Belize City, Belmopan, Guatemala City, San Salvador, Managua, San Jose. I’ve been to all of these Central American cities and to put it lightly, I wasn’t impressed at all. In fact, I expected them to be terrible and they were usually worse than what I expected. So heading into Panama City, I wasn’t expecting much at all.
I arrived in Panama City at about 5:30am on an overnight bus from Bocas del Toro. The bus pulled into the main bus terminal, Albrook. From there we took a taxi to hostel. The first few cabbies tried to rip us off with 10 dollar per person fares but eventually we found an honest driver who charged us 2 dollars each.
After settling in, we did a self guided walking tour of the city. We walked down to the promenade on the Pacific and took in the amazing city skyline before making our way to the fish market. A lot of the stalls were closed (I’m guessing they open very early in the morning) but did manage to find a little food stall where for just 5 dollars I got a huge fish fillet, the best gallo pinto I’ve had in all of Central America, a salad, and a can of cola. It was so delicious!
After the fish market we had a walk around Casco Viejo, the old part of town. Many of the buildings were in the process of restoration. It’s easy to see that the government is investing a lot of money to spruce up the neighborhood. And much to my surprise, there were massive tour groups there too. Perhaps the best part of Casco Viejo is the unobstructed view of the skyline. Be careful around the entry to the area though, the adjoining neighborhood is one of the worst in the city and very dangerous.
After picking up 2 pounds of seafood for just 4 dollars, we had a nap then went over to the Panama Canal. As usual, we had to negotiate with a few drivers but we finally got one who took us to the visitor’s centre at the Miraflores Locks for 6 dollars. The big ships pass through in the morning between 9 and 11 and in the afternoon between 2 and 5. We managed to see a couple of gigantic ships pass through the locks. It’s really quite a site.
All in all, Panama City exceeded all my expectations and I wouldn’t mind going back to visit for a few days. In fact, I would recommend everyone to visit the city if they’re in the region.