Central America, Panama

Keep Calm and Visit Panama

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In January, I set off to Panama for a month. The plan was to use the Spanish that’s buried in my head somewhere, volunteer at a hostel and explore the country. After 10 days volunteering, I realized that this opportunity wasn’t working for me, so I decided to move on. So, here’s the rundown of how I spent some of my time around Panama City since I had some extra time to explore.

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo is a historical district within Panama City. Cobblestoned streets run between 16th century old Spanish Colonial buildings and historical landmarks. Stroll through the streets amongst the colourful buildings in the afternoon and discover all the hidden gems such as great restaurants, cafes, beautiful churches and souvenir shops. At night, hotspots like Tantalo, Malecon, Red Lion and the many popular bars and nightclubs come to life so that you can dance the night away.

The streets of Casco Viejo
The golden altar at the Church of San Jose, Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo is a must, especially if you enjoy wandering around charming city streets. Also, the drinks are cheaper when compared to other parts of the city. That being said, Panama produces several local beers so be sure to help conserve water and sample a few. One night, whilst out on the town I even managed to meet a Panamanian celebrity, reggaetón singer Japanese at the Red Lion pub. After chatting with the manager at another fun spot, La Tapas del Frasco, he put a few ingredients together based on his recommendation and my preferences; it turned out to be pretty good. If it makes it on to the menu, it will be called “Savita”.

Rescuing the beer that’s trapped in the bottle at La Tapas Del Frasco

Night Life

Other than the night life of Casco Viejo, I checked out the Hard Rock Hotel’s Bling Nightclub and Sky Lounge. Bling wasn’t particularly busy, so I left to check out the other lounges. I wound up tagging along with some new friends to check out another hotspot called Habanos. For those of you (like me) who didn’t know, prostitution in Panama is legal and regulated. Habanos is one of several joints where you can find gorgeous women for a price. During my entire time in Panama, other than Carnival events, Habanos was the most packed club I’d been. Sorry fellas, I don’t have any confirmed insight on the rates but from what I gather, it might be two hundred bucks a night.

Panama Viejo

Another historical site, the residents of this once thriving city left and moved to Casco Viejo after the pirate Captain Henry Morgan burnt it to the ground. There’s a bus stop near the visitor’s centre, so getting there using the MetroBus is easy.  If you miss it like I did, (I was distracted by a guy playing his guitar on the bus) you can get off at the next stop and take a 5 min walk back. I wouldn’t say that this a must see as mostly the remains of old brick walls. The restored bell tower of the church remains and offers views of the surrounding areas. The site also contains a nice museum that does give some insight into the remains.

Cost: 15 USD

The Tower, Panama Viejo

Cinta Costera

Located along the Pacific waterfront, this avenue provides a great alternative to the gym. During my trip, I visited several times to work out because I really needed to counteract all the ice cream that I ate on this trip. My convertible hip pouch really came in handy for jogging. On evenings it’s frequented by adults, children and their pets. Cinta Costera has a wide range of facilities like jogging trails, cycling path, park benches, work out equipment, tennis courts, basketball courts, bike rentals, yoga and Zumba classes (some are free) just to name a few. You can also grab a bite to eat from the biggest fish market in the city Mercado de Mariscos. It’s like a big outdoor food court serving the day’s catch. Oh, be sure to make use of the big Instagram worthy Panama sign (as seen this post’s opening photo).

Cost: Free

Path along Cinta Costera
Mercado de Mariscos
People dining at Mercado de Mariscos

The Panama Canal

I’m sure that you’ve already heard of the Panama Canal, it is, after all, a great feat I of engineering. It facilitates the passage of massive shipping vessels by connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It takes approximately 8 hours to traverse the channel through the Panama Canal versus 2 weeks of sail time around South America.

Getting to the canal from the city is easy by car or you can take a direct bus from the Albrook Metro station. Visit the Mira Flores Locks (1 of 3 locks) to see the ships sail through, most of the activity occurs in the morning. I got there around 1 pm and had a 2-hour wait for the arrival of the next ship. The visitor’s centre has a short film about the consturction and history of the canal. The film runs both in Spanish and English. There’s also a pretty good museum that contains artifacts from the construction, details about the flora and fauna surrounding the canal and the technology used in the locks. The museum has a small simulator that allows you to sail a vessel through the canal…I’m definitely not cut out to be a sailor because I banged the vessel several times. To prevent that in reality, the ships are guided through the locks by taught cables and trams running alongside the waterway.

Cost :15 USD

Getting ready to sail through the Mira Flores Locks

Metropolitan Natural Park

A protected tropical forest reserve that’s a nice escape to nature within the city. There are hiking trails and two lookout points that offer nice views of the city and the Panama Canal. The trails aren’t too difficult and he park gives you a peek into some of Panama’s vegetation and wildlife. The temperature in Panama gets to around 34°C  and the park can be quite humid, so make sure that you dress accordingly, pack water and a light snack. During my visit there was some light rain which I was very grateful. Even though I live in a similar climate, I’m not at all a fan of the humidity of tropical forests.

Cost :2 USD

The Trail
View at a lookout point
A tiny frog along the trail

Shopping

Now, I’m not big on shopping but one can’t help but look. Panama certainly caters to all retail and wholesale needs, budget, high end and everything in between.

For high-end retail shopping, you can check out Mulitplaza. Another popular mall choice to visit is the Multicentro shopping centre; it has a wide range of boutiques and stores. The Albrook shopping centre is a large mall with about 400 stores and outlet shopping. This mall is also connected to the Albrook bus station making getting there super easy.

The Colon Free Zone has over 2,500 storefronts, but their focus is wholesale rather than individual retail. If any purchases are made, they’re usually sent to the airport (or shipping port) to leave when you leave.

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I hope you enjoyed this post! Stay tuned for more on Panama. As always I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions!

Savita.

 

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24 thoughts on “Keep Calm and Visit Panama

    1. Why thank you Warren! As for Spanish, in Panama City you can get by on basic. Outside the city, in more rural areas it’s a little harder. It’s a great place to learn Spanish, no better way to learn than to do!

  1. Thanks for the awesome insight into Panama City! It is somewhere that has been in the back of my mind for a while, but you have further convinced me that I should go :). I’ll be bookmarking this page!

  2. Thanks for showing us beautiful Panama, makes me really want to visit. My favourite is Panama Viejo, I love the historic feel of your picture.

  3. Hi Savita! Free Zumba classes, rainforest in the middle of the city, and a visit to the canal would be on my shopping list for Panama. Amazing!

    Lovely photos too. Nice to see what it actually looks like from a personal perspective.

    Michelle 🙂

    1. Hi Dany, EU guys don’t need a visa and can stay up to 180 days in the country at this point in time. You should always check with a Panamanian Embassy before your travels to confirm though.
      Savita.

  4. OMG you went to carnival in panama???? That is definitely on my bucket list. I want to actually join a band though :O

    Great breakdown I think I am going to have to visit much sooner rather than later. I love travel and will be bookmarking the site!

    1. Hi Cris, I did go to the carnival… sorta…to be honest, I wasn’t very impressed… But my standards are different, i’m a caribbean girl. In Trinidad, we are all about Carnival, you should definitely check out ours, it’s probably second to Rio.

  5. Hi Savita,
    Panama is definitely one of the places I would like to visit.
    Casco Viejo attracts with its brick routs and Spanish architecture. The buildings look stunning!
    We love to walk and Metropolitan Natural Park would definitely be a place we go. We love nature and promenade. And it looks like the nature in this park is fantastic!
    We actually live in a not a humid climate, but we would love to switch it around for a warmer and more humid place 😉

  6. Hello Savita,

    I was looking for holidays and one of the places that I am considering is Panama. I have read that you are volunteering and personally I am really keen to do so as well and this leads me to a question. How do you find volunteering opportunities? I have heard of work away, is it the same? What kind of the volunteering are you doing? (I prefer something with animals, any suggestions?)

    Cheers,
    Eugen

    1. Hi Eugen,
      So far, I’ve been using helpx.net to find opportunities. It’s similar to work away, but projects are dependant on country and the people who use the service. I’ve seen opportunities for teaching, animal shelters, hostels, yoga studios, building houses, farming, babysitting etc. In Panama, I volunteered at a hostel. You can check out helpx, there are a lot of listings.
      Hope this helps! Feel free to ask if you have any more questions!
      Savita

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