The provincial capital of Herrera province, Chitré (pop. 7,756 in town, 42,467 in district; pronounced sort of like chee-TRAY) is one of the largest towns on the Azuero Peninsula. The other is Las Tablas, which usually gets more attention but can’t compete with Chitré in charm. By Panamanian scale, both qualify as “cities.”
This is a mellow place that’s clinging to its Spanish-colonial past. The high-curbed streets are still lined with row houses that have red-tile roofs and ornate iron window screens. Each house is tiny and melds seamlessly with its neighbors. Life is lived and observed in the front rooms and porches of these modest homes, which overlook the streets.
Many men wear traditional straw hats, without affectation, as they go about their daily business. On dry-season evenings, people still gather in the town plazas to sit and enjoy the breeze.
The town was founded October 19, 1848, though according to some historians it was first settled by the conquistadors in 1558, which would make it one of the oldest surviving towns on the isthmus.
It’s also a good base for exploring the surrounding area, including the well-preserved Spanish-colonial town of Parita, the pottery shops of neighboring La Arena, and three unusual natural attractions—Playa El Agallito, Parque Nacional Sarigua, and the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Cenegón del Mangle.
Getting to Chitré
By Air: The airport is three kilometers north of downtown on Avenida Herrera. Aeroperlas (Chitré tel. 996-4021, Panama City tel. 315-7500, fax 315-7580, www.aeroperlas.com) flies from Panama City to Chitré. The trip takes about 35 minutes and costs US$36.75 one way, US$73.50 round-trip.
By Bus: The Terminal de Transportes de Herrera is a large regional bus terminal two kilometers south of downtown Chitré on Calle 19 de Octubre (also called Avenida Roberto Ramírez de Diego). It has a 24-hour greasy spoon and a few little shops selling snacks, pharmaceuticals, and knickknacks.
By Car: For those coming from the north, the main road into Chitré starts at the little town of La Arena, about two kilometers west of Chitré. The road forks here.
To get to downtown Chitré, keep going straight. The road will lead through La Arena into Chitré, where it becomes Paseo Enrique Geenzier, the main west–east promenade, before morphing into Calle Manuel María Correa near the cathedral downtown.
By Taxi: A taxi ride anywhere in town costs less than US$1. The fare between town and the bus terminal is US$1. Other destinations include the airport (US$1.50), Villa de Los Santos (US$1.50), Parque Nacional Sarigua (US$6), Playa Monagre (US$5), and Las Tablas (US$10).
Buses between Chitré and Villa de Los Santos, four kilometers away, run constantly. The fare is US$0.30.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition