Haha! And you thought I was going to complete the palindrome.
I had passed through Panama City on two previous flights so I thought I would actually see a bit more than just the airport this time. Third time is the charm. What did I discover? Miami.
Seriously. Panama City is Miami. It’s on the coast. There are tons of tall condominium and hotel towers. There are heaps of Jews (I was surprised!) Nearly every restaurant was an American chain restaurant (YAY FOR A FROSTY FROM WENDY’S!) There were some extremely fancy neighbourhoods. There were some neighbourhoods that were super dodgy. There were lots of shopping malls. And everybody speaks Spanish. Just like Miami. If you blindfolded me and dropped me from an airplane with a parachute and I landed in Panama City I would swear I was in Miami. I would also kill you for throwing me from an airplane but that’s not the point.
I accidentally stayed in the rich Jewish area of Panama City. There were kosher restaurants all around and I had a lovely turkey sandwich from a Jewish deli my first night there. It felt oddly at home. The Multiplaza Mall down the road was one of the best I’ve been to on my trip (nothing like Dubai Mall, but in the running for #2). My hostel, however, was pretty terrible. Aside from the amazing location, the hostel was my first real bad pick of a place. Leave it to young Brits to do cocaine in my dorm room and then come in loud as fuck at 4am. The staff also didn’t smile at all. Lovely. But I did make friends with a German girl and a Danish girl who did not do cocaine in my room and I hung out with them for the majority of my stay in the city. Yay for new friends!
A few highlights of my time in Panama City:
Obviously. This is the thing you come to see in Panama City. I mean, there are other things to see too, but this is really the only thing really worth making the trip here for. The Miraflores Visitor Center is on the first of three set of locks and is just a short Uber ride from the city. The centre includes a museum, introductory video, and several viewing decks where you can stand and watch the ships (if you can fight your way through the crowd). I stayed there for an extra-long time and got to watch three large ships making the transit from the Pacific to the Atlantic in the morning (the afternoon is when the ships travel through this set of locks in the other direction). Two new sets of locks – one on the Atlantic side and one on the Pacific side – are set to open soon (scheduled for 2014… right…) The new locks will accommodate longer and wider ships. I think it’d be fun to go back one day and actually ride a cruise ship or something through the locks.
Panama Viejo (Old Panama) is the original city that was sacked and destroyed by Captain Morgan and his band of rum drunks. I’m serious: Captain Morgan is real! I swear I’m smart but sometimes I feel really… not-so-smart. There’s not much left of the city – mainly just stone ruins – but it is a UNESCO World Heritage site so I had to walk through it.
After Captain Morgan, the city was rebuilt in an area called Casco Viejo – and it stayed within the walls of Casco Viejo until the canal was built and the city boomed. All of the rich people moved out into newly constructed neighbourhoods and the area fell into shambles. It’s now being restored and is a destination for tourists and nightlife. Walking around the area offers plenty of restored old buildings, churches, a little bit of street art, more churches, souvenir shops, and views of the gorgeous Miami skyline.
I mean the gorgeous Panama City skyline! Close enough.
I’m usually an avid museum-goer but Panama City is not really the city for a museum adventure. Aside from the museum at the Panama Canal, there is a another museum devoted to the waterway in Casco Viejo: the Museo del Canal Interoceanico de Panama. The museum was good but an audio guide was required as there was not much English information in the displays. Pictures weren’t allowed and that really grinds my gears. I also went out of my way to visit the Museum de Arte Contemporaneo because Lonely Planet said it was good. It was not good. It might have been good had it been more than just three rooms, but it was not more than three rooms and I was done in ten minutes. Fail.
I really only had one meal of “comida tipica” in Panama City – and it was standard Latin American fare: chicken with rice and beans and salad and a plantain. Snooze. But Panama City offers a bunch of other food that I really enjoyed. First, there was Jewish food. Jewish food! I had a lovely deli sandwich at a Canadian-owned joint and went to a Jewish café and bakery as well. I had Mexican food (obviously), Greek food, and had my first experience at Crepes & Waffles – a Colombian chain that I will blog more about soon. I had American chains that I hadn’t had in ages: like a Frosty from Wendy’s, Cinnabon, and Quizno’s (at the airport). I had some really good gelato at Granclement in Casco Viejo and even went to a craft brewery! There was one overarching theme with the restaurants in Panama City: terrible service. Often times beyond terrible service! Restaurants lost my order, overcharged me, and often took ages. What the hell? The only true exceptions were the Jewish establishments. They were on point.
Four days in Panama City proved to be about one day too much. But that’s ok. I was happy to spend a day in the air conditioning of the big fancy mall. It was hot as fuck in Panama City and it wasn’t going to be any better at my next destination: Cartagena. But first, let me take a selfie.
To see more photos of my time in Panama City, follow this link:https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100387271955721.1073741918.3000370&type=1&l=377e6f3049