108 hotels in this place
Panama is a country in Central America with coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, with Colombia (and South America) to the southeast and Costa Rica (and North America) to the northwest. It's strategically located on the isthmus that forms the land bridge connecting North and South America. It controls the Panama Canal that links the North Atlantic Ocean via Caribbean Sea with North Pacific Ocean, one of the most important shipping routes in the world.
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Points of Interest in Panama City
- The Panama Canal - together with Suez one of the world's most important interoceanic canals and probably the first thing that comes to your mind when thinking about Panama.
Moreover, there are some UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country:
- Casco Viejo, or the Old Town of Panama City
- Three national parks: Darien National Park, Coiba National Marine Park and La Amistad International Park (shared with Costa Rica).
- The fortifications of Portobelo and San Lorenzo.
About Panama City
With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure (the Panama Canal Zone). The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914.
On 7 September 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of 1999. Certain portions of the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal were turned over in the intervening years. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were turned over to Panama by or on 31 December 1999.
Less than 9 degrees north of the equator, most of Panama enjoys temperatures that are fairly consistent year round, with daytime temperatures in the 90s (30 - 33 °C) and nighttime around 70 (21 - 23 °C). Tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season, called winter or invierno (May to November); short dry season, called summer or verano (December to April). The most popular time to travel to Panama is December through March, when lack of humidity and nearly zero percent chance of rain make it ideal for travelers.
During most of the rainy season, mornings and early afternoons are usually sunny while late afternoons and evenings have intermittent rainfall.
Most areas are quite warm, but a few places, such as Boquete, Cerro Punta and El Valle can get a little chilly at night. You definitely want a heavy rain-proof jacket if you're going to the top of Barú since you will be above 3000m for a little while.
Natural hazards: Occasional severe storms and forest fires in the remote Darien area. Hurricane-strong winds are only a very small possibility in Panama. Because of its geographic position, it is very unlikely that Panama could be in the path of any hurricane, unlike the other Central American countries.
Panama´s strongest attraction is its diversity. In less than five days you can visit it all: beach, mountain, modern city and historic ruins. While in Panama city don´t miss the four "must do": the Panama Canal, Panama Viejo, Casco Antiguo (also known as Casco Viejo) and the jungles surrounding the Canal area.
Panama Viejo was the first city of Panama, founded by the Spanish back in 1519. It was the first city founded at the Pacific and it became rapidly a prosperous point where gold from the southern colonies would make it to the Caribbean and later on to Europe. It was attacked by pirates several times, the last of them by Pirate Henry Morgan who destroyed it forever in 1671. In 1673, a new city was built, but this time using the knowledge painfully acquired by experience. The Spanish by then knew well the risks of settling cities in tropical swamps: mosquitoes, tropical diseases and difficulty to defend its territory. The second city was founded at the opposite side of the bay in very different conditions: a rocky peninsula easy to defend and with crossed winds that would ensure the health of its inhabitants. This city is known today as Casco Antiguo, and it is here where the Republic of Panama was born as it is known today.
Currently a UNESCO protected site, Casco Antiguo (or Casco Viejo) is Panama City´s second touristic destination and the reason is that its buildings reflect the diversity of Panamanian society. Although a Spanish colonial city, because of several fires and the influence of merchants from all around the world, it became a vibrant city with styles ranging from Caribbean to French and even Art Deco. Today, Casco Antiguo undergoes an interesting revitalization process. Boutique hotels have started to appear, and some of the best bars and restaurants of the city can be found here. It has also become Panama City´s artistic center with the recurrent art events and shows such as the Panama Jazz Festival, the Music Festival, Sobresaltos Dance Festival and many others.
Parque Soberania, Parque Chagres and Parque Metropolitano: fifteen minutes away from modern Panama City, you´ll be able to hike primary and secondary tropical rainforests. There are several activities you can do here, from birdwatching at Gamboa´s Pipeline Road to fishing at the Gatun Lake or visits of the caves at Madden. For those interested in research, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute offers visitors educational tours to Barro Colorado Island, one of the most studied jungles in the world.
A visit to the Panama Canal is probably the most important item in the traveler´s list. There are several ways you can experience the canal, it will depend on your level of interest. For the curious visitor, there are two museums devoted to it: the Canal Museum at Casco Antiguo, featuring Panama´s history as a crossroads of cultures, oceans and a bridge between continents and a second museum is located at the Miraflores Locks. This museum shows the technical aspects of the Canal. You can observe the transits at the balcony of the restaurant on the top.
Another way to experience the Canal is to cross it. Either partial crossing which takes four hours or complete crossing which might be done in eight, in both cases it is recommendable to hire a guide that is knowledgeable in history of the Panama Canal.
An interesting twist on viewing the Panama Canal is to travel the length by train. The Panama Railroad was first built in 1855 and then rebuilt in 1909 during construction of the Panama Canal. For many years the railway provided an invaluable link between the Atlantic and Pacific. Ocean to Ocean by railway, the trip will take one day and transits through the tropical jungle.
Although the Panama Canal is the most famous destination in Panama, travel outside the City is growing in popularity. Adventure travelers can take a bus or short flight, and in just a few days, can see both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
- Hiking: There are many hiking trails in Panama through the numerous National Parks. Most are accessible and easy enough to traverse with out a guide. However, due to the density of some of the rainforests, staying on the designated trail is recommended, if you don’t have a guide. To increase your chance of actually seeing wildlife, birds, or Quetzal’s in Boquete, you can hire a guide. In the Darien unguided travel can be dangerous. Because Panama is one of the top adventure destinations, there are many reputable tour companies offering guided treks throughout the country.
- Quetzal Trail: Within the National Park, Boquete, is perhaps the most famous hiking trail in all of Panama. Visitors come from all over the world to have an opportunity to see the Resplendent Quetzal. Although the trail is easy enough to hike by yourself, unless you are an experienced birder, you might not spot a Quetzal. It is wise to hire a guide.
- Zip-line canopy: There is nothing more exciting than flying over the canopy on a zip-line. You can find zip line canopy adventures in Panama City, Cocle, Bocas del Toro, and Boquete.
- Horseback riding: Horses are a way of life in Panama. It is not unusual to look out the window of your casita, and have a horse looking back. Horseback riding in Panama is mostly Western horses and Western saddles. Privately owned horses can vary from Quarter Horse to a mix of Columbian or Peruvian Paso. By breeding the two, you get a larger horse, than the traditional Paso Fino, with the smooth and lovely gait of the Paso. There are two great areas for riding: on the beaches of Bocas del Toro near Dolphin Bay' and in mountains of Boquete.
- Scuba diving and Snorkeling: Both the Atlantic (Bocas del Toro) and Pacific (Gulf of Chiriqui) offer incredible water sport opportunities. For Caribbean coral and reef fish, go Atlantic. For rare pelagic species and the best whale watching in the world, go Pacific.
- Fishing: The Gulf of Chiriqui is known among sport fishermen to be one of the best spots in Central America. Saltwater Sportsman Magazine recently named Panama as the best place on earth to catch the Black Marlin. On the other side of the country, near the border with Colombia on the Pacific side, you can also find Piñas Bay and the Zane Gray Reef, which is renown worldwide as one of the best fishing spots in the worlds (and in Piñas Bay, you will also find the Tropic Star Lodge).
- Coffee tasting: Boquete, Panama has now become synonymous with some of the best coffee in the world. It has always been a coffee producing region. You can visit a coffee estate for a tasting and explanation of the coffee process. For a single estate visit Ruiz or take a tour of multiple estates, like a wine tour, with Boquete Safari Tours.
- Boating: Panama touches both oceans and is only 50 miles wide at its narrowest point, so there's plenty of opportunities for boating. From David, a 5 minute cab ride will get you to the port of Pedregal and into the sparkling Gulf of Chiriqui. In Panama City, you will find many options for taking a boat, including Flamenco Resort and Marina, Balboa Yacht Club, Diablo Spinning Club, the Club de Yates y Pesca, and the Miramar Marina. There are also some other marinas in the lakes of the Panama Canal, as well as some near the city of Colon in the Atlantic side
- White water rafting: World Class white water rafting can be found on the Chagres River, 1 to 2 hours from Panama City; in the Chiriqui Province, on the Rio Chiriqui Viejo; and the Rio Grande, Cocle Province. There is usually enough water to paddle year around. However, the highest water level is in November, at the end of the rainy season, and the lowest water level is in May, at the end of the dry season. Class I to Class V rapids can be found in Panama. The classes are based upon Panamanian classifications. During the rainy season, the Panama class III’s are easily comparable to U.S. class IVs.
- Kayaking: Ocean and river kayaking can be found in the Chiriqui Province. Boquete has many outfitters as the rivers are perfect for rafting and kayaking. And the Gulf of Chiriqui is protected by many islands, making the calm waters perfect for kayaking; white powdery beaches filled with wildlife.
- Rock climbing: The best rock climbing is in the Chiriqui Province, in the highlands of Boquete. The Basaltic Rock was formed after the last volcano eruption. Cesar Melendez has developed over 30 routes, from beginner to advanced. He is also pioneering 'bouldering', climbing rocks while suspended over the river.
- Birding: There are over 960 species of birds in Panama. Many are only found in this region. The Panama Audubon Society is a good source of information on the bird population by region.
- Hot springs: Even though the Volcano has been dormant for over 600 years, there are still thermal springs bubbling up around it. The Chiriqui Province has several areas with active springs. In Volcan, on the northern side of the Volcan Baru, about 30 minutes from town, there are several springs; however, due to the mineral content, there is a slight sulfur smell. In the Boquete region there are several hot springs to choose from. A local land owner in Caldera has started to develop his bubbling spring (no sulfur smell), and hopes to make it more like a 'spa'. However, it is not that easy to access yet; 4 wheel drive is required.
In the larger cities you can find all types of food ranging from the French haute cuisine to the freshest sushi. There are Arabic restaurants, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican... whatever you're in the mood for.
Outside of the cities, the selection is largely Panamánian with bountiful seafood and beef due to the abundance of cattle farms and the fantastic fishing in the area. Panamanian cuisine is a mix of several cultures. Reminiscent of the country's Afro-Caribbean, French and Spanish influences, the dishes take on a complete character of their own. If you get tired of eating beans or gallo pinto in the rest of Central America, you might want to head towards Panama. Since Panama has a little more Caribbean influence than other Central American countries, you'll see a lot more plaintain than beans here. Most dishes are served with coconut rice and a type of squash or other native vegetable. If Panamanian food has to be summed up in one word, that word would be culantro, which is a local plant that tastes like cilantro, except that it has a much stronger flavor.
A typical plate in a humble, family restaurant can range from $1.25 up to 5.00, including your choice of meat: mondongo (beef stomach), fried or baked chicken, pork, beef and sometimes fried fish; rice, beans, salad: cabbage, carrot & mayonnaise; beet salad; green salad; potato or macaroni salad; and patacones (fried green plantains). The Panamanians also enjoy their "chichas" (fruit, water & sugar), of which there is always a selection, ranging from tamarindo, maracuya (passionfruit), mango, papaya, jugo de caña (sugar cane juice), or agua de pipa (juice from young green coconuts). If you like your food picante, Panama may not be the place for you. They definitely have several hot sauces, but the emphasis is not on the heat.
You can get excellent food really cheap if you look around. A quick and cheap lunch can be found at the so-called Fondas, which are small eateries located near schools, sports stadiums and in industrial areas where workers and students will have their afternoon meal. There are often several of these Fondas clustered together so just look for the one with the longest line and you can count on it having the best food for the money. A full plate of rice and beans with a large piece of chicken and a small salad will cost around $2-$2.50 plus the cost of a Coke (Squirt is very popular with lunch). If you chose to eat your food at the Fonda you will be given a real plate and actual silverware as well as a glass bottle of soda with a straw (be sure to return the empty bottle). The local food is far more tasty than the typical Subway sandwich, Whooper or KFC meal and a lot cheaper. If you eat at the same location often enough you will move from the status of a crazy gringo who must have gotten lost on the way to the Burger King to just another one of the locals enjoying lunch and casual conversation (in an industrial area the patrons will be mostly men and the subject of conversation mostly football and women).
The equivalent of a 5-star meal with drinks can be US$8-30 in some places.
National beers are produced (Balboa, Atlas, Soberana, Panamá), but don't measure up to a good import. Balboa is probably the best of the domestic brands, however, Atlas is the most commonly purchased; many women favor Soberana. Beer can cost as low as .30/cents per 12 oz. can in a supermarket or anywhere from $ .50 in a local town bar up to $2.50 in upscale bars.
Carta Vieja and Ron Abuelo  are the main domestically produced rum. Seco , a very raw white rum, is the national liquor. Seco con leche (with milk) is a common drink in the countryside.
Music is definitely one of the highlights of Panama. Salsa music seems to permeate everything in the Latin parts of the country. Reggaeton originated in Panama and is also very popular and is known by the name Plena. There are over 100 radio stations in Panama broadcasting online, some in English . In Bocas del Toro, you will hear a lot of Reggae with Spanish lyrics. Check out the summer music festival in Las Tablas.
How the Panamanians love their "fiestas"! They know how to let loose and have a genuinely good time, dancing, conversing and drinking.
Carnaval is the main celebration in the country. It is held 40 days before the Christian Holy Week, running through the weekend and ending on Ash Wednesday (February 21-24 in 2009). The largest celebration being held in the province of Azuero, in the town of Las Tablas, where two streets compete with separate queens, activities, parades and musical performances.
The party begins on Friday with a presentation, parade and crowning of the queens, a fireworks show; with drinking in the streets legal, the party begins and doesn't stop until 5AM.
Every carnival day has a theme: Friday is the Opening, Saturday is International Day, Sunday is Pollera day, Monday is costume day, Tuesday is the Queens day and on Wednesday is the "entierro de la sardina"(the sardine burial) before 5AM.
Many discos and bars fill the Capital City. The area known as "Calle Uruguay" has probably a dozen or so nice discos and bars within a 2 block radius, and is the best place for partying.
Calle Uruguay bar area is a very trendy scene. You will find here many restaurants such as La Posta, Peperoncini, Habibis, Tomate y Amor, Madame Chang, Burgues or Lima Limon, which make up a great pre-party event. After diner you can cross over to Prive, Pure, Loft, Guru or People for a more fashionable club scene. If you want a more relax bar, Sahara or The Londoner both offer retro music and pool tables.
Another great spot for "bar hopping" is Zona Viva in the Amador Causeway. Zona Viva is a closed off area so it is very easy for you to find everything in one place. You will find here clubs such as Jet Set Club, the Building, the Chill Out Zone, X Space, etc.
Casco Viejo is a more cultural zone of Panama. Art galleries in the area coordinate Art Block parties once a month and there are always exhibits. The National Theater offers ballets, opera, and concerts weekly. Restaurants in this area are highly recommended. After dinner you can cross over to Relic, La Casona, Mojitos sin Mojitos, Platea, Havana Cafe or Republica Havana.
Panama is home to the hemisphere's largest free trade zone, the Colon Free Zone . There are also a number of large, American-style malls, such as Multicentro , Albrook Mall , Multiplaza Pacific , and the latest Metromall. However, prices vary widely from mall to mall - Albrook is quite cheap, while Multiplaza is home to designer boutiques and very high prices. Generally Panama is a good place to buy consumer electronics, clothing and cosmetics.
Traditional Panamanian crafts can be found most cheaply at artesania markets, such as the YMCA in Balboa and the market in Panama Viejo. In Panama City, the best handicrafts can be found at REPROSA. Panama's best-known craft is the mola, intricate reverse-applique handwork made by the Kuna. Molas can also be bought from vendors on the seawall in Casco Viejo. Other Panamanian crafts include carved tagua nuts, cocobolo carvings of animals, and woven palm-fiber baskets. There is a smaller craft market in El Valle, which specializes in soapstone carvings and other central Panamanian crafts.
- REPROSA Treasures of Panama. Since 1975 REPROSA has been dedicated to the promotion of Panama's history, cultural traditions, ecological beauty and ethnic diversity. All their handicrafts are hand-made in Panama by Panamanian artisans, and there is something for every budget. REPROSA has three locations: Costa del Este Industrial Park (271-0033), Ave. A in Casco Viejo (228-4913), and Ave. Samuel Lewis in Obarrio (269-0457). REPROSA also offers a tour of their award-winning workshop where visitors can see first-hand how the Treasures of Panama are made. Their factory is in the Costa del Este Industrial Park just minutes from Panama Viejo. Tour $10 per person, Monday thru Friday at 9:30AM and 2PM.
- Country Store & Café, 583, Cl Tomás Guardia, Altos de Balboa, Ancon (Near the Canal Administration Building), ☎ (507) 232-7204. 8:00 a.m. 6:30 p.m.. Offers fresh organic food in a natural setting where it's easy to enjoy the local wildlife. The store has produce as well as artisan crafts. $12.
Panama has used the US dollar as its only currency since 1904 although Panamanians often refer to it as balboa. If you're from the US, the only oddity about Panama will be change. Panama mints its own coins in the same weights and sizes as US coinage, but with Panamanian stampings. Because a legal treaty (1904) between US and Panama the Panamanian coinage is completely interchangeable with standard US coinage in Panama. You may get a handful of change back with a conquistador on the quarter and an Indian on one of your pennies, but Lincoln on the other penny and Roosevelt on the dime. Panama also still mints half dollars. You may hear these half dollars called pesos, so don't think you've accidentally ended up in Mexico.
Panama's coins are made by the US Mint. Incidentally, if you run short on change in the United States, Panamanian coins work in parking meters, payphones, vending machines, etc.
You can typically use a credit card at all hotels in the capital, as well as medium-sized regional cities (David, Las Tablas, Colon, Santiago, Bocas del Toro, etc.). Restaurants, grocery stores, and department stores in major cities will also usually take credit, or even debit cards. However, outside the capital using your card could be difficult.
Though Panamanian ATMs function on the Cirrus/Plus system, they may not take cards with the Interlink symbol. Make sure you're carrying a lot of cash (especially small bills) and understand how to take cash advances out on your credit card. Traveller's checks are not widely used.
Many businesses do not accept US$50 or US$100 bills at all. Most of those that do will ask for your passport and store your data/serial numbers of your notes in a special book. The reason is that many US$50 and US$100 bills have been counterfeited.
There are 91 banks in Panama . Opening hours vary widely from bank to bank. On weekdays, all banks are open until at least 3PM, and some until 7PM On Saturdays many banks are open until noon, and some branches located in shopping centers are also open on Sundays. Note that most banks will not allow you to enter wearing shorts and/or flip-flops.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Panama on Wikivoyage.