Panama City: The Five Hour Tour (Part Two)
You see? There is alot you can squeeze into five hours! We left off at Cerro Ancon in Part 1...
My quick tour of the city left me pleasantly surprised. Despite the fact that nearly every corner of the city is under construction, anxiously awaiting another condo development or high rise to add to the competition, there are some areas that ooze charm and welcome visitors with open arms.
Panama City has the benefit of a great location, tucked in along the Pacific Coast. Avenida Balboa runs along the Bay of Panama from Punta Paitilla in the east and feeding through to Casco Viejo at the western tip of the Bay. Casco Viejo is a colourful neighborhood filled with European architecture and beautifully restored buildings (many still in progress). These unique features are surely the reason it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
I had visions of exploring every nook and cranny and discovering wonderful art galleries to bring home authentic gifts, but sadly a 5 hour tour doesn't allow for authentic discoveries. Instead we did a quick runthrough of all the highlights, from parks to museums to the beautiful views from Plaza de Francia, where we treated ourselves to much-needed sno-cones. From here you can see the bay, the city, the opening to the canal and the Bridge of the Americas. I was pleasantly surprised by the Museum of the Panama Canal, which caught our interest for its modern approach. For the $2 entry fee, it's worth checking out, even if you do the 15 minute breeze-through as we did.
We were excited to hear that Nacho had a cancellation and would be able to accompany us for another hour or two. We hopped in his car and headed to the Miraflores Locks, a tourist-accommodating platform for viewing ships as they enter and exit the Canal. The Miraflores platform is perched above the Miraflores Locks, with several floors of observation deck and of course a restaurant and souvenir shop. I was a bit skeptical about this one.. after all, how exciting can a big set of locks be when you're being trampled by paparazzi-like tourists on a mission? But the Canal and the locks had caught my eye while we were preparing to land on the flight from Bocas and I figured: how can you go to Panama City without seeing the Canal? It was actually fascinating to see the boats coming through and realize that they actually were tailor-made to squeeze through this exact canal. Barely an inch to spare on either side (or at least from our vantage-point!). We could also see where they are beginning construction on a larger, parallel canal to accommodate more modern, larger ships.
With an extra 45 minutes to spare, we made our way to the Amador Causeway at the western tip of the city, which connects three small islands filled with restaurants and shops, and offers outstanding views (great for sunset!). We capped off the day with a drink at Nacho's favorite restaurant on Flamenco (the farthest out), watching the sun set over the multi-million dollar yachts in the marina. As we were leaving, two Lamborghinis flew by... not the Panama City I had been expecting.
Read more about 5 hours in Panama City and see photos here..