Canal central in Panama's tour plans

PANAMA CITY -- As this country's promotion slogan is proving, Panama is more than a canal.

With the Panama Canal's final transfer from the U.S. to Panama to occur exactly at the turn of the century, the strategic waterway is headed for a central role in tourism development that will highlight its ecological attractions, provide ecotouristic resorts within the zone and expand facilities for cruise ship tourism.

Already being built on 340 acres along the canal, at the fork of the Chagres River and the Gatun Lake, is the Gamboa Tropical Rainforest Resort.

Near the middle of the Isthmus of Panama -- 25 miles from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans -- the resort will have 100 rooms, a pool and spa, a restaurant, a marina, and views of Soberania National Park from the main lobby's three-level atrium.

After next year's opening, guests will be able to explore the tropical forest on a variety of excursions.

Currently open is the Village at Gamboa -- 26 family villas with one- or two-bedroom apartments, refurbished and redesigned in pastel colors with tropical furniture -- is housing with a history, for it was originally occupied by U.S. families who came to the isthmus to work on the construction of the canal.

For information on the Gamboa Tropical Rainforest Resort, call (011) 507-214-1690/91/92; fax (011) 507- 214-1694; e-mail gamboaresort, Web: www.gamboa

Also in the Canal Zone, clients can now stay in Canopy Tower, a silo-like lodge converted from a U.S. Air Force radar installation, which also serves as the perfect place for bird-watching and forest walks.

Guests are accommodated, seemingly right in the trees, in six double rooms with private baths. Dining facilities cater to both guests and day trippers.

For information on Canopy Tower, call (011) 507-264-5720, fax to (011) 507-263-2784 or e-mail to [email protected].

Another change coming from the conversion of U.S. military property to civilian use will be the five-star Gran Hotel de Las Americas, to be managed by Sol Melia.

Five miles from the Canal Free Zone, the hotel will have 260 rooms when completed next year. Facilities will include three restaurants, a 27,000-square-foot pool and a small marina.

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