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There were many things I didn’t know about Panama before I visited. In fact, there were only two things I knew for certain: it is in Central America, and is the site of the Panama Canal. Since my friend Becky, who had already been in Panama for six months, was handling our itinerary, I did a bare minimum of research, and learned five things: Panama runs east and west, not north and south; Panama uses U.S. currency; Panama City has a skyline to rival most major capitals; Panama is in the same time zone as New York; and we were going to be hot, hot, hot!
We had eleven days in Panama, and spent them in three very different places. The first few days and the final day were spent in Panama City, on the Pacific coast, at the mouth of the Panama Canal. It is very cosmopolitan, filled with history, busy, rapidly growing, and VERY tropical (in other words, hot and humid). Our number one sight to see in Panama City was the canal, which was every bit as fascinating as I imagined (and deserves a separate post). The remainder of our time in Panama City was spent exploring Casco Viejo, the old city (no skyscrapers here!), and the fresh fish market, where we ate fresh, ice-cold ceviche every chance we got.
From what we read, heard, and observed, Casco Viejo has undergone a renaissance in recent years. Those areas that have been renovated are reminiscent of New Orleans, or the old town area of Mazatlan, Mexico, with flowered balconies, pastel buildings, and narrow sidewalks along narrow roadways. Those areas that have not yet been renovated are literally falling apart; both the buildings and the neighborhood looked dangerous (I didn’t hang around long enough to take pictures!).
Between the skyscrapers and cosmopolitan hustle of downtown and the historic buildings of Casco Viejo are the piers and markets serviced by the local fishing fleet. Outdoor vendors sell icy ceviche – spicy marinated seafood – in Styrofoam cups. My favorite was corvina ceviche, tangy with lime juice, spiced with peppers, and icy cold.
Repairing the boats at low tide.
Inside the fish market.
During our first few nights in Panama City, we stayed at the Balboa Inn, a small B&B in the Balboa neighborhood, close to the administration buildings of the Canal zone. This quiet neighborhood at the foot of Ancon Hill was once part of the U.S. territory of the canal and is mostly residential, with few restaurants or shops. On our return trip ( just one night) we stayed at a hostel on the edge of downtown – noisier, but in a more interesting (to me) neighborhood. It was a charming place, frequented by young international travelers and we three old ladies, who had reserved the only room with both air-conditioning and a private bathroom (thank god for both).
Colorful Hostal Urraca.
Flower-draped outdoor lounge.
Pat relaxes in the hammock.
Next post: Exploring the Panama Canal.