View of Panamá City from Casco Viejo
After just one month in Panamá I’m off to Bogotá to do a little traveling through Colombia. I unfortunately had only a little time to get to know Panamá because of work so I spent most of time in the city. When I come back I definitely would like to check out the beaches and get to know the country better.
I found Panamá City to be much more cosmopolitan than San Jose. I get the impression that San Jose tends to cater more towards the single male retiree whereas here I met quite a few young professionals from various parts of the world. Panamá also has a great variety of restaurants. I actually found a good Thai restaurant which is not common at all in most of Latin America. I also fell in love with their multitude of Lebanese restaurants.
Just outside the center of Panamá there is a very beautiful albeit a bit run down neighborhood called Casco Viejo. The neighborhood is full of old Spanish colonial buildings and also has the Presidential Palace. I took a little walk around the neighborhood a few weeks back and got the impression that it would be a great area to find a property to renovate. The neighborhood is much calmer and doesn’t have a big city feel at all.
I did manage to make it out of the city twice. Once I went to a beach about an hour outside of the Panamá city called Santa Clara and another time to the second biggest city Colón which is known for its duty free zone. Santa Clara has a nice clean beach with a few bars. We went just for a day and it unfortunately happened to rain. It’s nice to live in a city and have a decent beach so close. Colón was very run down and for the few hours I was there I can’t find any reason to recommend going there. The duty free zone also caters almost explicitly to wholesalers so it’s not worth a visit at least as a tourist.
Overall I had a great time in Panamá. I’m probably very biased though because I had some wonderful roommates. I definitely would like to come back some day and I definitely could consider living here.
Iglesia San Jose in Casco Viejo
The Presidential Palace
Fred, Maggy, Olga, and I in Santa Clara
One last party on the balcony before heading off to Colombia
Posing in front of the Panamá Canal
I went to see the Panamá Canal with my friend Adreinne who came down to tour Panamá and visit me in the city a few days ago. The canal, which is probably the most well known site in Panamá, is absolutely huge. You need to go by boat for at least several hours if you want to see the whole canal but most people just opt to check out the Miraflores locks which lie around 30 minutes outside of the city. We opted just to just go to the Miraflores locks.
At the Mirflores locks there is nice museum and you can watch huge cargo ships pass through the locks. If you’re in Panamá it’s definitely worth the trip.
Adreinne at the Miraflores Locks
Ship Entering into the Locks
More pictures at Flickr
Sorry guys. It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’m actually sitting in my apartment in Bogotá recollecting what went on over three months ago when I arrived in Panamá. Ok, I know I’ve slacked off. In case you’re curious about the date above, I back dated it in order to make it appear as if I were actually writing this post near the actual time I was there.
I still remember clearly my first impression exiting the airport after my short flight from Costa Rica. Wow the streets don’t have potholes every five feet! I probably would have never noticed if I hadn’t just come from Costa Rica. My second impression was that Panamá resembles a city in the States. The streets and street signs are the same and the city appears fairly modern.
The first order of duty was to get my housing situation straightened out so I went to a hostel to stay for the night until I could find an apartment. Fortunately one of the guys working at the hostel new a lady in the same building that was renting out apartments. I checked out the apartment and decided to move in the first night. I’ve never been so lucky to find an apartment so easily. The apartment also included about seven roommates from Panamá, Colombia, and France. It was perfect because I would have plenty of people to speak Spanish with and get to know the city.
Panamá City sits right on the ocean. Unfortunately the water near the city is fairly dirty so you probably don’t want do any swimming. The water is also very shallow close to the shore so when the tides out the water recedes thousands of feet from the shore leaving a muddy looking sea bottom behind. The views from the city are nice when the tide is in however. The climate tends to stick around the upper 80s and lower 90s. It’s not unbearable like Florida in the summer and the temperature stays pretty much the same all year round. One cool thing about the Panamá for us gringos is that everything is in dollars. I love going out to eat and knowing exactly what I’m paying.
There are no taxi meters in the city and I don’t believe there are actually any official taxi drivers. It seems that anybody in his brother can just slap a sign on their car and turn into a taxi driver. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen pickups used for taxis. The other interesting thing is that your taxi driver may stop and pick up other people before dropping you off. You get a discount on the fair and maybe an interesting conversation with someone. Since everybody and his brother is a taxi driver the competition is high and the fares are low. A typical five to ten minute taxi ride runs you $1.25. This is the first country I’ve also been to where the taxi drivers charge you more based on the number friends that jump in the car with. It’s generally a quarter more for each person.
The other interesting thing is that are very few traffic lights for cross walks. So how do you think you cross the street on a four lane road with traffic flying by? You wait until there’s a big enough space in traffic to jump out in front of a car and basically hold your hand up and hope you don’t get run down. Actually the drivers are very nice at letting you guy by. So if the first lane doesn’t mow you down the next couple lanes will actually slow down and stop to let you pass. It actually seems to work better than having a light. Well at least it’s faster.
One of the things I love about this city is that you can get almost anywhere within five to 10 minutes. The food is also the best I think I’ve had in Latin America and they actually have outdoor seating everywhere. The city is also very cosmopolitan so you can run into people from all over the world. The foreigners here seem much more diverse than the typical older gentlemen looking for lady friends in Costa Rica.
I think the city has a lot going for it. It’s not perfect but I definitely like what I’ve seen so far.
Panamá City Shore View from my apartment My bare but adequate room