Discover Changuinola, Panamá: The Surprisingly Cosmopolitan
Live-And-Let-Live "Heart" Of Bocas del Toro, Province

With A Unique "Sunny" Beat That's Pure Caribbean!


Changuinola, Bocas del Toro Province, Panamá is as about as "improbable" a city as I have ever visited.  Period!  One doesn't expect to encounter an elevated civilised populace in the middle of a 250,000 acre Chiquita banana plantation, but elevated & decidedly Bohemian it is!  Oh, its streets could use a new paving badly; there is hardly any street lighting (that works), to illumine your path at night; after a rain (which occurs just about daily), you must walk around puddles the size of small lakes, and the somewhat tacky façades of the many almacens (general merchandise stores) are barely more than cleverly painted tin panels...but you can find ANY kind of item that you could ever possibly want to buy on Avenida 17 de Abril (often for a dollar an item, or even less!); some of the most delicious (inexpensive), and well-prepared foods you will ever eat at its dozens of "mom & pop" restaurantes and cafés; and any number of clean, air conditioned hotel rooms for $35.00 or less complete with CATV! 

A lovely courtyard walkway...I'd like to see way more of this "eye candy" in Changuinola!Every REAL city has a cemetery.  Changuinola's is quaint & poignant!Another load of Gold from Changuinola...detined for New York, London, or Tokyo!Caribbean style CAN be seen here, but these are only glimpses of what COULD BE, in future days!The "delightful" disorganisation that IS Avenida 17 de Abril!!  It's alive, but would dearly welcome a "facelift!"This is the true tropics: breadfruit abound everywhere!Reposteria El Buen Sabor!  A must stop at bakery!!!  Every wonderful pasrty confection imaginable at an unheard of price range!  40 cents for a pineapple struedel?  Absolutely!!  This is the unofficial culinary "heart" of Changuinola, Bocas del Toro, Republica de Panama!

One can summarise Changuinola with the following description: this city is NOT even close to a quintessential Caribbean resort community, complete with the typical Mediterranean-inspired roof tiles everywhere along with the all too familiar island style washed sherbet-coloured stucco homes and "shopping centres!"  No, Changuinola IS real...with some visual flaws, taxis going "beep-beep," delicious food and happy, industrious people!  I like this city very much; it's very much alive without any help from the Panamanian government, over 250 miles away, and without any help from its corporate "partner," Chiquita Brands International: (Bocas Fruit Company Division).  I've always said that all this city needs is a good coat of paint, better street lights (to enhance the enjoyment of the often alfresco & impromptu street entertainment!) and some planter boxes filled with any number of tropical plants that could easily thrive in this botanical paradise.  By the way, the climate is spectacular here: rarely over 85 degrees F., and never under 65 degrees F.  The evenings are ALWAYS coolish and perfect for a brisk stroll to the grocery, internet café, or taverna.

A smiling, soft-spoken Changuinolan!     Senor y senora Filiberto Reid and his wife, Hermina.  A welcoming family and caring friends!      Filiberto, Rafael and Antonio in front of one of the many waterfalls along with roadside.

Changuinola's 50,000 plus population could be ethnically Jamaican, Chinese, Mestizo: Native Indian, Trinidadian, Castillian, Syrian, and, of course, Gringo, too.  Its citizens are a happy blend of many or all of these aforementioned groups.  Their "collective" working language is Spanish but one can also readily hear English (with a very pleasing West Indian patois lilt), various Native American Indian dialects, Arabic, and Chinese!!  Bananas brought all these peoples, their languages, their toothsome foods, and indigenous cultures, together.  The city "works" so well because being different here is something that is embraced, not feared, loathed, and scorned.  The same warm smile and handshake is offered both the newcomer and friend alike.  Since Brad & I live in Florida, where ethnic tensions usually run high, it is delightful to see that this rather complex juxtaposition of human beings has no noticeable negative effects on peoples' dispositions!   What a refreshing, successful human societal "experiment" unfolds on a daily basis, here in "The Banana City": Changuinola, Bocas del Toro, Republica de Panamá.

Local produce dazzles the eye and treats the palete with sabor tropicales!    Excellent Chinese cuisine, in a VERY nondescript setting!  Don't be fooled by images; this place is great!     Bananas hang ready to be "macheted" from the plant and placed ever so gently into its corrugated "nest".  It will be favoured a week later in New York, Tokyo, Toronto, London, or Berlin!
Much-anticipted downtown Changuinola transportation centre radidly becomes a reality!  FINALLY, the sign goes up touting the state-of-the-art proposed Changuinola River multi-lane puente (bridge).  Let's see how long it takes for the bridge itself, to become a reality.  Hopefully within a couple of years!    The beginnings of the new Changuinola transportation are completed.  This project will encompass two entire city blocks!  It's going to be truly beautiful!

At any one time, in Changuinola and its out-lying environs, you are likely to spot a hoard or two of pale-faced, mainly European or Nord Americano touristas taking full advantage of the area's National Parks and all-around-you natural beauty!  They often stop downtown to have a comida typica, a pizza, a great "gourmet" Chinese-Caribbean meal, and/or of course, a cervesa or three!  You will possibly hear them complain about the lack of air conditioning in the open air markets and restaurants, the laid-back (distinctly Caribbean) "speed" of the locals, and the frequent but usually brief rain showers that drift in from either the 10,000 ft. mountains to the west or on the Easterly tradewinds, but they rarely complain about the price that they will pay for that arriving pile of excellent, regionally-unique food, or most certainly, the taste of a refreshing, ice-cold Balboa® cervesa, at about 90 cents each!  Remember, Changuinola is NOT a resort town.  But any tourist would certainly find it multi-faceted and interesting, if they can look beneath its "rough exterior!"

Changuinola, Panama's Golden "treasure" that is recognised & enjoyed...WORLDWIDE!!

Did I already mention that I like this city?   I guess that I did!  There is one more thing that I would like to convey, readers.  I mentioned earlier in this somewhat "cheerleading" & passionate article focusing on Changuinola, Bocas del Toro, Panamá that this community survives, no, it thrives, without "outside help."  That is very true.  I also came to my own personal conclusion that to enhance its attractiveness and increase its already great civic pride, all it really needs is paint, tropical street trees, a fresh coat of asphalt on its roads, and attractive night lighting to welcome its citizenry and visitors to frequent evening band concerts and spur of the moment festivals...And Chiquita's money can make that difference towards enhancing downtown Changuinola's "Quality of Life!"  I have already voiced this opinion, in June, 2003, via e-mail to Chiquita Brands International's Corporate Offices, in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The e-mail was eventually acknowledged "politely" but I've heard nothing from them since that "correct" salutatory response.

Your corporate trouble-making author, Paul!  I'm on a "mission" to beautify MY adopted & beloved Changuinola, Panama!!

The Chiquita Brands International is Changuinola's citizens' "life blood" for their income, families' welfare, and their substantial sense of community pride.  Chiquita employs the vast majority of this area's citizens, and as is the case in most agricultural work, pay is on the low side.  Work in a banana plantation is not easy, and its rewards are few.  I feel very strongly that Chiquita should give back more to say: "thank you, Changuinola!"  Blue and yellow street lamps and trash receptacles?  Perhaps attractive planter boxes lining the sidewalks filled with bananas, palms, heliconias, and cannas!

Chiquita has the considerable financial resources that could make Changuinola a better place to live, or visit.  Panamá's government does not have "deep pockets", and even if it did, Changuinola, Bocas del Toro is so distant from Panamá City geographically, that it is often a last choice for proposed government subsidised regional capital improvements.  After eight extended visits, I've come to believe that the Changuinola area deserves far better husbandry.  It can easily become a progressive bellwether region to be admired by other municipalities in Panama, and in communities large and small throughout the rest of Central America!  Clearly, Changuinola has what it takes to be a vital & pleasant urban environment.  Right now, it requires capital improvements for its hard-working citizenry.  With its strong local presence, Chiquita Brands International has the kind of capital, and responsibility to make these improvements a reality.

Bananas for as far as the eye can see grow lush and vibrant in the ideal climate of Bocas del Toro Province Panama!

Help Changuinola, Bocas del Toro Province, Panamá prosper, readers!  Write, call or e-mail Chiquita Brands Corporation to let them know that you support the concept of corporate responsibility.  Several thousands of dollars are all that would be initially required...not millions!  The only thing that would be "in the millions" would be the many more smiles beaming from Changuinolans as they express their civic pride and improved lifestyle...exponentially!

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Average Temperature

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
°C 25.6 25.7 25.9 26.2 26.5 26.6 26.3 26.5 26.7 26.4 26.0 25.7 26.2
°F 78.1 78.3 78.6 79.2 79.7 79.9 79.3 79.7 80.1 79.5 78.8 78.3 79.2

Average Rainfall

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
mm 225.3 156.6 167.7 229.4 256.4 181.8 265.6 207.4 119.6 142.7 266.1 336.4 2555.9
inches 8.9 6.2 6.6 9.0 10.1 7.2 10.5 8.2 4.7 5.6 10.5 13.2 100.6

Source: CHANGUINOLA data derived from GHCN 1. 115 months between 1961 and 1970


Corporate headquarters address:
Chiquita Brands International, Inc.
250 East Fifth Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202 USA

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