Panama City: Explorations

We already wrote about the two major attractions here: Panama Canal and Casco Viejo.  So this post is a collection of the other things we’ve been checking out over the last several days. It will be our last on Panama City, as we leave in the morning.

Mercado de Mariscos (seafood market)

Known in English as the fish market, this is a place we wish we’d found before we completed our grocery shop for the week. It is just on the outskirts of Casco Viejo, as the Cinto Costero joins the bypass causeway around the old town. You can reach it by walking the malecon as well. Lots of fresh seafood, fish whole/fileted/steaks, and loads of ceviche restaurants and kiosks outside of the market. Fishing boats are moored in the wee bay outside.

Malecon

Walking from El Congrejo, the neighborhood where we were staying, we had to cross a divided highway to get to the malecon. There are pleasant overpasses over each side of the highway, so it’s easy enough to do. From there you can walk to Casco Viejo and the Mercado de Mariscos in one direction. The malecon is well cared for, right on the water, and a popular spot for walking, running, and riding.

Calzada de Amador (causeway)

This causeway is a long, narrow bit of land that eventually gets to four tiny islands. You can rent a bicycle or a pedal-powered quadricycle (with seating for four and a roof overhead) near the beginning of the causeway, and then ride down the new pathway (parts are still under construction, including what look like washroom buildings at several points), alongside the roadway. We saw several quadricycles stopped at a restaurant about 20 minutes down the road, and you also pass the colorful Biomuseo. For us, the most important part of all of this was that I was able to ride a bicycle and ride it for an hour (since I’m still recovering from an early-summer injury, this was a moment to celebrate!).

Brilla la Navidad

We were lucky enough to be in Panama on the Sunday of Brilla la Navidad, the city’s Christmas parade. It started at about 5:30 on Sunday evening. We found a map of the parade route and it showed pedestrian access streets down to the now-closed-but-usually-very-busy divided highway that runs in front of the malecon. We followed the map to one of the ingress areas, and were surprised  to see a blocks-long lineup, but couldn’t see what the people were waiting for. We saw others strolling passed the lineup, so followed those folks. When we got to the opening in the gate we discovered pat-down, bag-opening security. The only problem was that we were in the men’s line-up. And that blocks-long line–it was for the women. So, Ken was patted down and sent through, I spouted on about mi esposo and pointed, they moved me over to the front of the women’s line and we were both through. Naughty, but quite a nice result.

Once we got past security, the atmosphere was family fun night. People lined the streets (behind other fences, sadly), sitting on the grass or stools they’d brought. Kiosks sold perros calientes (hot dogs), grilled sausages, and sodas. With sunset about an hour later, only the earliest entries were in daylight. Once the sun went down, the lights in the parade came up–floats twinkling with colored lights reminiscent of Disney’s electric parade depicted classic children’s stories, bands wore flashing santa hats, and many of the instruments were wrapped in lights as well.

Shortly following the parade, fireworks were set alight from two places near the Mercado de Mariscos. Since the parade took place parallel to the malecon, everyone just moved back from streetside over to the seawall, and waited for the overhead show to begin.

As we headed home, we stopped in one of the many parks that are filled with Christmas lights in the trees, and light sculptures throughout the grounds. The park was overflowing with kids laughing and playing and everyone taking pictures of themselves in front of the lights.

Mi Pueblito and Alcon Hill

We took an Uber to Mi Pueblito, which is just about at the beginning of the Calzado de Amedor. It is supposed to be a replica of an indigenous village. Small and underwhelming, though possibly because little of it was open on this weekday. Our main event for the day, though, was to hike up Alcon Hill for what were supposed to be fabulous views.

On our way we saw a sloth carrying a tiny baby way up a tree. Near the top, a park official pointed out a second type of sloth in a tree as well. The path up includes some steep stairs, but it is fully paved, wide enough to be a road, and quite lovely with lush growth all around. Partway up you can begin to see views of the city, and once at the top, the views are spectacular–of the city, and of the Miraflores locks and the canal.

Trump tower (Panaviera floor)

We had been told by one Uber driver that you could go to the 66th floor of the Trump tower for free on Mondays and Tuesdays (not sure what it would cost on other days, but possibly a cover charge since there is live music except on Mondays and Tuesdays). We took a taxi ($3 USD) to the tower, which we eventually arrived at after being stuck in a lot of traffic, and travelling on, around, and under bridges and overpasses (it was only a few kilometres from our hotel, but after the crazy route to get there, we were glad we hadn’t tried to walk it).

We went up to the Panaviera pool lounge at about 6:00, in time to see the views in the daylight and then catch the city lights at night. We were the only ones there initially, but were later joined by another group of three. After perusing the menu, we decided on one drink each and a small appetizer, which cost the price of a full meal at a decent restaurant anywhere else. Once I got over the price tag (we are supposed to be travelling on a budget, after all), we thoroughly enjoyed our passion fruit daiquiris, jamon croquetas (a wonderful reminder of Spain), and the views, which were indeed lovely.

Thoughts on Panama City

I think it’s fair to say that we have a like/dislike relationship (love/hate is too strong) with this city. The main draw is really the canal (which alone is worth a visit here), followed by Casco Viejo. Other than that, we were actually a bit bored, and found there wasn’t really that much to do other than the things we note above.

In areas where there are lots of establishments, we were completely turned off by the garbage smells. In some places in Ecuador, we were surprised when we saw people toss their garbage bags directly onto the streets in the evenings. But it was always picked up efficiently, and thoroughly, with the garbage service folks even sweeping up any leftovers, which kept garbage-related problems to a minimum. In Panama City, the garbage is piled on the streets or tossed into garbage containment areas or bins. It is left in the heat to percolate for many days, so walking along these streets is an olfactory assault. Near our hotel, a sewer line broke and sewer water (assuming this based on the odor) bubbled up onto the street for several days, adding to the unpleasantness.

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TripBits

The blog Panama for Beginners, especially the post on vacationing in Panama City, was really helpful. Check it out!

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