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Info Panama City
Panama City is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Panama.
It has a population of 880,691, with a total metro population of 1,440,381, and is located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, in the province of Panama. The city is the political and administrative center of the country, as well as a hub for international banking and commerce. It is considered a "beta-" world city, one of three Central American cities listed in this category.
Panama's Tocumen International Airport, the largest and busiest airport in Central America, offers daily flights to major international destinations. Panama was chosen as the 2003 American Capital of Culture jointly with Curitiba, Brazil. It is among the top five places for retirement in the world, according to International Living magazine.
The city of Panama was founded on August 15, 1519, by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias Dávila. The city was the starting point for expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru. It was a stopover point on one of the most important trade routes in the history of the American continent, leading to the fairs of Nombre de Dios and Portobelo, through which passed most of the gold and silver that Spain took from the Americas.
On January 28, 1671, the city was destroyed by a fire when privateer Henry Morgan sacked and set fire to it. The city was formally reestablished two years later on January 21, 1673, in a peninsula located 8 km (5 miles) from the original settlement. The site of the previously devastated city is still in ruins and is now a popular tourist attraction known as Panama Viejo.
|POPULATION :|| City: 880,691|
|FOUNDED :||August 15, 1519|
|TIME ZONE :||ETZ (UTC-5)|
|LANGUAGE :||Spanish (official), English|
|RELIGION :||Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant 15%|
|AREA :|| City: 275 km2 (106 sq mi)|
Metro: 2,560.8 km2 (988.7 sq mi)
|ELEVATION :||2 m (7 ft)|
|COORDINATES :||8°59′N 79°31′W|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 48% |
• Female: 52%
|ETHNIC :||mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 70%, Amerindian and mixed (West Indian) 14%, white 10%, Amerindian 6%|
|AREA CODE :||2|
|POSTAL CODE :|
|DIALING CODE :||(+507) 2|
Panama City is a very multicultural place, with large populations from many different parts of the world. Spanish is spoken by most, and many speak some form of English. Customer service is slowly improving, and surprisingly dismal in hotels. However, on the streets, Panamanians are for the most part extremely friendly and helpful and would love to give you some advice.
There's great shopping, from high-end stores in the malls around Paitilla and in the banking district around Via Espana, to veritable bargains around La Central (Central Avenue, now turned into a pedestrian walkway) and the Los Pueblos outdoor mall. You can also find many ethnic stores (mostly Chinese and Indian), in certain parts of the City.
The city has numerous tourist attractions. Particularly interesting for tourists are sites located in the old quarter, including:
- Las Bóvedas ("The Vaults"), a waterfront promenade jutting out into the Pacific
- The National Institute of Culture Building and the French embassy across from it
- The Cathedral at Plaza de la Catedral
- Teatro Nacional, an intimate performance center with outstanding natural acoustics and seating for about 800 guests
- Museo del Canal Interoceánico (Interoceanic Canal Museum)
- Palacio de las Garzas (Heron's Palace), the official name of the presidential palace, named for the numerous herons that inhabit the building.
The area immediately east of the Pacific entrance of the canal, known as the Amador Causeway, is being developed as a tourist center and nightlife destination. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute operates a station and a small museum open to the public at Culebra Point on the island of Naos. A new museum, the Biomuseo was recently completed on the causeway in 2014. It was designed by the American architect Frank Gehry, famous for theGuggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Just outside the city limits is the Parque Municipal Summit.
World Heritage Sites
Panamá Viejo ("Old Panama") is the name used for the architectural vestiges of the Monumental Historic Complex of the first Spanish city founded on the Pacific coast of the Americas by Pedro Arias de Avila on August 15, 1519. This city was the starting point for the expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru in 1532. It was a stopover point on one of the most important trade routes in the history of the American continent, leading to the famous fairs of Nombre de Dios and Portobelo, where most of the gold and silver that Spain took from the Americas passed through.
The UNESCO committee decided to inscribe this property as a world heritage site on the basis of cultural criteria (ii), (iv), and (vi), considering that Panama was the first European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas, in 1519, and that the Historic District preserves intact a street pattern along with a substantial number of early domestic buildings, which are testimony to the nature of this early settlement.
Casco Viejo or Casco Antiguo
Built and settled in 1671 after the destruction of Panama Viejo by the privateer Henry Morgan, the historic district of Panama City (known as Casco Viejo, Casco Antiguo, or San Felipe) was conceived as a walled city to protect its settlers against future pirate attacks. It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003.
Casco Antiguo displays a mix of architectural styles that reflect the country's cultural diversity: Caribbean, Republican, art deco, French, and colonial architecture mix in a site comprising around 800 buildings. Most of Panama City's main monuments are located in Casco Antiguo, including the Salón Bolivar, the National Theater (founded in 1908), Las Bóvedas, and Plaza de Francia. There are also many Catholic buildings, such as the Metropolitan Cathedral, the La Merced Church, and the St. Philip Neri Church. The distinctive golden altar at St. Joseph Church was one of the few items saved from Panama Viejo during the 1671 pirate siege. It was buried in mud during the siege and then secretly transported to its present location.
The Cinta Costera 3 in Casco Viejo
Undergoing redevelopment, the old quarter has become one of the city's main tourist attractions, second only to the Panama Canal. Both government and private sectors are working on its restoration. President Ricardo Martinelli built an extension to the Cinta Costera maritime highway viaduct in 2014 named "Cinta Costera 3" around the Casco Antiguo.
Before the Cinta Costera 3 project was built there were protests. Much of the controversy surrounding the project involved the possibility that Casco Viejo would lose its World Heritage status. On June 28, 2012, UNESCO decided that Casco Viejo will not be put on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.
The city was founded on August 15, 1519, by Pedro Arias de Ávila, also known as Pedrarias Dávila. Within a few years of its founding, the city became a launching point for the exploration and conquest of Peru and a transit point for gold and silver headed back to Spain through the Isthmus. In 1671 Henry Morgan with a band of 1400 men attacked and looted the city, which was subsequently destroyed by fire. The ruins of the old city still remain and are a popular tourist attraction known as Panamá la Vieja (Old Panama). It was rebuilt in 1673 in a new location approximately 5 miles (8 km) southwest of the original city. This location is now known as the Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) of the city.
One year before the start of the California Gold Rush, the Panama Railroad Company was formed, but the railroad did not begin operation until 1855. Between 1848 and 1869, the year the first transcontinental railroad was completed in the United States, about 375,000 persons crossed the isthmus from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and 225,000 in the opposite direction. That traffic greatly increased the prosperity of the city during that period.
The construction of the Panama Canal was of great benefit to the infrastructure and economy. Of particular note are the improvements in health and sanitation brought about by the American presence in the Canal Zone. These include the eradication of yellow fever and malaria and the introduction of a first-rate water supply system. However, most of the laborers for the construction of the canal were brought in from the Caribbean, which created unprecedented racial and social tensions in the city.
During World War II, construction of military bases and the presence of larger numbers of U.S. military and civilian personnel brought about unprecedented levels of prosperity to the city. Panamanians had limited access, or no access at all, to many areas in the Canal Zone neighboring the Panama city metropolitan area. Some of these areas were military bases accessible only to United States personnel. Some tensions arose between the people of Panama and the U.S. citizens living in the Panama Canal Zone. This erupted in the January 9, 1964 events, known as Martyrs' Day.
In the late 1970s through the 1980s the city of Panama became an international banking center, bringing a lot of undesirable attention as an international money-laundering center. In 1989 after nearly a year of tension between the United States and Panama, President George H. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama to depose the leader of Panama, General Manuel Noriega. As a result of the action a portion of the El Chorrillo neighborhood, which consisted mostly of old wood-framed buildings dating back to the 1900s (though still a large slum area), was destroyed by fire. Eventually, the U.S. helped finance the construction of large cinder block apartment buildings to replace the destroyed structures. The city of Panama remains a banking center, although with very visible controls in the flow of cash. Shipping is handled through port facilities in the area of Balboa operated by the Hutchison Whampoa Company of Hong Kong and through several ports on the Caribbean side of the isthmus. Balboa, which is located within the greater Panama metropolitan area, was formerly part of the Panama Canal Zone, and in fact the administration of the former Panama Canal Zone was headquartered there.
Panama City has a tropical savanna climate, a little drier than a tropical monsoon climate.
It sees 1,900 mm (74.8 in) of precipitation annually. The wet season spans from May through December, and the dry season spans from January through April.
Temperatures remain constant throughout the year, averaging around 27 °C (81 °F). Sunshine is subdued in Panama because it lies in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, where there is a nearly continual cloud formation, even during the dry season.
Climate data for Panama City
|Average high °C (°F)||33.4|
|Average low °C (°F)||18.5|
|Source #1: World Meteorological Organization|
Panamá is located between the Pacific Ocean and tropical rain forest in the northern part of Panama. The Parque Natural Metropolitano (Metropolitan Nature Park), stretching from Panama City along the Panama Canal, has unique bird species and other animals, such as tapir, puma, and caimans. At the Pacific entrance of the canal is the Centro de Exhibiciones Marinas (Marine Exhibitions Center), a research center for those interested in tropical marine life and ecology, managed by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Tropical forests around Panama are vital for the functioning of the Panama Canal, providing it with the water required for its operation. Due to the canal's importance to the Panamanian economy, tropical forests around the canal have been kept in an almost pristine state; the canal is thus a rare example of a vast engineering project in the middle of a forest that helped to preserve that forest. Along the western side of the canal is the Parque Nacional Soberanía (Sovereignty National Park), which includes the Summit botanical gardens and a zoo. The best known trail in this national park is Pipeline Road, popular among birdwatchers.
Nearly 500 rivers lace Panama's rugged landscape. Most are unnavigable; many originate as swift highland streams, meander in valleys, and form coastal deltas. However, the Río Chepo and the Río Chagres, both within the boundaries of the city, work as sources of hydroelectric power.
The Río Chagres is one of the longest and most vital of the approximately 150 rivers that flow into the Caribbean. Part of this river was dammed to create Gatun Lake, which forms a major part of the transit route between the locks near each end of the canal. Both Gatun Lake and Madden Lake (also filled with water from the Río Chagres) provide hydroelectricity to the former Canal Zone area. The Río Chepo, another major source of hydroelectric power, is one of the more than 300 rivers emptying into the Pacific.
As the economic and financial center of the country, Panama City's economy is service-based, heavily weighted toward banking, commerce, and tourism. The economy depends significantly on trade and shipping activities associated with the Panama Canal and port facilities located in Balboa. The city has benefited from significant economic growth in recent years, mainly due to the ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal, an increase in real estate investment, and a relatively stable banking sector.There are around eighty banks in the city, at least fifteen of which are national.
Panama City is responsible for the production of approximately 55% of the country's GDP. This is because most Panamanian businesses and premises are located in the city and its metro area. It is a stopover for other destinations in the country, as well as a transit point and tourist destination in itself.
Tourism is one of the most important economic activities in terms of revenue generation. The city's hotel occupancy rate has always been relatively high, reaching the second highest for any city outside the United States in 2008, after Perth, Australia, and followed by Dubai. However, hotel occupancy rates have dropped since 2009, probably due to the opening of many new luxury hotels. Several international hotel chains, such as Le Méridien, Radisson, and RIU, have opened or plan to open new hotels in the city, along with those previously operating under Marriott, Sheraton, InterContinental, and other foreign and local brands. Also, the Trump Organization is building the Trump Ocean Club, its first investment in Latin America, and Hilton Worldwide recently opened its first Garden Inn Panama, at Eusebio A. Morales Avenue and 49A Street West, and more recently The Panamera, the second Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Latin America.
The city is located in Panama District, although its metropolitan area also includes some populated areas on the opposite side of the Panama Canal. As in the rest of the country, the city is divided into corregimientos, in which there are many smaller boroughs. The old quarter, known as the Casco Viejo, is located in the corregimiento of San Felipe. San Felipe and twelve other corregimientos form the urban center of the city, including:
- Santa Ana El Chorrillo,
- Bella Vista,
- San Francisco,
- Juan Diaz,
- Pueblo Nuevo,
- Parque Lefevre,
- Río Abajo.
The most popular app to call and text in Panama is WhatsApp. Viber is also used. These allow for free calls and texts to others that use the same app. Many Panamanians do.
Panama has one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in Latin America. this is due to the fact that most major submarine fiber cables cross the Panama Canal, either by land or water. Calls to the USA and Europe are between 4 and 10 cents a minute. The best way to make international calls from Panama is to buy prepaid telephone cards that are sold at every corner. The most popular is the TeleChip card. These cards work from everywhere and they even work from the USA, Mexico, Europe, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia etc.
Panama's country code is 507. All cellular numbers start with the number 6 and have 8 digits. Land line phone numbers have 7 digits.
Wifi is on the rise though with many hotels, restaurants and bars offering this services.
Prices in Panama City
MARKET / SUPERMARKET
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$0.75|
|Bottle of Wine||1 bottle||$9.00|
|Dinner (Low-range)||for 2||$26.00|
|Dinner (Mid-range)||for 2||$50.00|
|Dinner (High-range)||for 2||$75.00|
|Mac Meal or similar||1 meal||$5.80|
|Beer (Imported)||0.33 l||$3.50|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$2.00|
|Coctail drink||1 drink||$8.00|
|Men’s Haircut||1 haircut||$8.00|
|Mobile (prepaid)||1 min.||$0.25|
|Pack of Marlboro||1 pack||$5.30|
|Toilet paper||4 rolls||$2.50|
CLOTHES / SHOES
|Jeans (Levis 501 or similar)||1||$55.00|
|Dress summer (Zara, H&M)||1||$35.00|
|Sport shoes (Nike, Adidas)||1||$75.00|
|Local Transport||1 ticket||$0.25|
46 $ per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- meals in cheap restaurant
- public transport
- cheap hotel
170 $ per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- mid-range meals and drinks
Transportation - Get In
Tocumen International Airport (IATA: PTY) is just outside Panama City (it's part of the San Miguelito district, which has been incorporated as a separate city but essentially exists as part of Panama City). The airport is a hub for Copa Airlines, and is also served by American Airlines (Dallas/Ft.Worth, Miami), Delta Airlines (Atlanta, Georgia), United Airlines (Houston, Newark), Avianca (Bogotá, Colombia;San José, Costa Rica; San Salvador, El Salvador and Managua, Nicaragua). Most major Central American airlines, and several South American airlines and European Airlines also serve the city. There are at least six daily flights to and from Miami, two from Orlando and Atlanta, and three daily flights from Houston, 1 from Los Angeles LAX, two from Newark, and 1 from New York's JFK. There are daily flights to Mexico City; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Caracas, Venezuela; Santiago, Chile; Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Asunción, Paraguay; Havana, Cuba; Kingston, Jamaica, at least 7 Colombian cities (Medellín, Cali, Pereira and Bogotá included) and several international destinations. There's also service to Madrid, Spain, and service to Amsterdam with KLM.
Getting to the city center from Tocumen is unfortunately not easy, as the metro does not yet serve it. Taxis cost $30, which can be reduced to $10 if you can find two other people to share with. Depending on traffic, the trip can take well over an hour.
If you don't want to pay for a taxi, there are modern, air-conditioned buses which cost $1.25 to get to the city center from the airport, but as of February 2012, the buses only accept fare cards, not cash, and in April 2012, there was still no place to buy fare cards in the airport. However, the bus is always full of people going to and from the airport, so you can probably find someone willing to pay your fare with their card; you can pay them back in cash. Take the bus going to Albrook, from the bus stop that is across the street, farther from the airport, by the billboards. To get there, turn right as you exit the terminal, follow the fence along to the right, cross the small parking lot, and follow the (mostly) covered sidewalk the rest of the way -- or just follow people. It's no more than a 5-minute walk. There are at least two different bus routes that go to Albrook Mall; take the one marked Corredor Sur if at all possible for a half hour trip (depending on traffic), or take the local bus (Via España) for a slow (at least 1.5 hr) trip. You can buy a fare card at the Albrook transit center once you get there. There is a $2 fee for the card. Albrook in turn is served by the metro.
Getting back to the airport, you can catch a bus at the 5 de Mayo station. Heading down the stairs in the pedestrian underpass to the bus station, want to go left to platform 1, doors 'C' (corredor sur to Tocumen). At 4pm on a weekday there can be a substantial wait and the ride takes 50min due to rush hour.
Also, forget anything you may have heard about the red devil buses--they no longer serve the airport, although they are still common in the city.
Domestic flights leave out of Gelabert/Albrook Airport (IATA: PAC), a former US military airfield (Albrook Air Force Base). Domestic airlines are safe, and many fly very modern small jet aircraft. There are daily flights to every major town and city in the country. The only carrier is AirPanama (Aeropuerlas shut down in 2012). Unlike Tocumen, this airport does have a metro station in close proximity.
Panamá Pacífico International Airport (IATA: BLB), a small airport previously known as Howard Air Force Base. VivaColombia offers daily flights to Medellin and Bogota. Taxis ask $30 for a ride to the city. You'll cross the Panamá Canal on the way.
There's only train service between Panama City and Colón. It's mostly a freight train, but it has a very nice passenger car. The train ride offers excellent views of the Panama Canal and the tropical rain forest. In a way it is the only "transcontinental commuter rail line" in the world as some people live in Colon and work in Panama City or vice versa and commute using this train.
Panama City has one of the most modern bus terminals in Latin America. It's the main hub and well organized. The terminal is next to the Albrook airport (the domestic terminal) and it is very easy to find a bus here. All of the international buses ("tica buses" too) start and end in this terminal. Arrivals are usually on the top floor and you can transfer to city buses on the lower level.
Within the terminal, you can buy a "RapiPass 3en1" card which is valid for the metrobus, metro and terminal (bus and bathroom use). The card costs $2 and needs to be topped up.
The adjacent mall offers practically all that a traveler may want: showers, cinemas and plenty of shopping, etc.
Transportation - Get Around
One of the easiest ways to get around town is by taxi. Taxis do not have a meter. Fares are set by the authorities, and are determined based on what section of the city you are starting at and what section of the city you are going to, with a surcharge for every additional person. The cab driver should have a table (which may include a map) that will show the costs for the fare, and they are required to show it to you if you ask or you can check Autoridad del Tránsito y Transporte Terrestre .
Fares are around $1.25 for travel within one zone, and the longest fares within the City at about $5. Keep in mind that the former Canal Zone is in a different section, and it will be at least a $5 fare. The surcharge for additional passengers should be $.50/additional passenger, and there's also a $.40 surcharge if you call a cab (at least these were the prices a few years ago). A taxi to or from the international airport typically costs $30 including tolls if you take the Corredor Sur highway. A taxi to the Amador Causeway costs between $5 - $10. Cab drivers do not expect tips, and they may pick up additional passengers along the way. The rule is that unless there's little to no deviation from the first person's route, the first person picked up is the first person dropped off, otherwise they will ask if it's ok to pick up the other fare. Cabs can also be rented for the day, and the fares again are set (probably around $20-$25). In this case, they will expect a little extra (tip and/or lunch).
Beware, taxi drivers will frequently try to overcharge visitors, sometimes up to many times the actual price, and will not have or know about any table as mentioned previously. If you are clearly a visitor and asking for the price, chances are the driver will say whatever they think they can get away with and you can try haggling down. It can help to ask locals what the price should be then negotiate based on that.
Getting around by bus is also cheap and convenient. Fares are $0.25 and the destination of the bus is written across the front windshield in large letters. Buses are privately owned and drivers usually compete with each other for passengers. For this reason, buses have colorful decorations to attract customers. During rush hour some buses can get crowded, and it is not unusual to see 3 people seated on a 2-person bench and lots of people standing along the aisle. It is not advised to use buses during these hours.
As of 2013, the "red devils" have been phased out from the main city routes, but they still connect the city with outlying suburbs.
The city has begun replacing the flamboyant "red devils" with modern, air-conditioned city buses ("MetroBus," look for the orange sign to find stops), but the red devils are still around. The MetroBus buses do not accept cash, so make sure to buy a fare card at one of the city's many malls before using them.
Bus fare is $0.25 for regular route and $1.25 for corredor route (Corredor Norte and Corredor Sur) and the same prices for transfer. You can buy and recharge MetroBus card at many places around the city (Puntos de venta).
There are no maps or time tables at the stations so using the bus system can be frustrating without knowing the common name of the destination and/or adequte Spanish for inquiring.
Car travel in Panama City is notoriously difficult. During weekday work hours, traffic jams are continuous. Many street intersections lack traffic signals creating right-of-way confusion. Short distances may be quicker on foot or other means of transportation. During holidays like Carnival the traffic can be expected to be worse.
Car rentals are available from major corporations like Hertz at Panama's Tocumen International Airport.
All taxis in Panama are required to be painted yellow by law. Hitch hiking is not uncommon.
Check points run by the national police occur at strategic locations to prevent the movement of illegal persons and goods.
Metro is operational.
A single ride is 35 cent (full price) with discounts for elderly people, students and the likes. There are no night trains and the last train leaves at 10 pm all week with the first train leaving at 5:00 am (weekdays including saturdays) or 7:00 am (sundays) respectively
The Panama Metro opened on April 5, 2014. In the first week of operation, more than a million passengers used the service. It is the first underground/subway service in Central America.
Line Two is still under construction and the estimate is that it will be finished in 2018. A third line line is planned for the future but construction has not yet started started as of 2016.
- BEST RATED -
- BEST VALUE -
- Calidonia area has plenty of street markets.
- Albrook Shopping Mall. Has good value and high quality clothes and more as well as a cinema, arcade, and bowling alley. Right next to the Albrook bus terminal
- MultiPlaza Mall. Upmarket mall, higher prices, better quality products. It has an adjacent Marriott Courtyard hotel.
- MultiCentro Mall. Upmarket mall, not as popular as MultiPlaza and Albrook
- Metro Mall a large indoor mall that was the most recent build in Panama City. It has an adjacent Marriott Courtyard hotel.
- Avenida Central very local, very cheap shopping street. Full of budget department stores and shops. Lots of locals.
- Los Pueblos Mall. The first mall built in the city. very local, very cheap, and outdoor. It's across the main street from Metro Mall but is inaccessible on foot.
Panamanian crafts High end crafts can also be purchased from shops in the Centro de Artesanias in Balboa neighborhood or in the shops of Mi Pueblitos. Indian stores on every major shopping district (El Dorado mall and surroundings, Los Pueblos, and along Via Espana) also sell many Panamanian souvenirs. Gran Morrison is also a place to find many handicrafts.
Check out Panama Restaurant Week, which doesn't happen every year, but when it does it is a fantastic option to try great restaurants at good prices. Despite its name, it lasts 15 days, with dozens of participating restaurants offering special participating menus at fixed, lower than normal prices.
There's several cafes along Via Argentina. The Spanish sandwich shops offer excellent sandwiches, coffee, and churros. Try Manolo's Churreria (don't miss the churros rellenos, pastries filled with dulce de leche and rolled in sugar) or Del Prado. Sandwiches should cost from $3-$5. Also on Via Argentina is El Trapiche, serving traditional Panamanian food for under $12/person. They serve excellent breakfast food. Niko's Cafe has several locations around the City. Owned by Greeks, they are all open 24 hours and the have a good selection of sandwiches and hot food served all day long. Don Lee is a Panamanian chain serve Chinese fast food, and definitely worth a try. There's an abundance of Chinese restaurants, and some can be very affordable. Try some around El Dorado, they should be pretty authentic.
Doraditos Asados in Chanis. An extremely popular Panamanian restaurant that's always full and can take an infuriating amount of time to order. That said it's likely always filled by locals because the prices are cheap and the food is extremely good. In particular the rotisserie chicken (a full one costs about $5) is a local favorite with two types of chimichurri to choose from.
Fish market outside of Casco Viejo. Entering Casco Viejo there's the main fish market for the city exists and has recently undergone some refurbishing. There are some restaurants upstairs where the fish is obviously very fresh and the prices are cheap.
Restaurante Poly (Corner of 26th and Avenida Sur) A very crowded, noisy and not very hygienic restaurant, it's however a truly gastronomic experience. Do not miss the delicious fish soups and the bistec picado, both for under 2 USD each.
- Lung Fung on Transistmica Avenue serves some of the best Chinese food in the City. It will be a different experience. Try dim sum any day of the week (expect long lines on weekends), although it has lost some of its charm now that the wait staff speaks such good Spanish instead of only Cantonese or Haka.
- Marbella is a very old school Panamanian restaurant on Balboa Avenue. It's a Spanish place specializing in seafood. Excellent paella and overall good seafood. Prices are stuck in 1984, so a hearty plate of paella will set you back $13, and there's only one item with a higher price on the menu.
- Van Gogh - This nice little Italian restaurant is right near the Via Venteo Casino. It has great food, great service, and a great atmosphere. It is one of the best Italian restaurants in Panama City.
- Capital Bistró Panamá, Calle principal de San Felipe, Local 1. Kitchen opens 6:30pm.Amazing views of the city's skyline. Chillout music and large sofas on the upper terrace.USD 18-28.
- Manolo Caracol. Is an excellent restaurant in the Casco Viejo that serves tapas. Each day the chef invents a new fixed menu with seasonal ingredients. Meals are $30 without drinks.
- Puerta De Tierra is another excellent restaurant in the Casco Viejo. The restaurant is primarily a steak house but has some very appealing appetizers also.
- Ten Bistro Calle 50 and in Multiplaza Mall is another excellent choice serving contemporary cuisine.
- Casa Del Marisco. Seafood restaurant located in the banking area walking distance away from the Marriott. The food here is quite good but also pricey.
- Sake located on the ground floor of Torres de las Americas office tower by Punta Pacifica hospital, is Panama City's hottest sushi restaurant. Probably the best sushi in the city but the city is not known for its sushi. If you're only here for a short while and not desperate for a sushi fix, there are better options for the price.
- Miraflores Restaurant is situated at the top of Miraflores Visitor Center. The terrace section overlooks the Panama Canal and tables are most likely reserved in advance. Buffet is around $30 without drinks. It is open from 10AM to 10:30PM (much after the visitor center is closed), so if you need to see the canal late night (and can afford to spend extra for dinner), Miraflores restaurant is the place to be. (The Miraflores Lock opens both way in the night, so you are definitely going to see a couple of ships pass by)
Sights & Landmarks
The Archaeological Site of Panamá Viejo and Historic District (Casco Viejo) of Panamá are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
- Panama Canal. An absolute must if you're in Panama City. The most visited place on the canal is the Miraflores locks, where you can watch the huge boats go by and visit the air-conditioned visitor center with a museum, a movie theater and a fancy restaurant (USD25 for the lunch buffet). A one way cab to Miraflores locks should cost around 6 USD. It is also possible to take a local bus from the Albrook bus terminal for less than $1 or new metrobus line Albrook-Miraflores from 'D - Via España' platform at Albrook (though not very frequent, probably only one bus per hour). You can also take a luxury train along the canal to Colón, or obviously take a boat! Prices Miraflores locks visitors center with observation deck and museum: adults $15, students $10, lower for residents.
- Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo is the historic part of town, where you will find many colonial style government buildings, cathedrals and museums including a Canal Museum or a small Panama History Museum (price is $1 for adult). It is currently under massive renovation, with crumbling shacks next to beautifully restored colonial buildings. There are a number of accommodation options in Casco ranging from hostel pricing up to very expensive colonial suites. The area hosts a large number of eclectic events ranging from operas and musicals at the national theatre to block parties and fashion catwalks in the open plazas. Casco Viejo also offers some of the finest dining options in Panama City. Getting here from the airport by Metro bus, you can get off at 5 de Mayo stop (popular stop under a highway) then walk about 15-20min heading south towards the water on Avenida Central, a pedestrian mall with many shops and markets, which leads directly to the old town.
- Panama Viejo. The site of the ruins of the original city of Panama that was sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan in the 1600s. The city was later moved to Casco Viejo. Today Panama Viejo is home to one of Panama's national parks with the buildings left in unrestored states. It is well worth the visit but read the safety warnings and ask park employees about where it is safe to visit as the park is surrounded outside by one of the city's dangerous areas.
- Amador Causeway. The Amador Causeway connects four little islands (Naos, Culebra, Perico and Flamenco) to the mainland. From the causeway, there is a lovely view of Panama City, the Puente de las Americas, and the numerous islands far in Panama Bay. Many Panamanians like to spend their weekends jogging, riding a bicycle or roller-blading down the causeway, or having a meal or drinks in one of the many restaurants and bars on the islands. Bikes are available to rent in many different varieties including recumbents and multi-person bicycles, starting at about $3.50 per hour. From the causeway you can also arrange day trips by ferry to one of the surrounding islands with boats leaving early in the morning.
- A nature center run by the Smithsonian Institution is located on Culebra Island ($5 admission). It has a few fish tanks with Pacific, Caribbean, and freshwater sea life, a small pool with a sea turtle and a few little sharks, and a tank where children can touch starfish and other sea creatures. There is also a little forest where a family of sloths lives.
- It is possible to travel to the end of the causeway by city bus, which apparently runs from the central bus terminal (Albrook) from 'E - Corredur Sur, Zona Este' platform (with frequency of about one bus per hour). Taxi fare from central city is around $7.
- Mi Pueblitos. The pretty deserted museum (entrance free) on the slopes of Cerro Ancon showcases the different ethnicities of Panama. There are several artisans producing curios. The outdoor museum is close in proximity to El Chorrillo so be very careful about straying outside of boundaries or into unsupervised areas. Upon last visit it was not recommended to climb Cerro Ancon.
Things to do
Help A Sailboat To Cross The Canal - All sailboats that want to cross the Panama Canal needs by law 5 crew members when crossing the locks due to the complexity of handling these boats in these narrow locks and tieing and untieing it to the walls, other boats etc. The job called "linehandler". The owners of the boats can either hire local help or look for volunteers in exchange for the experience, food and drinks. The process takes 2 days due to long waiting times and the slow movement. You sleep on the boat during these time. It is a unique way to experience the Canal, sailing and have a closer look on the locks. A website created to connect between the volunteers and the boat's owners and to give more information - http://www.panlinehandler.com
Calle Uruguay is a neighborhood filled with bars and discos for wealthy Panamanians and foreigners.
- La Casona de las Brujas, Casco Viejo. An interesting bar on an inner courtyard of a building, attached to an art gallery in Casco Viejo. Lives bands play a variety of music styles.
Taberna 21 is a local hangout serving great cheap beer and Spanish tapas.
Buy and try some Panamanian and Cuban coffee while you're here. It will be some of the best you've ever had.
Safety in Panama City
Look both ways before crossing the street! Panamanian drivers are notoriously aggressive when the traffic allows and will not slow down for you even if you're lucky enough to find a crosswalk. There's only one way to cross the road here. Wait for a break in the traffic and walk. Once you start, keep going. Drivers will stop(99% of the time :)). Otherwise you'll be stuck for hours waiting.
Stay out of El Chorillo, Santa Ana, Curundu and San Miguel. It is very dangerous due to infighting between drug gangs.
The central neighborhoods of Marbella, El Cangrejo, Obarrio, San Francisco, and the Banking Area are generally the most safe. In any case, be careful of your belongings, even if sitting in a restaurant, as people have had things snatched without noticing it, especially when enjoying a glass too many of Panama's great wine selection. It is never a good idea to drink heavily and walk back to your hotel.
It's always a good idea (in any country really) to spend a few minutes to find out exact taxi fares before taking a taxi and always have exact change for the correct fare. This avoids over-charging and problems with some drivers. Having to ask a taxi driver how much the fare is the equivalent to wearing a "kick-me" sticker on your shorts, as you're telling him you don't know. Some have paid $20.00 to get from El Dorado to Via Argentina, but the real fare for one person is $1.75.