Inside Panama City
In Panama, you can find rainforests alive with exotic animals, cloud forests atop rugged mountains, sprawling coffee plantations, gorgeous tropical sandy beaches, and a vibrant city full of sky scrapers amongst cobbled old crumbling neighbourhoods. The city centre has moved multiple times over the last few centuries, after pirates like Henry Morgan destroyed it. The ruins of Panamá Vejo provide a silent testimony to the ferocity of his ruthless attacks. Tourism has been delayed in Panama, due to a corrupt past with a brutal dictator. Now with democracy entirely established, tourism has come into full swing within Panama.
Parque Natural Metropolitano
On a hill north of downtown, lies Parque Natural Metropolitano. It encompasses six hundred and fifty five acres, protecting vast expanses of tropical semi-deciduous forest within the city limits, and serves as an incredible wilderness escape. There are two main walking trails, the Nature Trail, and the Tití Monkey Trail, both trails join to form one large loop. On the loop, a one hundred and fifty metre high lookout offers panoramic views of Panama. For another breathtaking experience, you can make reservations for the Smithsonian Canopy Crane, going up one hundred and thirty eight feet into the forest canopy. More than two hundred and fifty bird species flutter among the forest, including blue crowned motmots, keel-billed toucans, oropendolas, lance-tailed manakins, and baltimore orioles. Mammals in the park include, tití monkeys, anteaters, white-tailed deer, coatis, and sloths. For optimal wildlife viewing early morning is best, when there are less people around.
With breathtaking views of Panama City’s skyline, the Bridge of Americas, and a busy canal channel, the Amador Causeway attracts many locals and tourists alike. The causeway connects four small islands, and it is assembled from rock that was excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal. It extends approximately three miles, and serves as a breakwater for the Pacific entrance to the canal. The islands were used as a base for the US forces, however now it has been converted into a recreational playground. A place where many Panamanians spend their weekends, jogging, riding bicycles, walking their dogs, or having a meal at one of the many restaurants along the causeway. The pristine palm lined recreational path has become a vibrant venue, where you can enjoy the outdoors in Panama City.
The original settlement, Panamá Viejo was founded on August 15, 1519, as the first city along the Pacific shore. It is said that all the gold from the Inca Empire went through this very area. So it became a prosperous city, on account of being a vital link between the gold mines of South America and Spain. At the height of the thriving city, came pirate Henry Morgan’s attack. The fires that stared during the invasion, reduced the city to ashes. The Spanish colonist spent years dismantling the remaining charred buildings. Then moved their city brick by brick to the neighbourhood now known as Casa Viejo, which they deemed easier to defend. Today Panamá Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage site, national monument, and an archeological treasure. Near the crumbling ruins of the city, is El Centro de Artesanía de Panamá Viejo, a place to buy authentic local souvenirs. You can find beautiful handcrafted wooden figures, masks, baskets, and colourful mola textiles. Parts of Panamá Viejo are being restored to their former glory, allowing visitors to appreciate what was once the wealthiest cities of its time.
Known as the most luxurious and intriguing part of Panama City, is the Casco Viejo area. The district almost resembles New Orleans French Quarter, with narrow cobble streets, wrought iron balconies, intricate cornices and colourful buildings galore. A stroll here offers opportunities to observe an intriguing mix of restored architecture and buildings that are still in a deplorable state of neglect. It is nevertheless a charismatic neighbourhood full of life and a bohemian vibe. Spanish music can be heard throughout the streets, trendy restaurants have sprung up, with many rooftop bars, unique shops, and hotels.
Mercado de Mariscos
At the foot of the historic Casco Viejo, lies the ever popular Mercado de Mariscos, Panama City's fresh seafood market. It consists of two parts, the actual market where you can buy freshly caught seafood from the fishing boats you see out in the bay. Fresh fish, lobster, and shellfish are all laid out on ice or swimming in buckets of water. For the best variety, arrive early in the morning, as soon as the catch comes in. The other part is set up outside the actual market, a stretch of stalls and counters serving fresh seafood, there is numerous plastic tables and chairs for seating. The local specialty is ceviche, which is raw fish cooked in citrusy juice, and then served in a cup. This area is alive with local culture, Latin music blares through the speakers, televisions are set up to show the soccer game of the moment, and Panamanians drinking one dollar beers. It is even better to visit at sundown when the energy is the best, with music and laughter at their height.
It is known as an engineering marvel, the Panama Canal is probably one of the most visited tourist attractions in this country. The Miraflores Locks, are the closest set of canal locks to Panama City, and in many ways the most spectacular. The scale is humbling, as massive cruise ships and supertankers pass through the twin-flight locks at the Pacific entrance with ease. The Miraflores Locks is also home to a state of the art visitor centre with a large viewing deck. The centre has large theatre, which plays a short film to inform the significance and commercial importance of the Canal. The film also goes on to explain how much of an engineering feat it was to build during the time period. There is four exhibition halls with dioramas and interactive displays, detailing the history of the construction of the canal. Including pictures and names of many of the labourers, from all over the world, who died building the worlds largest canal of its time.
Panama City is only a small part of of this glorious nation. The friendly exuberant people, the plethora of intriguing wildlife, the vast spectrum of architecture, and the delicious fresh food, all come together to make this city centre one of a kind.