Bright Lights, Big City

Panama City meant one thing to us:  the Canal.  Transiting it was our major goal for this year, so I did not give the city itself much thought.    We ended up staying there much longer than we anticipated (see rock post) and decided to embrace the opportunity to explore this historic city.

So cue the skyline, public transportation and museums because we were back in a real honest to goodness big city!   And just like every metropolitan area you get the good with the bad, so we dusted off those NYC street smarts, threw our Panama hats in the air and enjoyed every second of city living.

Frank Gehry-designed Biodiversity Museum adds a pop of color to the skyline of Panama City

 

Open just two months, Panama's new Metro was terrific way to get around town.

Open just two months, Panama’s new Metro was a terrific way to get around town.

Metro, 35¢ a ride, what a bargain.

Metro, 35¢ a ride, what a bargain.

 

Lights of Panama City

Lights of Panama City

The city wears many hats, part Miami with its nightlife and high rises dotting the shoreline, part Old San Juan with its charming historic districts, part ghost town of abandoned American housing in the old Canal zone

Old "Canal Zone" housing now stands empty.

Old “Canal Zone” housing now stands empty.

and part bustling port city that, of course, centers around their main cash cow, the Canal.  Oh and lest I forget malls.

Wall to wall malls

Wall to wall malls

Shopping seems a national sport here.  Panama City hosts 4 ENORMOUS malls both high and low end.

Casa del Whopper

Casa del Whopper

I’m not a shopper, but did enjoy the air conditioning and cheap swimsuits, otherwise they just seemed like a labyrinth of the usual suspects, ubiquitous food courts and multiplex cinemas.  But the main transit center is at one of the malls, so you always had to pass through on your way to everything else.

My friend Robin & I mastered the buses!

My friend Robin & I mastered the buses!

Casco Viejo (Old Quarter)  is the historic district of Panama City.  It was established circa 1673 by the Spanish colonialists.  Majestic homes, cathedrals, government buildings all went neglected around the 1950s – when we all should have invested in the area.  Because now there is a renovation boom.  It is fascinating to see the renaissance in action.   Street by street it changes before your eyes, turn to the left you see a private residence being lovingly restored, to the right are the shells of buildings ripe for repair, look behind you see a rather dodgy area with squatters occupying buildings in ruins and straight ahead are impeccably restored buildings which house restaurants, shops, hotels, embassies, etc.    It has a similar look to the French Quarter in New Orleans without the drunken revelers. (Click on the photos in the gallery to enlarge and read descriptions)

Older you say, you want to see older than 1673.  Alright, Panama Viejo is for you.  This was the original Panama City founded in 1519 before it was shifted to Casco Viejo.  Now they are just ruins which are incorporated into a museum and park.

old and new panama city

old and new panama city

ruins of Panama Viejo

Ruins of Panama Viejo

Panama Viejo juxtaposed to the City today

Panama Viejo juxtaposed to the city today

And of course we ate and drank and watched more soccer during the World Cup than we had in our entire lives.

We hiked off all that food and booze in rain forests and parks throughout the city.

This is a good example of the 18' tides they have on the Pacific side of Panama.

This is a good example of the 18′ tides they have on the Pacific side of Panama.  This will all be underwater at high tide.

Hanging birdsnest in Parque Natural Metropolitano, rainforest inside the city

Hanging birdsnest in Parque Natural Metropolitano, rainforest inside the city

Mango trees are messy

Mango trees are messy

Giant ants love mangos

Giant ants love mangos

View of the city from the top of Parque Natural Metropolitano

View of the city from the top of Parque Natural Metropolitano

And of course we went to the Panama Canal Museum and Miraflores locks to get an education on what was in store for us!!!!

Panama Canal, here we  come!!!!

Panama Canal, here we come!!!!

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8 thoughts on “Bright Lights, Big City

  1. Pingback: Sittin’ by the Dock of the Bay… | Sailing on Neko

  2. Haven’t thought of going to Panama but your photos and comments are enticing. I look forward to your blogs and photos.

  3. Panama hat….heh, I finally get it! Sounds like a tremendous adventure. The skyline looks like a cross between Miamia and NYC. Keep the stories coming! (Ken P)

  4. Mary, this was a nice post. It was easier to just share it with people than try to explain what I’ve done here. If you substituted “engine” for “rock” the experiences would be very similar. Chad Roberts

  5. Mary, Once again you were informative without being dull and  your pictures were wonderful.  I only noticed one pic of Lucy, was she confined to boat during all your wonderings?  I haven’t been on for a couple of weeks so I imagine you are safely through the canal by now and will look forward to your next update. Keep smiling – it suits you  Hugs, Jan Nike

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