Megan McCormick takes an epic trip through Colombia and Panama: 2 countries that remain refreshingly untouched by mass tourism. Panama, in Central America is a country world famous for its canal, with mesmerising landscapes and vibrant cultural life. She then travels down to South America and Colombia where - despite its recent troubles - she discovers an amazingly beautiful country steeped in fascinating history.
Megan's first stop is Panama's lively capital - Panama City - where she hits the sights and heads for the main square in the old town, to the Plaza de la Independencia. Here she visits the site where Panama twice declared its independence - first from the Spanish and then from Greater Colombia in 1903. She stops off to sample some roasted plantain from a street vendor before indulging in a little retail therapy: shopping for the perfect Panama Hat.
During The Gold Rush of the 1850s, the U.S. built the railroad which now spans Panama from the Caribbean across to the Pacific Coast. Travelling vendors from Ecuador sold these hats to the U.S. railroad workers toiling under the hot Caribbean sun. The hats were much admired when the workers returned home and - despite the fact they were really from Ecuador - they soon became known as "Panama Hats", and so the name stuck.
Next Megan takes a trip to the famous Panama Canal which links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and is crucial for the Panamanian economy, generating approximately US$1 billion per annum. Next stop in her itinerary is the "Comarca" of Kuna Yala in the San Blas archipelago, a region belonging to one of Panama's main indigenous groups, the Kuna. Here Gilberto Alemancia, a Kuna himself, invites Megan to his house for a traditional Kuna lunch before showing her the island. Our traveller is also lucky enough to be present the day the island celebrates the anniversary of the Kuna uprising against the Panamanian government which gave them semi-autonomous.
The next day it’s time for Megan to leave Panama behind and off to Colombia. Upon arrival in Bogotá she checks into the Platypus, a hostel that has became quite an institution and is perfectly located right in the middle of the old town. Megan explores the city and then - feeling a bit peckish – decides to try out a very popular local snack: fried ants.
Although Colombia's troubles with rebel groups, drug-trafficking, and kidnaps have quietened down in recent years, Colombia is not the safest place in the world. You need protection! Fashionista Miguel Caballero - known as the "Armani of bullet proof clothes" - has the answer. Megan goes to check out his collection and ends up as a witness to a point blank shooting! Shaken but undeterred, she pops into the local Police Museum where you can see a creepy exhibition about famous drug dealer, Pablo Escobar.
Next stop in her quest is a trip to a small coca plantation a few hours outside Bogotá with freelance journalist Alejandro Nieto, where shelearns all about coca "paste" production.
Back in Bogotá, our traveller boards a flight to Colombia's Caribbean coast and the beautiful historic city of Cartagena where she learns all about the city's Spanish colonial past and chills out to the sultry sounds to one of Colombia’s most popular musical rhythms: Vallenato.
The last stretch of Megan's journey is long and arduous. She travels up the Caribbean coast to the town of Santa Marta where she treks into the jungle with archaeologist, Santiago Giraldo in search of the Lost City of The Tayrona. Perched high on the mountainous slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the Lost City stands 1,300m above sea level. It was originally built by an ancient tribe - the Tayrona Indians - and remains one of jewels of South America's ancient cultural heritage.