After a pretty uncomfortable 16 hour bus ride from San Jose we finally arrived into Panama City at 4.30am in the morning. It was a long bus ride, we were tired from lack of sleep but were excited to explore and see what the city had to offer.
For the duration of our time in Panama City we stayed in the old town known as Caso Viejo. Our hostel was located just off the main square and was in a couple of old buildings. Hostel Casco Viejo was pleasant enough with a mix of dorms and private rooms. Its main downside was that the place lacked a space to socialise. It was nothing special but was clean and seemed to be well run for the price.
Caso Viejo – The Old Town
Panama’s old town has being going though a transformation over the last 10 or so years. Once a forgotten, neglected area the old town has been transferred into one of the most beautiful parts of the city. Many of the old buildings have now been refurbished and the area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This designation has attracted a lot of money to the area so it is now a main tourist spot in the city.
The old town is great to just wander around and explore. It has plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants to try but be warned they are not cheap. We had a drink at a roof top bar which was $5USD per beer which was more expensive than elsewhere but you did get an awesome view across the city.
One of Panama City’s highlights is the waterfront. An attractive waterfront walkway runs from the old town right along the coast. Its a great place to admire the skyline as well as escape the the hustle and bustle of downtown.
As the waterfront walkway is car free we decided to get up early one morning and go for a run. It seems to be a popular thing to do with many people out and about.
Panama City is the place to shop in Central America. The city has many options for shopping from downtown to mega malls. Central Avenue is the main street running through downtown with a large chunk of it being car free. The car free section consists of many bargain stores. This is where the average Panamanian will go shopping and we quite often saw women in traditional dress.
The city has has a number of shopping malls with the largest being the Albrook Mall located next to Albrook Bus Terminal. We spent half a day at Albrook Mall and found that it had every store you could need so we managed to top up some of our supplies.
The Panama Canal
One of the main reasons for visiting Panama is to go and see the canal. The canal is easy to access from downtown Panama with a bus running hourly from Albrook Terminal to Miraflores Locks. Miraflores Locks are the closets to the city and is the main tourist location to watch ships travelling along the canal.
The visitors centre and observation decks are located at Miraflores and cost $15USD to enter. It is worth noting that ships only travel the canal in the morning and afternoon so check the times online to ensure that you see some of the action.
It is possible to cycle in some parts of the city safety away from the traffic in the heart of downtown. The main areas for cycling are along the waterfront from the old town along Cinta Costera and out along the Amdor Causeway. Bikes can be hired at a number of locations around the city for easy access to the cycleways.
We opted to cycle out along the Amdor Causeway with bike hire from about $3USD an hour. The causeway leads out to 3 islands now joined together which have a small selection of bars and restaurants. Once out on the causeway you can get great views of the city and the Bridge of the Americans.
Panama City is a great place to spent a few days with plenty to see and do. We barely scratched the surface and feel that an extra day or two would have been useful. The only downside was that we spent more money than we budgeted for as food was more expensive than expected.
We did find that getting around the city was cheap and easy by using the Metro and bus system ($0.25 to $0.35 cent per ride). To use the Metro and buses you need a transport card which can be purchased at Albrook Terminal. Ensure you get a 3 in 1 card as this gives you access to the long distance bus platforms at Albrook Terminal.
If you plan to stay in the old town you will likely pay a premium compared to other parts of town. We felt it was worth it as it was such a pleasant part of the city to wonder around.