Q & A with Annie Young, Executive Director and Founder, EcoCircuitos, Panama City, Republic of Panama. “Enhancing the travel experience with local talents.” Tour operator since 1999.
PLEASE EXPLAIN YOUR WORK AS A FOUNDING MEMBER OF APTSO.
A group of friends founded Fundación Panameña de Turismo Sostenible (APTSO) in 2007 with the purpose to work together with different stakeholders to design and develop strategies for sustainable tourism in Panama. APTSO advocates for sustainable tourism at the local and national level and facilitates activities with our government, tour operators, hotels, guides and other entities in the tourism sector. Its latest project has been working with a rural tourism network with 5 communities that are dedicated to different activities that promote sustainable practices. My main job is to coordinate the logistics that supports both collaboration and education.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND TRAINING?
Before founding EcoCircuitos, I studied journalism and worked in the area of conservation. Also I was a volunteer for the Audubon Society and ANCON (local Panamanian NGO). These experiences fostered my understanding on how tourism and conservation go hand in hand. This was my inspiration to start EcoCircuitos. My focus has always been Tourism, Conservation and Education.
Panama is a country that boasts an amazing biodiversity and history. It is a small country yet full of contrasts. There are many options. You can hike along a forest trail once used by Spanish conquistadors and pirates, return in time for a delicious dinner, and still enjoy a night out bar hopping in Casco Antiguo - the Colonial Quarters in Panama City. You can visit the Chiriqui Highlands for coffee or birding tours, or choose to go surfing, diving and snorkeling. If culture and folklore interest you, we can introduce you to communities in the Azuero Peninsula and Cocle provinces.
Panama is special in so many ways but especially because of our people. Different ethnic groups live here in harmony, we are happy!
FOR BIRDING ENTHUSIASTS, WHICH LOCAL SPECIES ARE STANDOUTS?
In Panama you have different areas for birding. One spot that is perfect for those with limited time is the Soberania National Park and Pipeline Road. Here if you are lucky you many encounter the Blue Cotinga. Another recommended area is Boquete - for the Quetzal and the Volcano Hummingbird - one of my personal favorite of bird species. If you travel to Darien, there are other birds of great interest, such as the Harpy Eagle, the Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird, and the Sapayoa.
Yes, each coast is totally different. Some of the differences can be seen in the fish, the types of coral, and the sand. Personally I prefer the Caribbean as the water is clearer. Where in the world you can have a swim in the morning in the Caribbean and then have a dinner in the Pacific? Only in Panama.
Yes, there are initiatives that involve different stakeholders that are currently underway. One of the bigger projects is ECOTUR AP - this involves the designing and development of a national initiative that will drive tourism to Panama’s rural communities and improve the management of tourism in its national parks while providing the tools required for sustainable growth. This has been developed by two governmental entities with the support of the International Development Bank and the private sector, including APTSO.
Panama remains safe when compared to other Central American countries. There is a tourist police, and crime is still very low. For travelers who are concerned about diseases and health risks we always recommend that visitors talk to their health practitioners and follow guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO).
IS YOUR COMPANY BUSIEST DURING THE WINTER MONTHS?
Yes, we are. Panama’s tourism season peaks during the winter months. This is one of the reasons why we always advise our clients to book well in advance for winter vacations.
Yes, guests are frequently very surprised. They may arrive with one set of ideas, then completely change direction once they have a better sense of the country. Our team understands that we are in the business of happiness. We want every experience to be memorable and unique, it is important to us that an adventure caters to our guests and their loves ones. We interview each guest in order to make recommendations that will best suit their interests and abilities. Another point is to make sure that we provide the latest and most up-to-date information about Panama and EcoCircuitos to our worldwide partners. We are fortunate to have the trust of good wholesaler partners for many years.
WHAT ARE EXAMPLES OF FOODS THAT A TRAVELER CAN LOOK FORWARD TO TRYING?
Panamanian style Ceviche, Carimañola, Ropa Vieja, Tamal de Olla and my favorite, Octopus a la Criolla.
Boquete offers some of the best coffee in the world. It is a unique opportunity to visit a coffee plantation where you can see the processing mills and learn about how coffee makes it journey from the fields to your cup. You don´t want to miss sampling a cup of Geisha coffee from Ruiz Coffee Shop.
IS THERE ANYTHING NEW TO KNOW ABOUT ECOCIRCUITOS?
EcoCircuitos Panama is proud to announce that we have signed the Travelers Against Plastic (TAP) plea, and we encourage our clients to use reusable bottles during their trips! We provide our clients with a stainless steel PBA free water bottle as a positive solution to plastic water bottles. A modest percentage of all sales goes to support the Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism.
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