What’s Doing In Panama City

By Ryan Yacura on 1 May 2011
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Serving as the capital and largest city in the country, Panama City benefits from rich cultural diversity, strong economic potential, and a deep history. Panama City boasts a population of almost two million inhabitants and is the country’s epicenter for business and future development. As of this review, the entire city is under constant development with major international players wanting a piece of the action.

Nearly every corner of the city seems to be bustling with construction of residential skyscrapers to modern office buildings that are home to various banks and trendy restaurants such as Market.

With serious growth already underway and tremendous potential for the future, the city is full of energy and vibrancy with a lot to see and do. Much of the excitement is centered in the financial district and the adjacent neighborhood of Bella Vista. Panama City is full of attractions that please a wide range of visitors. Here follow my top picks.

Panama Canal- A must see attraction located only 20 minutes from the city. An $8.00 entry fee will get you full access including a multi-level museum walkthrough and entry to the top observation deck. From there, you can see the mechanics of the Panama Canal in action and watch ships navigate the locks.. Expect to spend 1-2 hours here.

Casco Viejo- This area proved to be one of my favorites in the entire city. While much of Panama City is modern, chic, and new, Casco Viejo is the “old town” that is currently experiencing a revival with new investors, residents, and entrepreneurs, opening up shop in the district. Only 10 minutes from the banking district of Panama City, Casco Viejo boasts beautiful colonial architecture, great dining, and impressive boutique shopping. Perfect for spending a lazy afternoon.

Of note- Casco Viejo is adjacent to a rougher part of Panama City still laden with poverty. It is necessary to drive through this area upon arrival. During the day, Casco Viejo is probably the safest place in the entire city, with closed circuit cameras on every building and police armed with automatic weapons, but at night (past 9 PM), take caution to not wander from the “tourist area.”

Mercado de Marisco- The place to go to for fresh fish and a look at the booming and intense seafood industry in Panama. The market is small, super-busy, and laden with locals. You can either wander the aisles in search of freshly prepared stand-up meals or opt to sit in the upstairs restaurant. Both are good, and drinking a beer while eating the freshest ceviche and bumping shoulders with local buyers is a nice cultural experience.

Calle Uruguay- The street that comes alive at night. With many of the city’s best restaurants located on, or within a few blocks of this street, it is easy to see why the local residents in-the-know flock here. Centered in Bella Vista, one of Panama City’s most affluent areas, Calle Uruguay is worth a visit in the evening if you are looking for nightlife. The best nightclubs are here with a young 25-35 crowd dominating the scene. If dancing is not your cup of tea or you are in Panama City on business, Calle Uruguay will still serve you well.  Head to Market, a restaurant owned and operated by Panama City’s current “it” group HRG, and make that deal happen.

Getting There:

Copa Airlines, a Star Alliance member, runs multiple daily non-stop flights from the U.S. to Tocumen International Airport (PTY), located 21 km (13 miles) from Panama City. If you are traveling directly into Panama City after arrival, the trip will be approximately 25 minutes from the airport and you should pay no more that $15.00 to $20.00 (regardless of number of persons traveling in your party) for your taxi service.  If you are flying from Costa Rica, you will land at Albrook Airport and there are direct flights from San José to David and Bocas del Toro airports as well.

Once in the city, the method of transportation should certainly be a taxi. Although you could rent a car for your stay (I did not, although I did consider doing so) the city can get extremely hectic during rush hour and most streets do not feature any English translations of signage. Taxi service is priced very reasonably but you must be willing to bargain. To get anywhere in Panama City should cost you no more than $5.00 for two. Even travel to outlying areas or sights like the Panama Canal, expect to pay no more than $7.00 per ride. And, as with everything in Panama, US dollars are the accepted currency.

–Ryan Yacura is a Contributing Editor at Executive Road Warrior.

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