Panama: travel books to read before you go

This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Panama guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip.

Anyone who doubts that Panama is still an overlooked country has only to take a look at its selection of travel literature. Unlike Guatemala, Peru or even Nicaragua, there are very few accounts of travel within the country. This is good news for would-be travel writers but bad news for anyone wanting to get something other than a historical look at the country.

Travelers TalesTravelers’ Tales Central America, published in 2002, has three stories about Panama, but they are interesting tales (one touches on life in Isla de Coiba’s penal colony, while another provides an interesting account of shamanism and the Kuna). It’s a decent book for those interested in learning about other Central American countries.

For a fictional look at one of Panama’s spiciest cultures, read the work of short-story writer José María Sanchez. His work was first published in the 1940s but was rereleased in an anthology titled Cuentos de Bocas del Toro (Tales of Bocas del Toro). Set in that beautiful province, where the author was born and raised, these fun stories – whose protagonists are driven by the sensuous, baroque excesses of the tropical jungle and sea – possess a language charged with powerful imagery.

PanamaAlthough Panama, by Carlos Ledson Miller, is a work of fiction, the story takes readers on a journey through the political turmoil of the country during the Noriega years. The author, who lived in Panama as a boy, also takes readers further back in history, giving snapshots of Balboa’s arrival in 1514, Sir Henry Morgan’s sacking of Panama City in the 17th century and more recently the 1964 student riots that later led to the Torrijos-Carter treaty that returned the canal to Panamanian hands.

Getting to Know the GeneralGetting to Know the General, by Graham Greene, is a fascinating portrait drawn from Greene’s longtime friendship with General Omar Torrijos. It examines the Panamanian political climate of the 1960s and ’70s.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.