When you hear the name Panama City, you might think of wild spring break parties (especially if you went to university in the United States).
Or, if you aren’t reminded of college day debauchery on Florida’s northwestern coast, you probably immediately think of the Panama Canal. The essential route is undoubtedly and indisputably a crucial part of Panamanian pride and economy.
But while Panama’s capital city is definitely different from the Panama City in Florida, it also is much more than the canal – even if the waterway is arguably the most important in the Americas.
So, what IS Panama City beyond the canal?
The Amador Causeway
An absolutely gorgeous stretch of road, and a beautifully placed wide pedestrian path make the Amador Causeway an athletic yet relaxing spot in Panama City’s diverse list of activities. Palm trees provide a bit of shade, and thoughtfully placed benches are perfect for taking a breather, or just taking in the idyllic surroundings. Whether you want to rent a bike for the biking path, or simply strap on some sneakers for a run or a chilled stroll, the Amador Causeway is the best place to do so in Panama City.
The pretty path isn’t just for fun, though. The narrow roadway connects mainland Panama City to the man-made Causeway Islands of Naos, Culebra, Perico, and Flamenco. The islands were created by leftovers from the Panama Canal excavation, and were built to serve as a breakwater protecting the entrance to the canal.
Fabulous museums and exhibitions
The still-in-process yet still spectacular Biomuseo (conveniently located at the start of the Amador Causeway) is just one of Panama City’s many museums and exhibitions. Showcasing Panama’s unique biodiversity in a modern and engaging way (the 360 degree multi-sensory movie is especially thrilling), the Biomuseo presents past and present facts about the nation’s natural and human contributions to the world.
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute station (also located on the Amador Causeway) is a less high-tech but equally interesting presentation of biological wonders in Panama. With spectacles ranging from a starfish observation and touching exhibit, to wild sloths lounging freely throughout the property’s forested trails, the site is not to be missed by nature lovers.
A vast and impressively conserved oasis in the midst of an urban jungle, Parque Metropolitano is within easy reach of anywhere in the city, yet worlds apart from it.
The well-maintained trails are lovingly protected by a well-trained posse of park rangers, and the upkeep is financed by a small entrance fee. The excellent care is clearly evident when walking the trails, as the marked paths are easy to walk yet still provide easy access to nature. Turtles, birds, butterflies, and sloths are some of the most common critters within the park.
The protected grounds are safe, and all visitors must sign-in at the entrance. This is an especially great option for solo female travelers (like myself!) who want to hike alone without harassment and not worry about safety.
Historical preserved ruins
Whether you choose to explore the ruins conveniently located in Casco Viejo, or journey just a bit further afield to Panama Viejo in the suburbs, you’re in for a historical treat.
Both Panama Viejo (the remains of the former capital of the country) and the historical district of Panama make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site, designated in 1997.
Some would argue that this beautiful historical piece of Panama City is the most beautiful (and I’m among them). It’s easy to spend a whole afternoon wandering the cobbled streets, admiring the colonial style buildings, and ducking in to beautifully restored cafes for a coffee or gelato.
This section of the city can be notoriously touristy and a bit overpriced, but the charm and style are worth it. Feel free to explore with your DSLR camera as many tourist police prowl about for safety – but take a taxi in and out of the area as the surrounding neighborhoods can be a bit unsavory, especially at night.
Parties and parks
On a wonderful weekend afternoon, nothing beats hitting up the local park to see a show. During the day, you can expect such sights as aerial daredevil thrills, silk trapeze performances, and Zumba classes. At night, park plazas and stages turn into outdoor entertainment centers, with musicians, drummers, and singers playing to hundreds of picnic-style park lovers.
Bring a blanket, some refreshments, and enjoy the FREE performances!