A CENTRAL AMERICAN CAPITAL LIKE NO OTHER
WHAT TO DO IN PANAMA CITY? MY JOURNEY
Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Mary
From Ancon hill
If there’s one neighborhood to visit in Panama City, it’s the Casco Viejo. A very pretty old colonial district. To discover this beautiful district, you can start with the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Mary which has an original exterior architecture, a central facade in old style gray stone and its two white columns of a different style. But the coolest thing about this Cathedral is the basement. There’s a huge miniature village that tells the story of Jesus Christ. It’s impressive and very well done. From the square, you’ve small signs that indicate a whole route to do in the neighborhood. It’s very well done and allows you to see the important buildings of the city, including the fortifications, churches, certain squares. There are a few shops and restaurants in this center, as well as ruins and a few museums. We took the opportunity to make two museums.
- Museum of Panamanian History: the museum is small and talks about a lot of different subjects. You’ll learn more about the origin of the flag, the presidents, the independence of Panama, the different tribes, etc… We visited it in less than an hour. The signs are mostly in Spanish but sometimes there are also in English.
- Mola Museum: a museum dedicated to the traditional fabrics of the Gunas tribe. Each room explains the meaning of the different shapes and symbols. We walked around the museum in less than an hour.
Climbing up the old downtown fortifications, you can see the impressive skyline of Panama City. I didn’t expect to see so many buildings in this capital. Casco Viejo is a district that I really appreciated, and which can be visited in half a day.
Outside of the Casco Viejo there’s the fish market which is apparently something to do. We went there the day after Christmas so I must admit that the market was quite empty. Next to the city center there’s also the Avenida Central España where there are many more people, shops and cheap restaurants. I found the contrast between this street and the old quarter quite significant. There’s also a nice walk to do that leaves from the city center and goes along the waterfront to the Cresta district. It’s a large park where there’s a walk arranged with sometimes locals who do their sport there. Then, if you want to have a nice high view of the city center and the skyscrapers, then go to the Ancon Hill. A forty-minute walk to get to the top and have an incredible view of the city. You can even see the Panama Canal in the distance.
Panama History Museum Price: Free
Mola museum price: free
Built by the Americans, it has officially belonged to Panama since December 1999, after long negotiations between the governments. It has a very important part in the income of the country. Many boats pass through this channel every day. And I have good news for you! It’s possible to see these boats pass the canal. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know the schedules beforehand. We had had a guide the day before to visit the Emberá village, so he was able to give us the timetables the day before. We arrived at 1:30 p.m. and it was perfect because the first boats were crossing around 2 p.m., and there weren’t too many people yet. There’s an observation floor, but if it’s too crowded, I advise you to stay on the ground floor, much less people and you’ll see just as well in my opinion. It takes about 40 minutes for a freighter to pass through the lock. It’s truly impressive! The size of these boats that we see so close! I had never seen that before. The Visitor Center was closed when we were there but there were a few explanatory signs on the canal. Honestly, I think it’s a visit not to be missed. To get there, we took an Uber, it was the fastest and easiest. If you’re several people going there, it may be worth it.
Entrance fee to the Panama Canal: 10 US$
I was quite impressed with Panama City. To find these tall buildings like in North America was for me very strange but also like a feeling of “déjà-vu”. This changes from the rest of Central America, and it allows you to see something else. Walks and museums are quite nice to do.
WHEN TO GO?
We were there at the end of December and the weather was great every day.
Counting the excursions to do around (the San Blas islands and the Emberá village), I would say about 4 days minimum.
MY 3 TIPS TO VISIT PANAMA CITY
- Learn about neighborhoods to avoid thanks to Facebook groups or travel blogs
- Take a stroll through the historic center which is a bit out of time
- Eat in the small local restaurants to taste the culinary specialties