We spent three nights in Panama City and in my opinion, it is sufficient to get to know the city and explore its surroundings.
Panama la Vieja
Panama’s capital and largest city was founded in 1519, by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias Dávila to serve as the starting point for expeditions to the Inca in Peru. Unfortunately, 150 years later the city was destroyed by a fire set by the Henry Morgan (I’m pretty sure everyone knows this name, however in a slightly different variation – Captain Morgan). The city was rebuilt about 8 km away from the ruins, there, where the modern Panama City currently is. The ruins today is a UNESCO heritage site and the oldest monument in Panama City. Before heading there, check the opening hours and prices here: http://www.patronatopanamaviejo.org/ppv2014/en/pvs/plan-your-visit
In the modern Panama City:
- visit the Casco Viejo, the UNESCO protected district, full of renovated colonial houses, boutique hotels, tastefully-furnished cafes, fine-dining restaurants and some great coffeehouses.
- walk along Las Bóvedas (“The Vaults”), a waterfront promenade jutting out into the Pacific
- take a look at the beautiful colonial Cathedral of Santa Maria la Antigua of Panama Cathedral
- stroll along the Calzada de Amador (Amador Causeway), a land-bridge built with rocks excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal, connecting Panama City to the Amador Islands and admire the skyline of the city.
- on the way back to the city hide from the heat in Biomuseo dedicated to biodiversity and natural history of Panama: http://www.biomuseopanama.org/en
- drink a cocktail in the Lazotea Restaurant and Rooftop and enjoy the view to the city skyline
- try locally brewed beer and ceviche with mango and avocado in La Rana Dorada Casco
- shop at Avenida Central, the longest shopping street in the country
- don’t miss the Mercado de Mariscos to buy fresh seafood directly from the local fishermen or just to savor different types of cheap an delicious ceviche. The fish market is open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The lush green mountain Cerro Ancon is the best option for urban hiking in the city as no cars are allowed on its roads. During ascend you will enjoy the panoramic views of the city and spot some cute agouties.
Panama Canal is a 77km long artificial waterway connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the modern world wonders, therefore it is no surprise that this is the most visited place in Panama City. Yearly, about 14,000 ships are transiting every year here and the costs for the transit of one ship is appr. 500 000 USD. The visitors center is situated at the Miraflores set of Locks on the Pacific Side, with a museum and a simulator of a ship cruising the canal.
Soberania National Park
To dive into the wild nature and for a spectacular jungle experience, as well as the opportunity to see monkeys, parrots, and sloths, choose one of the hiking routes in the Soberania National Park. To get there we took an Uber and paid around 8-10 USD for 20-25 minutes ride. First, we walked Camino de plantación. This is an easy, pleasant walk. You can do a round trip (10 km) or turn right at the T-crossing at the end and proceed with the Camino de cruces, which used to be a part of the Spanish conqueror stone road. Watch for the orange signs, even if it looks like there is no more road at all! We followed Camino de cruces for 4,5 km.
I have to admit that this was a challenging hike. Slippery, adventurous, crossing numerous springs and rivers. Partly not easy to follow (you just don’t see the path anymore). When we finished our hike, I read in the guide book that it was not recommended to walk Camino de cruces without a local guide and that there were a few robbery cases on the road…
In total, we were hiking about five hours in Soberania. Non-slippery shoes is a must and I was glad that I wore long trousers as well…
My big dream was to see a sloth and I spent many hours with my head up searching for them. Finally, we spotted something hairy far away tucked between the branches of a tree and were able to finally identify a sloth only when checking the photos on a big screen. Yeah, we’ve seen one… 500 m away… Success! Next goal – cuddle a sloth.
Fort San Lorenzo
From the place where Camino de cruces reaches the driving street to Fort San Lorenzo it took us about 1 hour driving time and 30 minutes waiting time on the ferry. And yes, we crossed the Panama canal on a ferry, for free (if we don’t count the waiting fee of the Uber).
Despite the opening hours of the Fort were listed as 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., it was open at 5 p.m. and we didn’t have to pay the entrance fee.
From the Fort our taxi driver took us to Colon bus station for 20 USD. From there we took a local bus to Panama for 3 USD and reached our hotel in more or less two hours.
To sum up, here is a three-day schedule for you:
- Day one: Ancon Hill and Casco Viejo
- Day two: Soberania National Park and Fort San Lorenzo
- Day three: Panama Canal, Panama Viejo and Amador Causeway