Thursday, January 19, 2012


Remember: click on any photo to enlarge it.

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!

Panama City skyscrapers Miraflores locks and Centennial Bridge, Panama Canal

Modern, cosmopolitan Panama City, with more skyscrapers going up daily.

The view north to the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal, towards the Centennial Bridge.

A typical working class bus in Panama City, collectively known as Red Devils.

Walking the Amador Causeway – at 8 am, it was hot enough that Pat unfurled her umbrella for shade.

A typical "red devil" bus on the streets of Panama City. Becky and Pat on the Amador Causeway

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!).

In Casco Viejo, Panama City Renovated buildings in Casco Viejo
Bright building in Casco Viejo


Above left: flora has gained a foothold on an older building. 
Above right: appealing renovated residential area of Casco Viejo.
Left: A restaurant on the ground level, residential above, and outdoor dining on the plaza.
Below left: our favorite ice cream shop where sorbets helped us cool off.  My favorite flavor was limonana – I have no idea what is was!
Below right: The Spanish Wall.  I STILL haven’t looked up its history.

In our favorite ice cream shop The Spanish Wall

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.

Boat repair at low tide Fish market in Panama City

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.

Hostal Urraca in Panama City Outdoor lounge at the hostal Almost asleep again

Next post: Exploring the Panama Canal.


  1. WoW What a trip Laurie. It looks beautiful. So great that you had a local guide. That's the BEST!


  2. Wonderful pictures. What an adventure you had. Looking forward to your next post. I know it's silly, but sometimes when I look at photos of big sky-scrapers that seemingly go right to the edge of the ocean, I wonder what keeps them from just sinking right down into the water. Weird!!

  3. Always find it amazing that plants are just outside, while here we have to pamper them and not even have them next to a window!!!
    Love the pictures and info!!

  4. wow what a trip Laurie....gorgeous pics....what a vacation you had....

  5. Last time we did a partial transit of the Canal, we debated traveling into Panama City. Instead, we opted for a jungle cruise, but looks like we would have been equally happy spending time in the old town. Next time ... and hopefully for more than a day.

  6. We've been away from the blog, so didn't know about this trip. Really want to see more! Beautiful place. Our older daughter recently had a two-week trip to Colombia; her man friend was a native there, but currently a US citizen, so he was a great guide. You had a nearly local to guide you. What a blast!

  7. Very interesting. Can't wait to read more!

  8. We have never been to Panama. You did a great job of giving us a feel for the area. What lovely photos. Thanks for the great job!

  9. I love the Latino flare..and the pictures are really inviting...Thanks for taking us with you!