Panama City, Panama is a town full of American expats, marine industry workers and Panamanians hoping to make a buck. Located at the junction where the Panama Canal meets the Pacific, this town has been an epicenter of trade for hundreds of years.
A city founded in 1519, Panama City is a place where old meets young, tradition meets modernity and plato typico meets Taco Bell.
Wanting to experience the older side of Panama City we decided to stay in Casco Viejo, Panama's old quarter (designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997). Built in 1673, this area is technically the new city of Pananma after the original city was burnt down by Henry Morgan and his band of pirates in 1671. The streets are narrow with the buildings an eclectic mix of old, new and ramshackled. This small neighborhood, located on the shores of the Pacific, is home to the Presidential palace, the original canal museum, catherdrals and many beautiful plazas, including Plaza del Francia, that overlooks the Pacific. This area is also home to many great cafes, restaurants, and rooftop bars, along with some swanky boutique hotel options.
|Casco Viejo at night|
Coming from Panama's international airport our taxi driver dropped us off at Luna's Castle, one of Casco Viejo's budget hostel options. Hoping this place would give us the simple respite we needed for a cheap price, we booked it. However, after one look at our private, 3 bedroom room we opted for a different option. The room, comparable to a prison cell, had one flickering florescent light, no windows and no AC and layers upon layers of dirt on the wall. Could I have slept there? Sure. However, the thought of a sleepless night and the potential of bed bugs sent us off to another refugio--the Tantalo, a boutique hotel where each room is uniquely decorated and the beds are like sleeping on a cloud.
After finding a place to lay our heads we then took to the ancient streets in search for food. A short walk from our hotel was Plaza Bolívar, where flocks of Panamanians and tourists alike were partaking in a lovely evening of eating and drinking under the trees. With a plethora of restaurants to choose from, we ended up going with Casa Blanca. One look at their menu and I knew our stomachs would be satisfied: plantanos with calamari, grouper with peppers and creole sauce, sea bass with beet purée.
With satisfied stomachs and few glasses of sangria in our systems it was now time to hit the bar scene. Club Havana and Casa Nuratti's rooftop bar were a quick jaunt away and offered up local music and cheap Panamanian beers and cold drinks.
The next morning we then headed to what Panama is most widely known for: the canal. A 15 minute, $10 taxi ride brought us to the Miraflores locks, the closest of the 3 sets of locks to Panama City. The 80 mile long and 10 mile wide canal, now operated by Panama, takes boats 8-10 hours to travel through and is Panama's greatest source of revenue.Those wanting to travel through the locks can easily book a day tour for around $120. Otherwise for $15 you can hang out on the overlook of Miraflores and wander through their well put together museum that includes a 30 minute video on the making of the Panama Canal.
After an hour of watching the boats navigate through canal it was time to escape the heat and humidity and find refuge some where a little cooler. From the canal we hopped back into a taxi and headed to Marcos Gelabert Airport to catch our Air Panama flight north to the archipelago of Bocas del Toro.
Traveling through Panama City?
Wireless internet is every where. Sign up for a Wego account and you will be able connect all over the city--for free.
Negotiate with your taxi drivers before you get into their car. They set the price and will hose you if you do not agree on a price before getting in.