Facing the Pacific Ocean, the capital of Panama offers, at first sight, a landscape of sky-scrapers along its famous bay. At night-time, the sight of its many illuminated towers becomes a magical sight. Extremely spread out, Panama City does not limit itself to the modern postcard, but it is in constant development with much property planning going on. As you walk around the capital, it reveals numerous different aspects, all very contrasting. In contrast to the modern centre housing the world's largest concentration of banks after Switzerland, the area of 'Casco Antiguo', which was abandoned for a long time and left to the poor, has been on the upswing for several years thanks to its subscription to the UNESCO World Heritage and to tourists keenly interested in the Spanish past of the colonial city. Walks can be improvised around the lanes and charming little places to admire the striking facades of eclectic architecture and pastel colours. Quaint and poetic, the atmosphere is unique here. Not far away, the district of 'Panama Viejo' preserves the superb ruins of the first Spanish settlement in 1519. The verdant hill of Anton, the highest point in Panama City, allows you to easily find your bearings and enjoy the view over the whole of the capital, including the port of Balboa, the world's second largest port after Singapore, the Bridge of the Americas, the only terrestrial link between North and South America and the famous canal, retroceded to the Panamanians by the Americans in 2006. On the ocean, the boats, small and big, wait to cross the Miraflores locks. From the Pacific Ocean, a 55-minute train ride along the banks of the canal is enough to follow their journey to the Atlantic Ocean.
- Opt for one of the many restaurants on Flamingo island, so that you can enjoy the beauty of the lights at night in particular.
- Walk along Balboa avenue and the seafront to admire the bay and the skyscrapers.
- Catch the train which runs along the canal to go to Colon on the Atlantic Ocean.
- Climb the mountain of Anton.
- Go into one of the many casinos of the city.
- Walk along Avenida Central and mix with the multi-ethnic population.
- Go to Uruguay street (parallel to Balboa avenue) so that you can make the most of the open-air lounges and many clubs.
- Go and see a show at the Neo-Classical national theatre, so that you can admire the superb ceiling painted by Roberto Lewis.
- Boats crossing under the Bridge of the Americas and the Miraflores locks in the morning; and in the afternoon, go to the museum dedicated to the canal: approximately 38 boats cross the canal on a daily basis. It is 26 m above sea level and the influx never stops as long as the demand is high. Reservations for passage are made at least a year in advance. The construction work more or less runs parallel to the current canal, since the building of a third line was undertaken in 2007 to relieve the boat traffic congestion and receive boats of greater capacity, including post-panamaxes (boats larger than the current canal).
- The lively and enormous bus terminals, called 'red devils'.
- Admire the view of the modern city by walking along Lovers lane in the colonial town, after you have visited the relics and religious buildings, the plaza Mayor, the Canal Museum, the façades of the Mostaza restaurant and the French Embassy, etc.
- The three islands (Naos, Flamingo and Perico) linked up to one another by a road called Causeway and made with rocks extracted for the making of the canal.
- The ruins of Panama Viejo with what still stands of the splendour of the religious and civilian heritage from the 16th and 17th centuries.
This popular capital city drastically lacks hotel rooms, you must therefore book a room as early as possible!
Driving around Panama City can turn out to be quite an exercise as you will not always understand road signs and there are ever-present traffic jams here - it is all part of the daily routine for Panama City's inhabitants. Distances here are given according to the estimated time it takes to cover them. Plan to leave early if you want to be on time!
The gigantic works undertaken for the extension and decontamination of the Bay of Panama City were due to be completed in 2010. The government decided to enlarge the famous and long avenue of Balboa by gaining space over the sea and you will see workers working day and night here. Do not be surprised then by the sudden smell of waste water coming from the sea! Until now, it flowed into the bay, which was therefore badly polluted. The purpose of the work on the bay is, notably, to solve this problem.
During the rain season, it is better to catch the canal train in the morning and come back by car whenever you are ready because night falls quickly.
In Casco Antiguo, do not hesitate to ask your way or details about the heritage from policemen going around on bicycles, they're there to help!
Walking around Panama City at night without taking any precautions. If you want to get from one place to another, it is always best to take a taxi, be it night or day, so that you don't walk through hazardous districts or streets such as Curundu (a very poor ethnic district). Also, watch your personal belongings and do not tempt thieves by exhibiting them!
In Panama, it has been illegal to smoke in and around public buildings since April 25th 2008 (eg: airports, car parks, hotels, including their open-air areas, etc).
Note: it is illegal for ladies to be topless on the beach.
The country's national dish is sancocho - spicy chicken and vegetable stew. All over the country, you can taste Tamale, a speciality made with boiled corn, 11 different spices, including chilli, meat, olives and raisins. Sopa vieja (old soup) is a spicy beef dish served with rice. You can also eat excellent seafood on the coast which is usually served with coconut sauce. On the streets, you can eat empanadas - fried meat pies or, for dessert, platano maduro - a banana fried in butter and sprinkled with cane sugar. The chichas (slightly watered down fruit juices) are excellent.
It is difficult to find a restaurant specialised in Panamanian cuisine in Panama City as there are so many international restaurants. However, we can recommend: the 'Tinajas' restaurant, reputed for the quality of its Panamanian cuisine and its traditional folkloric live shows (book a table as early as possible!) and the 'Trapiche', which serves simple cuisine, typical of the country.
As the exchange into dollars is to our advantage, it is possible to come back from Panama with quite a lot of objects bought for a good price. Go to the 'Al Brock' mall for good value shopping; the lively street of Via Espana for its numerous boutiques, or the 'Multi Plaza Pacific' for quality items in its 220 boutiques that sell very costly items. Regulars go to Colon's free trade zone (the world's largest after Japan's) and buy designer's clothes, perfume, hi-fis, photography and video items, etc. Remember, though, that you have to pay a custom tax, back in the UK!
Panama's local handicraft is very varied and very well made. The Indian community produces a lot of objects: jewels made of 'plant ivory' for example, which means that they are made with palm nut (go to 'David's' in Casco Antiguo); but also mola - beautiful fabric painted by the women of the Indian tribe Kuna; carved wooden masks; ceramics, etc.
On the long bay dotted with sky-scrapers, the high tower of Miramar ...
The El Panama Hotel is an institution, as it is the very first ...
Located close to the Via Espana in Panama City, the Tower House ...