The first time we arrived in this vibrant city was in November, the tail end of the rainy season. There were some showers but it didn’t rain all the time and the temperature was very pleasant for walking. When we returned in March we had beautiful sunny skies but it was very hot and we looked for shady spots a lot. Either way there is a lot to see and do in this interesting city.
Where to stay? There are accommodations in every price range. We chose to stay in a hostel to maximize travel funds. The Hotel Via Espana was clean and the staff were friendly and helpful. They also have a shuttle service. Even though Via Espana is a major thorough fare the hotel was very quiet. As a bonus there was a bus stop right outside the door and a bakery/cafe only a short walk away. For us it proved a convenient home base from which to explore this city.
Your first stop in Panama City should be the Albrook Mall. Besides being a shopping center it’s also a transportation hub. There one can buy the Metro cards which are required to use any city buses and the metro. This is also where you can catch buses to any part of Panama. Panama City also has a Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing Bus. Tickets for it are also sold at the Mall and it stops there as well. And of course there are taxis. Before getting into a taxi it’s a good idea to agree with the driver on the price.
Once you’ve decided on your mode of transportation we recommend you head to Casco Viejo and just wander around. Here you will find the Presidential Palace and several embassies in beautifully restored colonial buildings. There are also several trendy little restaurants that serve very good meals at reasonable prices. By way of contrast you can see the sky scrapers of the business district across the bay.
Connecting Casco Viejo and the business district is park that hugs the waterfront. There are lots of benches and shade trees so it’s very pleasant to walk beside the water even on a hot day. At low tide it’s possible to see all kinds of shorebirds looking for a meal. As you keep walking you pass the fish market. Close to it in the bay are anchored the fishing boats with perhaps a pelican sitting on the roof. If you are hungry, it is possible to get a delicious seafood meal here as well.
When thinking Panama one of the first things that comes to mind is the Panama Canal. The easiest and cheapest way to get to the Miraflores locks is by metro bus. The buses leave every hour (6am-5pm) from Albrook Mall. The fare is $0.25. A taxi should cost around $6.00. We spent a whole day at the Miraflores Visitors Center. There is a very interesting museum that explains the history of the Canal, natural history of Panama and finally the operation of the locks including a simulator that lets you be on the bridge of a ship passing through. After the museum there is the viewing platform. It has a roof for protection from the sun or rain. It’s possible to buy food, coffee, gelatto and other essentials. The big ships usually pass through the Miraflores locks either early in the morning or later in the afternoon. There is always a signal and an announcement, so you can relax: you won’t miss the show. This was definitely one of our highlights of Panama City.
We spent another day on the Amador Causeway. It’s really several small islands connected by a causeway. Here can be found hotels, restaurants, shops and a number of places that rent bicycles. We also visted the Marine Exhibition Center of Punta Culebra. First thing a staff member showed us was the laziest sloth ever. It’s a wild sloth but it likes hanging out in a certain shed where it lies on top of a shelf. They’ve taken it out of there and put it back in the trees where it belongs but it keeps coming back, perhaps because on the shelf it doesn’t have to exert itself by hanging on? This is a great place to bring kids. There are sea turtles in a pool and you can pet starfish and sea cucumbers (they don’t feel at all like I expected)
Our last evening in Panama City we admired the sunset near the yacht habour. Such a peaceful setting. Can’t wait to come back to this beautiful tropical city.