Panama City is an interesting place. I have a hate/love relationship with the city. The traffic is a nightmare and is by far the worse that I have seen in Central America and is comparable to what I experienced in Jakarta, Indonesia. Street lights are optional, if you are the type of driver that drives when the light turns green than you are risking getting into an accident. The rules of the road don’t apply, you just need to take it slow, and realize that all of the drivers around you are crazy. Once you realize that everyone is crazy and should not be on the road, then you will proceed with caution which will increase your odds of survival.
Or you can just use taxis to get around the city which a cheaper option and is stress free. The cost of taxis in this city is shockingly cheap. For less than $5 you can get around anywhere in the city. The trick is not to use the taxis that are offered by the hotels. Simply walk to the main street and flag a taxi down.
Panama City looks like a bad version of Miami, with skyscrapers that surround you and a city that is not designed for walking. It’s designed for cars but even the car traffic doesn’t flow, so maybe it’s not designed for anyone.
Another option is to use the Hop On and Hop off bus. You can get to the Panama Canal this way. I found the Panama Canal was a bit of a letdown. It’s a marvelous feat of engineering and ingenuity but unfortunately, it’s not very exciting sitting still and watching boats go by at turtle speed. It reminded me of watching paint dry. The museum that is at the Panama Canal center is a bit more interesting.
Fortunately, Panama City does have some redeeming qualities and those are Casco Viejo which is as close to Europe as you will get in Central America, and Parque Natural Metropolitano de Panamá which is a undisturbed national park in the heart of Panama City.
This National park is small and if you take your time it can easily be completed in 2 to 3 hours. There are 3 hikes in this park which amount to less than 6 kms (4 miles) of hiking.
The best part of this National Park are the stunning views that it offers of Panama City.
Once you have seen this National Park you should reward yourself with a visit to Casco Viejo. This is the only walking friendly section of Panama City, and is a historical district that was completed and settled in 1673. The government has allocated many resources to restoring this district to its former glory.
Not only is it walking friendly, it also has the best dining in the city. It’s an excellent place to visit in the late afternoon to then find a restaurant before heading back to your hotel.
I don’t recommend a long stay in Panama City. I feel like everything can be seen in a maximum of 2 or 3 days. While everyone goes to see the Panama Canal I do strongly feel that these two activities offer a much better use of time.
I plan on returning to Panama to visit the outlying Islands. Once I do I will report on this experience.