In order to catch up on all my travels and have my own online journal, I decided to go in backwards chronological order, so I’m starting with my recent trip to Panama and Ecuador over the Christmas holidays 2017…
Upon arrival to Panama City, I was immediately taken aback by the following:
- How very Americanized the city was
- The interesting architecture
- The HEAT
I’ve been in Colombia so long now that sometimes I forget what the US feels like. Being in Panama City brought it all rushing back as I saw US chains like Baskin Robbins and
browsed through the massive, 24-hour grocery store (something that does not exist in Bucaramanga). My friend and I may have just walked up and down all the aisles gaping at the wide variety of brands and types of food. It was almost overwhelming, as I’ve had to get creative and cook a lot more from scratch in Colombia (not a bad thing, of course).
We were only in Panama for a few days before taking off to the San Blas islands, which I’ll discuss in the next post, so I didn’t do a whole lot in the city itself. For me, these were the main highlights.
The Panama Canal
I’m embarrassed to admit this to whole Internet world, but I never actually understood what the Panama canal was. I imagined it as literally just a cut through the land across Panama and boats flowed through it. This is why I never truly comprehended when people spoke of the great “engineering marvel”. Now, after visiting and seeing it for myself, I’m rather impressed. The most popular locks to visit from Panama City are the Miraflores Locks. They’re about 20 minutes outside of the city and cost around $10 to get there if going by Uber. You can also take the public bus which only costs 25 cents, but you need the 3-in-1 bus/metro card to do so. However, I returned to the city this way and didn’t have a card yet, so I just asked someone if I could use their card and pay them. (Random act of kindness! They didn’t even accept my quarter.) Entrance for non-residents is $15, which felt like a lot since it was in dollars!
At the Miraflores Locks visitor center, there is a video you can watch in either English or Spanish that lasts about 30 minutes and several floors of a museum where you can learn about the history behind the canal, as well as ecological impact and how they continue to protect the habitats in the area. Depending on your museum habits, the museum could take an hour to go through. I tend to read almost everything and was in there awhile!
Of course most people want to actually see the ships go through the locks, but there are only certain times that you can see this. Generally, you need to get there early in the morning as ships will pass between 9 and 11am. Otherwise, be there late in the afternoon as ships passing from the other direction come through after 3pm. Unfortunately, I was there midday and didn’t actually see any ships! But there is a coffee shop on one of the terraces and you can sit and enjoy the sunlight.
Visit the Old Town (better known as Casco Viejo)
If you’re not staying in Casco Viejo, I recommend walking the path along the ocean called the Cinta Costera. In the evening, it’s a hopping place filled with bicyclists, families out walking, and more, but we were there in the middle of the day and heat of the sun, so we saw almost no one. There’s a fun Panama sign to pose with, some parks for kids, and plenty of benches to sit and take a break. Within the Casco Viejo, there are plenty of small streets to explore with souvenir shops, restaurants, ice cream shops, and boutiques. Of course there are tons of old buildings and monuments, but I’ll admit, I’m terrible with the history and names of things when I travel. I prefer to walk around and take in the ambiance, so you’ll have to research those elsewhere. 🙂 There are also many of those free walking tours where you just tip at the end, but we didn’t have time to do it. In one of the plazas, there was a small market set up with different souvenirs. Some of these are the same as you’ll find in the shops, but we found their prices were a bit better. And don’t forget, you can bargain a lot! In fact, they expect it, so even as a gringo, don’t be afraid to ask for lower prices or start to walk away until they offer you a better price.
I did not actually go here, but my friend did with her parents and it’s a nice getaway from the city, while still being in the city. It’s basically a giant hill that overlooks Panama City that you can hike up and maybe see some wildlife. Go early in the morning before it’s too hot.
There is more to do in Panama City, but not a ton. I’ll admit, it’s a great stopover city for flying and the canal is interesting, but I don’t imagine myself spending a ton more time there unless it’s to transfer to another place. Such as San Blas, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been….working on that next!