An amazing city of contrasts
An amazing city of contrasts

Karen and I spent 7 nights in Panama City. Initially when talking to ex pats who live down here most were saying 2 or 3 days is good. However now having been there I have to disagree. We had 7 full days which in the end I found about a day and a half too much. Karen and I believe in taking our time and always leaving plenty of time late in the day to enjoy a beverage and relax. None of this running around all day trying to see everything. It is too hot for that.

The view from our bedroom window at Deb's Place.
The view from our bedroom window at Deb’s Place.

We were able to stay at a neat B&B in the penthouse of an apartment half a block from the waterfront. It is geared toward sailors and boaters who are stopping over in Panama City so we got an opportunity to see an entirely different group of travellers than we are used to, it was great.

The Miraflores Locks are also the location of the excellent Interpretive Centre.
The Miraflores Locks are also the location of an excellent Interpretive Centre.

First things first, lets talk about the Panama Canal. Wow! I am not a boater, nor am I an engineer, but I can appreciate inspired genius when I see it. I was floored by the sheer scale of it, then you consider that it has been in operation over one hundred years and you have to tip your hat to the minds that designed and built a system over a century ago that is still working and most of the major pieces are the original ones. Massive ships raised and lowered without a pump. All with pure hydraulics and gravity, amazing.

A container ship and two Canal tug boats making the last northbound transit of the morning.
A container ship and two Canal tug boats making the last northbound transit of the morning.
One of the many lock gates that hold back the water at each lock. These are the original gates that were installed over a hundred years ago.
One of the many lock gates that hold back the water at each lock. These are the original gates that were installed over a hundred years ago.

We purchased a three day Hop on Hop off Bus pass to help us get around Panama City. It worked very well and got us to all the major sites including the Miraflores Locks. After viewing the locks as a pedestrian we went on a tour which involved a partial transit of the Panama Canal from the Pacific Ocean, through the three locks which raise ships to the elevation of Gatun Lake (26 metres above sea level), through the Culebra Cut and on to the town of Gamboa where we disembarked. It was a very good tour which provided plenty of information, but even more powerful, I found, was it conveyed the scope and size of the Canal and what it provides to the world.

One of the two companies that provide transits of the Canal for tourists. Panama Marine Adventures.
One of the two companies that provide transits of the Canal for tourists. Panama Marine Adventures.
Every boat that transits the Canal must have a Panama Canal pilot aboard.
Every boat that transits the Canal must have a Panama Canal pilot aboard.
Ropes are secured to all boats to keep them from hitting the sides of the locks.
Ropes are secured to all boats to keep them from hitting the sides of the locks.

We enjoyed a very basic breakfast and lunch aboard the tour boat while we waited our turn, then proceeded through the locks. We had an opportunity to get a glimpse of the Canal expansion construction which is supposed to be ready for business sometime next year, who knows. The incredible thing for me was passing these other massive ships on a man made passage in the middle of what used to be a jungle. When you contemplate it, it truly is amazing.

Approaching Centenario Bridge after exiting the Pedro Miguel Locks
Approaching Centenario Bridge after exiting the Pedro Miguel Locks
Passing other ships in the Canal. Buoys on the left mark where landslides have made the water too shallow.
Passing other ships in the Canal. Buoys on the right mark where landslides have made the water too shallow.
The other point of interest along the way was the prison where Manuel Noriega is serving his sentence for crimes committed during his rule of Panama.
The other point of interest along the way was the prison where Manuel Noriega is serving his sentence for crimes committed during his rule of Panama.

Not only is the Panama Canal an incredible engineering feat, it is also a huge financial bonus to the country. When you figure that even the smallest sail boats are paying around $800US to transit the canal, (our tour boat was paying $4000US for it’s partial passage) and the large container ships are paying upwards of $450,000. More than 30 ships a day use the Canal generating more than $800 million in profit for the country.

 

 

 

 

IGLESIA SANTO DOMINGO AND THE FLAT ARCH.
IGLESIA SANTO DOMINGO AND THE FLAT ARCH.

Though for me admittedly, the Canal was the highlight of Panama City we also enjoyed several other attractions in the City. For shopping it is hard to beat with mega huge malls like Albrook, as well as Multicentro and Multiplaza which pretty well O.D.’ed us on stores. We also took the bus to El Casco Antiguo (The Old Town) and found a wonderful little area with nice restaurants and bars and fantastic architecture. It also has its’ share of street cats and other critters in the old ruins.

For all your trinket and souvenir needs.
For all your trinket and souvenir needs.
One of the toughest looking cats I have ever met.
One of the toughest looking cats I have ever met.
I would have hate to seen the loser of the fight.
I would have hate to seen the loser of the fight.

It is a great place to spend time and as the Presidential Palace is also located there you can’t help but feel very safe with all the security personal present.

The number of churches in the Old Town is impressive and the work on restoration is some of the best we have seen in Central America.
The number of churches in the Old Town is impressive and the work on restoration is some of the best we have seen in Central America.
Lots of buildings with character that have stories to tell.
Lots of buildings with character that have stories to tell.

As we toured around the city on the Hop On Hop Off bus we got a glimpse of a city that obviously has a lot of money but is still struggling with problems of poverty and severe differences in quality of life for its’ occupants. We never felt unsafe, but part of that is the number of police and their obvious effort to keep travellers out of areas where they might run into trouble.

An abandoned boat along the Amador Causeway
An abandoned boat along the Amador Causeway
One of the many private transit buses that compete with the municipal service for the business of the locals.
One of the many private transit buses that compete with the municipal service for the business of the locals.

One of the most interesting sights is the spectacular colour and decoration on the private transit buses that aggressively manoeuvre through the busy downtown streets. These super charged customised beasts with huge gleaming tail pipes and jacked up suspensions are very entertaining to watch and are obviously very popular with the locals.

The daytime skyline is truly impressive. Though I have to admit I was very disappointed in the skyline at night. I would estimate less than 15% of the places have lights on which makes for a somewhat odd looking view of the city at night.
The daytime skyline is truly impressive. Though I have to admit I was very disappointed in the skyline at night. I would estimate less than 15% of the places have lights on which makes for a somewhat odd looking view of the city at night.

All in all I found Panama City to be a place well worth visiting. The history and effort to preserve it is excellent, and the people were friendly and hospitable.

Even the Police need to seek out a cool refreshment once in a while.
Even the Police need to seek out a cool refreshment once in a while.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to our travel blog. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to say, "I'm out of here?" Well we did, and in 2013 we made it a reality. We sold or gave away all of our possessions other than what fit in our luggage and we set off on an endless adventure. Part of our goal is to share our experiences with others and hopefully provide some information, motivation, or just a moments escape. The general idea was to look for a place that would be ideal to settle down in. However in the meantime it is about experiencing life in different countries amongst different cultures and learning how to understand and appreciate each other. A large part of our time is spent housesitting which provides an excellent opportunity to experience more of the "normal" neighbourhoods as opposed to the tourist locales. Though we make sure to enjoy those as well. So through plenty of photographs and a running commentary come and share with us our life on the road.

5 comments on “Panama City

  1. lindsaychichester

    Great post! After Costa Rica, my Mim and I went to Panama for several days. The Canal was also the highlight of our time there. We also enjoyed the bartering at the shops for great molas! Take care.

  2. Lawrence Shaw

    Great shots my cousin bought a place down there, he’s gold prospecting for fun. It’s a place I’d like to see but maybe too hot for us. Can’t wait for the next post

  3. Bryce Sherman

    Peter, I cant believe Panama City looks so…well Western. Very up to date. The canal pics are simply amazing as like you said, its many years older than us.

    Great blog pal

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