Panama City was our final destination in Central America. From what I had seen and heard over the years, it wasn’t somewhere that particularly appealed and generally speaking, my suspicions were confirmed. Much of the city is a concrete jungle, challenging and unpleasant to walk around. Having said that, we enjoyed our few days there and Casco Veijo, the oldest part of the city, was an interesting area to explore.
The Panama Canal was awesome and although I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by it, I was most impressed by this incredible piece of engineering. Watching the massive ships pass through such a narrow space was incredible.
The contemporary visitors centre was excellent, albeit extremely crowded. A short film is shown about the construction of the canal, and the museum was well-presented. You can just wander out onto the terraces and watch the ships passing through the canal whenever you want to. Complete with restaurant, snack bars and a souvenir shop, it would be quite easy to spend a whole day there, and I suspect many people do!
Casco Viejo, a slightly edgy, but fascinating area to explore is situated on a peninsula adjacent to the infamous slums of Panama. There are colourful, crumbling old colonial buildings around every corner and some vibrant street art to take in. It looked how I imagine Cuba might be. A few tourist cafes, restaurants, shops and large leafy plazas are situated a stone’s throw from the seedy backstreets.
From there, we were able to walk along the promenade to our hotel. Being the weekend, vendors were out in force selling Panama hats and Panama’s version of shave ice. It was quite lively, with families strolling along eating ice cream, and many people enjoying fresh fish lunches at the many seafood restaurants. Across the bay, there were spectacular views of the city’s skyline.
We took a hike in the Metropolitan National Park, which made for a nice escape from the big city. It is only located a few kilometres from the downtown area and had some great trails. Panoramic views of the city could be seen from the highest point, where we saw some locals doing Tai-Chi. With the exception of one or two interesting birds, some turtles and a few coatis, we didn’t spot any other wildlife, although rumour has it that sloths are present in the park.
Our final day in Panama City (and indeed, Central America) was spent in a casino! Completely, at odds with the previous four months of our travels, we spent the last day gambling and drinking cocktails at the Hilton! A strange, but admittedly rather fun way to end our epic four-month adventure!
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