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Panama City is considered the most sophisticated capital in Central America, with a modern skyline hugging the sea. This city of 814,000 has been ranked among the top five places for retirement the last eight years. However, much of the high-rise construction has stopped due to cost overruns and what many locals claim are money-laundering schemes.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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Café Coco-Cola is the oldest restaurant in Panama City. It opened its doors in 1875 and remains a gathering place for the working class of Casco Viejo, the old colonial section of the city. It allegedly took its name for being one of the first institutions outside the United States to sell Coca-Cola.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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Punta Galeon is one of the spectacular beaches on Isla Contadora. Unfortunately, it's one of only three that are cleaned regularly.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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This is Mogo Mogo, one of the islands 'Survivor: Pearl Islands' used to film the physical challenges. Indeed, film crews from numerous countries, including the United States, Israel, and Turkey, have used them. What the photo does not show is the mountain of trash the Israeli and Turkish crews left in the middle of the island.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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Villa Romantica, the top hotel on Isla Contadora, has a great view of the beach, an open-air bar that's all the buzz in the evenings, and the best food on the island. Rooms at the Romantica range from $72 to $156 plus 10 percent tax.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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Locals hang out on the Contadoran beach of Playa Ejecutiva. This island has a friendly vibe; crime is almost non-existent. People drive around in golf carts and give rides to passersby.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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Small planes that leave the domestic airport in Panama City are a good, if adventurous, way to get around. It costs only $37 to fly from Panama City to Yandup, and it takes only 40 minutes.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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This is one of ten cabanas on Isla Yandup. The cabanas have queen-size beds with a porcelain sink, modern shower, and two hammocks on the veranda. They go for $100 a night, including all meals and two excursions a day.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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A typical Yandup scene: chair, palm tree, ocean. That's it. And what more do you need?  
Credit: John Henderson 
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The Kuna Indians, the indigenous tribe that populates the islands of the San Blas Archipelago, count shellfish as one of their dietary staples. One night after burying myself in a mountain of crab legs, specially trained Kuna chefs then treated me to lobster tail.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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This is a Kuna Indian in the village of Ukup Seny. Of the 70,000 Kunas alive, 40,000 live on the San Blas Archipelago. Most live in crowded villages of wood and bamboo thatch.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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The Kuna have a terrific diet, living on shellfish, fresh fish, rice, and fresh fruit with chicken and beef shipped in from Panama City. But over-population is a problem, and birth control and sex education are non-existent. Respiratory problems are rampant due to smoking.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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Built in 1914 at a cost of $375 million and 22,000 lives, the Panama Canal annually nets $1.3 billion for the country. More than 14,000 vessels pass through its three locks every year.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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The Gamboa Rainforest Resort, just outside the canal, is a $30 million jungle hotel complete with golf course, spa, pool, and marina. You can take excursions such as this one to the top of a lookout tower, where you can watch ships steaming down the water before entering the canal.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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Isla Kuanidup is one of the more rustic spots in the San Blas Islands chain. The 11 cabanas here have sand floors, four-inch foam-rubber mattresses, and one lightbulb that illuminates a small table. But the sand and palm trees covering an island the size of a 400-meter track make up for it. It's $95 a night including meals.   
Credit: John Henderson 
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This is me after making the two biggest decisions you make every day: What hammock to read in and 15 or 35 SPF sunscreen. I read five books in three weeks and got the best tan of my life despite going in the rainy season.  
Credit: John Henderson 
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You can buy Chilean wine for $15 a bottle in the island's supply store. It's a great way to end a day, and it's how I spent my last night in Panama.  
Credit: John Henderson 
 
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