In the beginning of 2016 me and my boyfriend started calling Panama City home. And a curious thing happens when you move away from your family and friends, specially if you move to a touristic destination: it takes you a long time to start visiting the famous attractions that are literally just around the corner.
While traveling for fun we usually stay just a couple of days in each city and try to see everything in this short period of time. But when you move into a new place, everything has a different rhythm. I think that happens mainly because there’s just so many
boring things to do regarding the new routine that we just leave the fun part for “later” – this magical and mysterious period of time that will be here quite soon, just wait.. If you’ve ever moved abroad you know there’s endless things to do: visit apartments, buy new sheets, visa paperwork, open a bank account, get internet running, chose a cellphone company, schedule air conditioner maintenance, start Spanish classes, measure your whole home before buying furniture, not finding furniture you like, having to buy it nonetheless… endless stuff.
Only after a few months living in Panama City we had to time to organize things up, seat back in our brand-new-so-hard-to-find couch and say: OK, now is time to explore this new home town.
I very often see European and American tourists strolling down the streets of Panama City, but the destination is not that popular between Brazilians. Lots of people actually just stop by in a long connection flight once Tocumen (PTY) airport is Copa Airlines’ headquarter. The city also connects North and South America and it’s known as “Americas hub”.
You’ll need your passport to enter the country but no visa is required. Keep in mind the official currency is American dollars and the Summer lasts the whole year long – no need to pack your boots or jackets. Also, remember they don’t use addresses in Panama, so you’ll guide (and be guided) based on reference locations.
If you have more time around the country, I strongly suggest that you visit San Blas or Bocas del Toro, two little pieces of paradise on this Earth, also known as Caribbean. But if you only have a few days/hours in the city, here’s what you should visit:
The Panama Canal is the most visited attraction in the whole country. It’s also considered one of the Modern Wonders of the World by American Society of Civil Engineers, meaning it’s an amazing construction – and it really is, how cool is to connect both Atlantic and Pacific oceans?
I didn’t know what to expect to find here, but visiting the Panama Canal is really worth it. The touristic structure is super nice and I had a great time learning more about the economic value of the canal to the world. Start your visit with the movie at the 1st floor and then proceed to the observation deck. There are around 40 ships passing the canal everyday, and you totally should see one of them coming through. The best hours to see that are from 9:00-10:00 am and 2:30-4:00 pm.
Hours: from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Price: U$15 visitors / U$3 residents
Panamá Viejo – or “La Vieja” – are the ruins from the first city built by the Spanish at the American Pacific coast, a strategic location for maritime trade routes. In the year of 1671 the pirate Henry Morgan – with the endorsement from Jamaica’s governor – invaded the city, later abandoned. Curious fact: with this invasion, Henry broke a peace deal between Spain and England, so he was arrested, but in 1673 he returned to Jamaica as sir vice governor. Crazy, right?
And just to reinforce the obvious: the city was attacked by pirates. In the Caribbean. If you know what I mean.
You will enjoy your time at Panama Viejo if you’re into History. Don’t forget to board their visitors train which takes you from the entrance to the ruins: it’s handy in Panama’s hot weather and also has some cool informations. Also, remember to go up the tower to check a beautiful view of the new and the old Panama City. During the visit, use comfortable shoes, wear sunscreen and take bug spray and water with you.
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
Price: U$11 visitors / U$8 residents
Many Spanish colonies have their own Casco Viejo, or old neighborhood. Casco Viejo in Panama City (which is actually called San Felipe) is the place where the activities were moved to after Henry Morgan’s invasion. It is the coolest neighborhood in the city and also the place that made me fall in love with Panama: narrow streets, pubs and restaurants, historic buildings, squares, art galleries, museums, a great city view and the best place to walk around in the whole city.
The place is a World Heritage by UNESCO since 1997. You’ll find many attractions here, like: Plaza de Francia, Catedral Metropolitana, La Iglesia de la Merced, Museu do Canal, Plaza Herrera, Mercado de Mariscos. But the best part about Casco is to walk around aimlessly, just enjoying its little corners and admiring the contrasts: on one side of the street you can see barefoot children playing in front of their houses and, on the other side, a cool boutique hotel – which by the way is one of my favorite corners here: Café Unido, inside American Trade Hotel.
In case you have more time at the city, you should know that’s also on Casco Viejo that you’ll find the coolest Spanish school around Panama: Casco Antiguo Spanish School. If you mention you saw this on the blog you get a free demo class 🙂
Cinta Costera is an urban park/boardwalk in the middle of the city. People usually go there to run, bike ridingand skating. Besides there activities, there you’ll find sport courts, ping pong tables, playground – and even climbing wall! – for kids and the famous “Panama” sign. The best part is the gorgeous Panama City view you get from there: from the modern skyscrapers in Punta Paitilla to the old churches and building in Casco Viejo.
Alongside Cinta Costera is the most important avenue in Panama City: Avenida Balboa. If you’re lucky to visit the city on a Sunday morning, do like the locals and enjoy some time at Avenida Balboa, open to pedestrians until noon. Tip: the best photos are taken up from one of the red footbridges.
This regions was under American jurisdiction until 1977, when it was returned to Panama. The Panamanian flag is up there ever since and it can be seen from almost every corner in Panama City, once it’s its highest point with 199 meters. From up there, you get the most amazing view, making this little trip totally worth it. The climb is easy to moderate, but be prepared for hot and humid weather. The secret here is to come early morning for birdwatching and meeting some other animals along the way. When I went up there I spotted a family of toucans and a sloth! 🙂
The experience at Biomuseu starts from the outside: the building made with colorful plates is the only work from architect Frank Gehry in Latin America. Inside the museum you’ll learn more about animal and vegetal species in Panama and how this little strip of land that connected North and South America changed the Earth completely.
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Price: U$22 visitors / U$12 residents
One of the first impressions I had when I arrived in Panama was the strong US influence in the country – grocery stores and malls and filled with American brands and products. Therefore you may find that Panama City is a good shopping option if that’s what you’re looking for. But once I’ve never traveled with specific shopping purposes I can’t really say if prices are as good as the ones you find in Miami outlets. The thing is: there are good options here and if you’re already thinking about coming to Panama, shopping can be one of the (many) activities.
There are a few malls around the city and my favorite one is Multiplaza, in San Francisco. Besides many different stores and restaurants, it’s a beautiful shopping mall with free wifi.
Now you already know what to do on your next trip to Panama City. Que lo disfrutes! (or: Enjoy it!) 🙂