The serene coastal town of Rio Hato, in Coclé Province and only 90 minutes west of Panama City, is gearing up for its second annual Mango Festival, to be held May 16 to 19, 2013. While Rio Hato is best known for its spectacular beaches and luxury hotels, the community wants the world to know that they have much, much more to offer— hence the festival’s slogan, “Rio Hato, more than beaches!” This year’s festival aims to increase awareness of the fruit’s nutritional value, motivate mango consumption, promote the consumption of local, seasonal products, and celebrate everything mango trees and fruits have to offer. To this end, organizers have planned an exciting series of events and activities.

Visitors to the festival will be able to sample and purchase delectable mango dishes, fresh fruit, and other mango-related products. In addition to booth exhibits, there will be educational and cultural activities, business opportunities, contests, a daily raffle, workshops and invited speakers, live music and artistic presentations. Mangos are an important part of Panama’s culture and economy, not to mention delicious and nutritious. Because of their high iron content, mangos offer health benefits to people with anemia, pregnant women, and post-menopausal women. Mangos are also high in vitamin C (they provide 1000% of the daily recommended amount), which helps your body absorb the iron. The fruit also contains 35% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A, which is good for your eyesight; it prevents problems with night vision, glare, and naturally alleviates dry, itchy eyes. Glutamine acid found in mangos stimulate memory. Mangos are also rich in fiber, antioxidants, flavonoids, beta-carotene, niacin, calcium, magnesium and potassium. You can incorporate mangos into your daily diet as a snack, or blend it with ice, milk and honey for a delicious fruit shake. Better yet, learn about different mango varieties and try new recipes at the festival!

Here’s what the weekend holds in store: on Friday morning the festival will be open to elementary school visits. In the afternoon, gather round under the mango tree for story time, or head to the Rio Hato Junta Comunal for a special mango tasting event with Chef Alonso Williams, trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York City. There will also be workshops held during the day on the technical aspects of mango production, as well as lectures by distinguished speakers on environmental themes including water, climate change and biodiversity; ecotourism, including rural tourism and green tourism; and lectures on environmental history, fruit farming and sustainable economies. End your Friday outing on a high note by catching one of the musical performances held in the evening. On Saturday morning there will be a tour to a mango plantation El Platanal and a greased pole climbing contest (for children under 16), while in the afternoon visitors will be able to cheer for the Mango Festival Queen as she takes a tour through the town and arrives at the fairgrounds. Motivate your children’s creative spirit by taking them to the tropical music classes (salsa and merengue), or attend an educational even on rural tourism in the 21st century. Saturday evening will close with live music from the Polyphonic Chorus of Panama and a dance party. Sunday holds more fun with a storytelling workshop for children, a mango eating contest open to all, and an evening dance and fireworks show.

Even though mangos are one of the most common fruits in Panama, the Rio Hato Mango Festival is the first of its kind in the country. Mangos were first cultivated and domesticated in northeast India more than 4,000 years ago. Mango plants traveled along with Buddhist monks from India to eastern and southeastern Asia in the 4th and 5th centuries BC. By the 10th century AD, Persian traders had introduced mangos to the Middle East and East Africa. The Portuguese, who arrived in India during the 15th century, then spread the mango to South America, the Philippines and West Africa. In Panama, mango trees are easily found in rural gardens, growing wild in fields and pastures, and alongside roads and highways. One of the most beautiful varieties found in Panama is Tommy Atkins, recognizable by its stunning purple color. Another popular variety is the Chancleta mango, distinguished by its vibrant yellow color and elongated shape. A variety typical to Rio Hato is the Cara de Gente, which you will do doubt be able to sample at the festival. Healthy fun awaits this weekend. What are you waiting for?