Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Few Things To Know When Visiting Panama

On my way to Colombia, South America, I stopped in Panama for two days, not including travel days and, while going to see the Panama Canal and touring the Old City (Old Panama) were my priorities, here are a few things I found out about Panama along the way.
  • Panama has an estimated population of 3.5M (2011 census) most of them living in Panama City (the capital) having 1.27M people with about 900K living in the surrounding area.
View of Panama City
  • There is a lot of construction but the impression I got is this has been going on for a long time not getting anywhere; the city still has the look of a third world country. Expect to see a nice building next to one under construction next to one pretty debilitated.
View of Panama City, Panama
  • Panama is a tropical country; this means it is hot and humid. They also don't have winter to bring the temperature down, they just have some rain. Out trip was in their "winter" for that we experienced temperatures of 104F and 80+ % humidity!, and it does not get much better at night. I have lived in the Southwest of the U.S. where it is HOT, but it is mostly dry heat, so no problem, but the Panamanian humidity is a killer, I mean it feels real HOT! So talk about bad hairdo days and feeling sticky all over. I was very grateful for the AC at our hotel.
View of Panama City, Panama - skyscrapers

  • Because of the humidity, the city has this hazy look to it and white skies so all the pictures show it, however, I did see a few patches of clear blue sky one day.
  • Despite the humidity, I did not see one mosquito for which I was also grateful since at home they seem to like me very much during the humid summer months.
  • While they have their own currency, the Balboa, most transactions are in US dollars, although your change often comes in Balboas.
  • They basically deal in cash, which is crucial when taking a taxi or at small local places. I asked why and apparently there is so much credit card counterfeiting that this has driven the system to run on cash, not on credit cards.
  • While the official language is Spanish, many people do speak English but if you are trying to deal with the taxi driver or similar it is best to know some Spanish. I am fluent in Spanish.
  • Safety could be an issue if you are not aware of locations and the practices of the taxi system.
  • Food is fantastic and reasonably priced if you try to eat something typical to Panama. This was my meal on the first night at El Trapiche, some of it I did not know what it was but it was super delicious.
Dinner platter at El Trapiche restaurant in Panama City, Panama
  • The fruit drinks (non-alcoholic) are fabulous. They are all made to order and from the fruit, meaning no preservatives, no added sugars, all natural. They were tasty and healthy!
Fruit drink at El Trapiche restaurant in Panama City, PanamaFruit drink at El Trapiche restaurant in Panama City, Panama
  • If you want to taste the best Ceviche ever (!) then you must go to the fish market. Our local tour guide in Casco Viejo, Gloria Smith, took us here and the ceviche was amazingly delicious!
Fish market in Panama City, Panama


Fish market location in Panama City, Panama

      It was very fresh with quite a variety of seafood in it and she showed us how to eat it properly. You must put it on top of fried patacones (fried plantains).
Ceviche on a Patacon

My daughter who is not crazy about seafood became an instant seafood eater or at least of Ceviche. The fish platter was also delicious. I could go on for a long time on this meal because it was amazing; you've really got to check it our for yourself.
Fish platter dinner at the fish market in Panama City, Panama

By this point, we had spent 4 hours walking, touring the Old City at 104F and 87% humidity and despite the fact that I am not much of a beer drinker, I got to tell you that local beer was wonderful. After the tour and our delicious meal, it was time for siesta and a much-needed shower and air-conditioned hotel room. Thank goodness.

Cup full of Ceviche plus a local beer
  • Coffee is good and they use raw sugar cane sugar instead of our bleached sugar.
  • The dress code is mainly pants for both men and women which with all the heat and humidity (did I tell you it was hot!) really surprised us. This means tourists do stick out especially American tourists wearing Bermuda shorts and sleeveless shirts. I did not see much fashion being worn which also surprised me; it was not consistent with the clothing I saw at the shopping mall. The dress code seemed a bit mundane and unexciting, probably a reflection of the general economic condition.
  • Panama City has four shopping malls; I went to the biggest one, Albrook mall. Yes, it was big with a variety of stores, eating places, a movie theater and more. Despite all the stores, I noticed the general people were wearing your basic jean outfit, nothing colorful or upscale, as if they did not want to draw attention to themselves. We ended up shopping at Zara, one of my daughter's favorite stores and the prices were quite similar to home (not cheaper). Nevertheless I ended up buying these leggings at one of the local stores on sale for $2.99. No, I did not wear them while in Panama.
Internal view of Albrook mall in Panama City, Panama

Internal view of Albrook mall in Panama City, Panama

Colorful leggings from Panama City, Panama

  • You can buy a "Panama Hat" but make sure it is not a real cheap copy. I am not sure how good this one is but the price was right, my husband needed a hat and I had to try one.
Panama hat on people

Panama hat on people

All in all, Panama was a wonderful and interesting experience. I would definitely go back for the Ceviche. However, I am so very glad to be back at home, the land of Air Conditioning.

Have you ever been to Panama? How was your experience?

I hope you enjoyed this post and the pictures. Please like it in Google Plus (G+). Leave me a message if you have any comments or questions.

Wishing you all Happy Travels in your neighborhood.

Vilma