Panama City and Surrounds, Panama

Hola! Panama is really hot. It was even hot when we arrived in Panama City in the middle of the night. And we did not acclimatise for some time. We had organised a pick up from the airport with our hotel because we didn’t really feel like navigating a new city in a new country when we were all bleary eyed. It was worth it. Something to note is that not many people speak good English in Panama City. We really regretted not working harder on our Spanish before we arrived, we are going to need some lessons!

Where to stay in Panama City? Well while we were here we stayed in the Casco Viejo district at a place called Luna’s Castle. It is a pretty well run hostel but is also a party hostel, so if you don’t want to listen to the same play list on repeat until 2am then probably best to find somewhere else. We stayed for two nights there before getting over it. It is in the old colonial area of Panama City, which is a pretty interesting district. All the old buildings are not allowed to be demolished and anyone wanting to use one of the spaces in the area has to restore the existing buildings. This means there is a weird mix of beautifully restored colonial buildings and slums right next to each other.

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Casco Viejo

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There is a great museum in the district and it gave us a good insight into the history of Panama. Whenever we go to a new country we really enjoy checking out a museum, I find that you always learn a lot and it gives a good introduction to the place. However, our favourite place in Casco Viejo was the fish market. There were a lot of local seafood restaurants gathered there, all serving the most delicious ceviche for only $1.50! We gorged ourselves.

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Ceviche heaven
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We loved all the Pelicans!

While in Panama City we got in touch with a friend of Andrew’s that he had met travelling a few years ago. He was in Panama City and was about to get on a sail boat as a line hand to help with the crossing through the Panama Canal. He mentioned the captain needed a few more people and told us to get in touch with him. We did and we were also recruited as line hands. Before you get too excited for us, unfortunately the whole thing fell through. We were pretty disappointed. We had to wait around for much longer in Panama City than we had originally anticipated as the crossing was scheduled for a few days after we were planning on moving on from the city. To fill in a bit of the time we headed up into the jungle just outside of Panama City, but I will get to that excursion shortly. Once the crossing was finalised we jumped on the sailboat Ariel, with our captain Steve, in anticipation of crossing trough the Canal the next day.

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Captain Steve

Unfortunately the crossing got delayed and we were told that we were going to be doing a night crossing. We spent all day on the boat in the harbour, which was pretty cool, playing cards and spinning yarns. As soon as it was getting dark, the pilot (someone working for the Canal Authority) came on board and was going to guide us through the Canal. The first set of locks were at Miraflores (just a few kilometres outside of Panama City), and we had to make it there by an allocated time. Unfortunately, the boat could only go 3 knots, not the 8 knots that Steve had told the Canal Authority. This meant that we missed the first set of locks by 10 minutes and we had to turn the boat around. We were really disappointed. What this meant for us was that the boat had to go through all the inspections again before another crossing could be scheduled. We had already spent way longer in Panama City than we wanted to and would have had to spend up to another week waiting for a new crossing. We decided to move on. We will have to try do the crossing next time we are in this part of the world.

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We did end up checking out the locks in the Canal before we left Panama City. Getting public transport to the Panama Canal is a real cost saver so we hopped on a bus to the locks at Miraflores, they have a really good information centre and museum there. We were able to see a big container shop go through, and it truly showed the incredible feat of engineering that the Panama Canal is. The way they change the water levels to lift the ship to the right level was crazy. Andrew was in engineering heaven. Check out this photo time lapse that he made of the container ship going through the locks.

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The locks at Miraflores

Panama City can get a little boring after a while so figuring out things to do outside Panama City was key.  As a side trip I recommend heading into the mountainous jungle. We had to kill some time before the boat was scheduled to do the Panama Canal crossing and we didn’t want to spend more time in Panama City. The City is okay but it gets boring pretty fast. We heard about a hostel called Mamallena’s Eco Lodge, which is about an hour and a half out of Panama City, near Valle de Anton. We thought it would be the perfect place to chill out and wait for the crossing. And it turned out to be just that, the lodge was really nice and cheap, and it was slightly cooler up in the mountains. There were lots lizards and giant toads as well!

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The lodge in the middle of the jungle

We spent a few days up there and went on some nice walks. One of them was up along a ridge that gave us some spectacular views of the valleys and mountains covered in jungle.

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Another walk we did was up a dry riverbed to a waterfall and cave. The walk was fun and we had to climb up a lot of rocks and mini cliffs. The waterfall was quite small when we reached it but still pretty nice. Once we climbed up to the cave a whole bunch of bats flew out, which gave me a massive fright! Another random thing we liked about this walk was the many ant colonies that we came across, all carrying leaves 10 times their size in long lines. It was really interesting to watch.

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Andrew of the jungle

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While at the lodge we cooled off a lot in a pseudo swimming pool that they had made by damming part of the river. It was really beautiful. And one day we even saw a toucan flying over us!

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We really enjoyed our little excursion into the jungle. Mamallena’s Eco Lodge was nice but we felt that they lacked a warm host that brought everyone together. There wasn’t really an amazing vibe at this place, and with this it would have been perfect. However, our time in Panama City was pretty good and we developed a taste for Panama’s Abuelo rum!

How much does it cost to travel in Panama City? Well here is a breakdown of our costs for 8 days:

Budget = US$653 (NZ$960)

Accommodation – US$255

Activities – US$58

Food/Drink – US$170

Travel (incl. Taxis) – US$160

Miscellaneous – US$20

Total spent – US$663 (NZ$982)

So, we only ended up being US$10 (NZ$15) over budget, not bad at all.  While you’re at it, check out my other posts on where to visit in Panama.

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