold and fish scales. The colonial Santa Librada church and Belisario Porras museum are worth a visit as well as El Uverito, El Jobo and Las Comadres beaches.

La Pollera - Panama's national dressAzuero – home of the Pollera

The Panamanian Pollera is a descendant of the Andalusian female attire of the XVI century, which has evolved to include African and Native American elements as well.

Very few national dresses are as elaborate, graceful and ornate and it has won many important international awards. It has been declared “The Best National Costume” in many renowned international pageants, such as “Miss Universe” and “Miss World.”

The best Polleras are made in the vicinity of Santo Domingo de Las Tablas in the province of Los  Santos,  To  sew a  pollera  can  take  six months to a year  and can cost $10,000 even without   its  traditional golden trimmings.

Las Tablas is the capital of the next province, Los Santos, and is famous in Panama for its pre-lenten carnival celebrations. Thousands of revellers from all over Panama converge on the town to help the Tableños celebrate. This is the birthplace of the tradition of the rivalry between the queens of Calle Arriba (High street) and Calle Abajo (Low street), their followers flaunting their superiority in song and mime and hurling insults at their oppo­nents. All the way down the eastern side of the peninsula the road is never too far from the coast where scores of beaches are accessible on minor roads. We pass the town of Pocri before arri­ving at Pedasi , the focal point of the peninsula’s tourism.

The streets of Pedasi are clean and lined with flowers and plants, speaking of deep civic pride. The houses are brightly painted, residents sit out on their patios, right on the street, gree­ting their neighbors and the evening promenade is still a treasured custom.

A big attraction of Pedasi is Isla Iguana, an island a short boat ride from the mainland.  It has a superb beach.

Further around the tip of the penin­sula is Tonosi and 20 minutes further on is the beachfront boutique lodge, Hotel Playa Cambutal, offering 10 rooms with a view of unspoiled black sand beaches and backed by forested mountains.   Surfers have access to year-round waves and the hotel has kayaks, bikes and horses. Surf boards are available for rent , as are paddle boards.

If you have the time, exploring the Peninsula can be exciting and full of interest. The following are some suggestions.

The Achotines Laboratory where the yellow fin tuna is studied  from the larval stage is a tourist  attraction. Achotines was founded in 1985 by the Inter American Tropical Tuna Comission and has grown into a world-class facility. Mature fish swim in a giant tank .

Close   by  is the famous surfers’ paradise beach, Playa Venao. Venao has good restaurant s and a busy night life on weekends.

Should you be on the peninsula between July and November, you may want to witness turtle-hatching at Isla Cañas, the most  important turtle site of the south Pacific Ocean. Isla Cañas Wildlife Reserve was established in 1994 and harbors four of the world’s eight known turtle spec es. Crocodiles can also be seen. Regular tours to sla Cafias depart from Tonosi. Guanico, a surfing beach,and Marinera Beach are located in the area. A small seafood restaurant at Playa Guanico serves daily local catches.

The town of Las Minas takes its name for being the center of go d mining activity in the colonial era around the 17th century. The town is on the edge of El Montuoso Forest Refuge where orchids,endemic birds and carnivorous plants abound. t is difficult to locate these rare plants so   it is best to make arrangements for a guide from the Panama Environmental Authority (ANAM), custodians of the park, by calling 996-8216 at the r regional H.Q. in Chitre.

Isla Iguana – an island jewel

Visitors go to the Pedasi coast to watch whales, observe turtle hatching, scuba dive, and surf and of course for the year round world class fishing.

The Azuero Peninsula is unique among all the destinations in the Americas because it thrusts out close to the continental shelf and the Humboldt Current that sweeps an enormous amount of marine life inshore.

Isla IguanaA happy consequence of this phenomena is Isla Iguana which lies seven kilometers from the Pedasi shoreline. The small island is surrounded by 20 hectares of spectacular coral  reef  that  holds 11 species of corals developed over many centuries. The surrounding waters host 542 species of fish. The island is also the home to thousands of frigate birds. The white sand beach is a big attraction.

Isla Iguana was declared a national park in 1980, and an officially protected ecological and tourist destination. There are giant schools of red snapper, grouper and other species, including wahoo, dorado, yellow fin tuna, sailfish and roosterfish.

The waters around the Azuero Peninsula have been dubbed “The Tuna Coast” because of the abundance of Yellow fin Tuna.

Azuero – land of fiestas

It is estimated that  an astonshing 600 patron saint festivals are held each year among the towns and villages of the Azuero Peninsula. There are other fairs and celebrations in this, the heart­land of Panamanian culture. Here are some of the principal events.

Fiesta de Reyes - January 6  in the Plaza de Macaracas. Dating from colonial days, this revolves around a representation of the visit of the the Three Wise Men to the Christ Child.

Patron Saint Festival of San Sebastian of Ocu - in January 16-20. Livestock , agricultural and folklore fair honors  Ocu’s Patron Saint.

Carnivals and carnavalitos - celebrated throughout the region in February. There are festivals and folklore shows and parades of floats.

Azuero International Fair - Held since 1944 at Villa de Los Santos between April and May, the fair is one of the major tourist attractions in the Azuero region, with  agricultural exhibits but also highlighting the craft industry of Panama and Central America.

Corpus Christi - Is held in La Villa de Los Santos June 4-7. This is a tradition that holds religious and folklore components that have been preserved since medieval times through oral tradition. During  the event   “diablicos” representing evil and the devil menace the Archangel in vigorous mime and dance to frighten the unbelievers

Patronal San Juan Bautista - in Chitre on June 24. It has been celebrated for the last 169 yea.rs with great religious fervor focusing on the customs and tradition s of the people of San Juan. Religious and folklore activities.

Pollera Festival and Santa Librada Patron  Saint Festival  - At Las Tablas on July 19. The festival was created in the 60′s to highlight the Pollera , Panama ‘s national femi­nine dress. During this time also they pay tribute to Santa Librada , the most revered Patron Saint in Panama, at the Church of Las Tablas, with a pro­cession , musical parades and folklore celebrations.

Festival del Manito - in Ocu in August honors the farmers of Ocu , and celebrates all the traditional work methods inherited from the Spanish who settled in the region.

Mejorana National Festival and the Virgin of Mercy Patron Saint Festival - In Guarare, Los Santos September 25-27 is a folklore festival that began in 1941 with music, dance and arts to highlight the customs and folklore of Guarare. The Virgin of Mercy is the Patron Saint of Guarare and the locals pay tribute to the bles­ sings received by this saint.

Dekel Group, developing the lifestyle amenities of Pedasi

When they first visited Panama over seven years ago, Dekel’s founding partners encountered an enticing mix of undervalued land combined with socioeconomic and geopolitical stability, which they recognized as the perfect formula for exponential growth. Today, Dekel Group stands at the forefront of Panama’s vibrant real estate industry, offering some of the country’s most exclusive project s in urban regeneration, oceanfront communities and Lifestyle opportunities.

Dekel Group in the Azuero peninsula

Headed by an energetic young design-led team, the group has diversified into over 15 individual businesses working in the leisure, tourism, real estate and hospitality industries. Their activities, which originally centered around the colonial fishing village of Pedasi on Panama’s Azuero Peninsula, have expanded to other locations such as Bocas del Toro and Panama City’s Casco Antigua or Old Town.

Dekel attributes its success to a business model that operates on the idea that they are not ju st selling real estate, but a whole lifestyle.  When they first came to Pedasi, for example, the group focused on developing amenities and infrastructure within the town itself. They opened ten-room Pedasito Boutique Hotel; a thriving bakery that serves up hand crafted breads, sweets, soups and sandwiches; and “Pedasi Tours”, which helps tourists discover the beauty and activities available in the area by providing car rental’s, hotel bookings , boat tours, sport fishing, whale-watching, trips to nearby Iguana Island Wildlife Reserve and horseback riding.

Dekel’s signature project is Andromeda Ocean Estates, a beachfront ocean community located less than two kilometers from the town of Pedasi. Andromeda offers a broad choice of artfully designed living options along the beautiful “Gold Coast” at the tip of the Azuero peninsula. Blue Venao , the group’s newest project , is located about 30 minutes farther  down the coast on famous Venao Beach , a long-time favorite with surfers that is rapidly becoming one of the country’s most popular vacation destinations.

Playa Venao near Pedasf is an internationally renowned surfing destination

Playa Venao near Pedasf is an internationally renowned surfing destination.

Fishing on The Tuna Coast

The   waters   around   the Azuero Peninsula have been dubbed “The Tuna Coast” because of the abundance of Yellowfin Tuna. Other fish to be caught are Amberjack , Bigeye Tuna, Roosterfish/ Papagallo, Snapper, Yellowfin Tuna, Bluefin Trevally, Grouper, and Dorado.

The Azuero Peninsula is also celebrated for Wahoo. The website of Pedasi Fishing comments: When a Wahoo hits your lure at 60 miles an hour and runs your 30 lbs test line for a few spurts of 100 to 150 yards, you have dis­covered an allure that no other fish will give you. The Wahoo (Acanthocybium Solanderi) is a lean, sleek,torpedo-like fish nor­mally found in deeper blue water zones where tuna are often running. In Panama, fishing for Wahoo hits a peak in October but begins as early as May.

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