Wandering for a week in Panama City, Panama

While out for a girls’ night, my friend Maria started discussing her upcoming trip to Panama. Out of the blue I asked if my husband and I could come. Panama had not been on my travel wish list, but I did remember my husband and I watching a show on the Panama Canal and discussing that it might be cool to see it someday. She said yes, my husband said yes, the airline and hotel had room for us. We were going to Panama! Can you spend a week in Panama City? Yes, you can!

We stayed at the Marriott Executive Apartments Panama City, Calle Columbia & Calle Republican del Paraguay. The Marriott offers a friendly staff, large clean rooms (having a refrigerator is always a plus for multi day stays), a large outdoor pool with plenty of seating and sun throughout the day. There is also onsite parking here and Budget Rent A Car Panama is right across room hotel on Via Espana. Thanks to inexpensive Uber rides, we were able to see all that we wanted to see.

Day 1, Wednesday:
Arrived in Panama City about 4pm, sailed through customs and baggage claim and headed for a taxi. Negotiated a $10 a piece ride into Marriott about half hour drive. Easy check-in and grabbed our first $3 Uber to Casco Viejo to a bite to eat that turned into an evening out.

1st stop: Tantalo Kitchen and rooftop bar, Calle 8a Este con, Ave B – we enjoyed beautiful views of Panama City and some happy hour specials.

We walked around a bit and stop 2: A rooftop bar located at the Casa Eusebio A. Morales, on Calle 8a Este at end near Av. Eloy Alfaro. I have no idea the actual name of this place – there is a large lighted Corona sign on the roof deck but no menus, very little English spoken and bills are handwritten but… amazing for and views! If there’s no one in lobby, no worry – head up stairs, grab elevator to top and then head up the stairs to this lovely little hideaway. We enjoyed sharing an amazing dish of grilled octopus, potatoes and cherry tomatoes with pickled red onion over a thick sheer or mashed potatoes – one of my favorite bites of the trip.

3rd and final stop of the night: Lazotea, Av Eloy Alfaro y Calle 11 on the roof of the Hotel Casa Panama.

Day 2, Thursday: We decided to take the ferry from Flamenco Marina out on Amador Causeway over to Tobago Island. We did not make reservations because we were not going on the weekend and we were at the end of season – rainy season was just days away. We were able to get a ferry over at 9:30am but had to come back on the 2:30 ferry verses the 4pm ferry that had been fully reserved by the time we arrived. Tobaga Island is 8 miles from Panama City. The ride is about half an hour, there is both covered and outside seating, a bathroom and they sell drinks, including beer and chips onboard. And as we we would continue to experience the prices on the ferry were either the same as everywhere else or with a slight mark up – no $4 waters or $10 beers here like you’d experience in a similar situation in the US.

We spent a little time being tourists then headed to the beach. $2 local beer (Balboa became my beer of choice with Panama a close second) on the beach were a nice plus. We rented 4 chairs and an umbrella for the day for $20. Sitting on a beach with the ocean between you and Panama City is cool. The beach is not “gorgeous” but we enjoyed our time there and I did get to collect some beach glass.

We had lunch at Restaurant Playa Honda, Calle Francisco Pizarro and had probably one of our favorite fried fish of the trip – a lovely red snapper. Unfortunately we all forgot about island time and had to take the rest of our meal to go in fear of missing our ferry back!

After a dip in the pool, we headed to dinner nearby at Restaurant Tinajas, Calle 51, convenient (a short walk from hotel) and an opportunity to try many typical Panamanian dishes. They host a 9pm show of traditional dancing and costumes but we did not stay.

My crew loves pool so we headed in search of the Londoner Pub – beers here are pricey $5 drafts for national beer – however the pool is free so make sure to grab a table or challenge the winner and get some table time! Everyone here was friendly. We ended the night at La Gintoneria,Calle 49 y Columbia near our hotel at Hacienda Reale, this steak house looks good but we did not eat here. The waiter who looked about 12 did his best to educate us on gin and the crafting of the enormous variety of cocktails on the menu. The young lad was not thwarted despite the fact that we were more focused on taking turns swinging and I kept lamenting that I hated gin. We each chose a cocktail $9 each (craft cocktails in Boston these days can easily hit the $15 mark). Low and behold I liked this gin drink – we all loved our drinks and would send any of our friends here!

Day 3, Friday: Ocean to Ocean Tour, $135 per person with Jarin and Willy. Picked us up at hotel at 6am, provided lots of cold breakfast options and hot coffee for the drive over to boats that took us out to see 3 or 4 type of monkey, a crocodile, numerous birds and cayberra And sloth. I was thrilled – had secretly wanted to see a sloth but couldn’t image we’d actually see one. They move slowly but not as slowly as we had all anticipated.

We drove over the locks on our way to the Fort at San Lorenzo. In addition to exploring the fort and sharing a picnic lunch, we also got to see and hear howler monkeys and witness leaf cutter ants at work. Then on to the Agua Clara Visitor Center at the Canal.

We headed back to Casco Viejo for dinner starting with fish tacos and mushroom crostini at Mahalo on Ave A, then for the appetizer sampler that included 3 types of ceviche and a couple types of fried fish and seafood and also a platter of grilled octopus at Nazcar 21, Calle 8a Este 507, a Peruvian restaurant– octopus was good, over salted in my opinion and the ceviche was good but not the best we’ve had – favorite part of appetizer was the shrimp ceviche and fried fish stick, could have skipped the rest.

Then onto Danio’s Jazz Club in the American Trade Hotel, the most expensive night – it’s small, music was incredible – but at $18 (we were there on a Friday – looking at their site it might even have been $25 cover) and $8 drinks it was easy to blow over $50 bucks a piece in short order – well worth it though and as most of our evenings out were in the $20 to $25 range – this was a fun splurge. Idania Dowman

Day 4, Saturday:
Decided to bike Amador Causeway about $6 to Uber to Bicicletas Moses, a little before the Biomuseo –we rented bikes and biked out and back about 4 miles – bathrooms and shade along way – we were only crazies out at mid morning. Decided to skip the museum and head back to Casco Viejo.

Café Sucre CoffeeHouse Calle 8 and Ave B – right across from Tantalo – great coffee. Walked over to check out the Morning Market at Plaza de la Indepenzia. Then on to Finca Del Mar at Calle 2a Oeste– ceviche and beer at an outdoor covered bar with swings – an enjoyable way to whittle away the afternoon.

Next we were off to the Mercado del Mariscos (Seafood Market). More ceviche and another fried fish!

I rarely travel without visiting a supermarket and this trip was no exception, Supermercado Riba Smith Bella Vista, Calle 45 Este at Calle Venezuela was an easy walk from our hotel. Panamanian coffee and some coconut candies made it into my suitcase home. On the recommendation of our tour guide we grabbed an Uber to Taqueria Mordida de Burro, Calle Hercilia Lamela, Edificio Arnold 1A, El Cangrejo Belllavista they have a kitschy back room. You punch 6666 into the payphone on the back wall to gain entrance to their little speak easy. Tacos were not our favorites but the nachos and mixed drinks did not disappoint. And then back to the Londoner for some more pool.

Day 5, Sunday:
We spent an hour or so walking along Cinta Costera – a lovely land reclamation park along the ocean.

The rest of the day at the pool then off to Ocean Sun Casino, formerly the Trump Casino to enjoy sunset and 2 for 1 Coronaritas ( a baby Corona suspended upside down in a frozen margarita at their rooftop bar located on the 66th floor, Trump Tower, Calle Punta Colon, Punta Pacifica.

Then on to El Trapiche Calle 71, San Francisco for an amazingly delicious dinner of traditional Panamanian food.

Day 6, Monday:
After days of enjoying the Panamanian flag flying on Ancon Hill we decided to attempt the hike up. Our Uber driver dropped us off at a gate to an area with some private homes that looked like they may have been built as government housing during the days of US jurisdiction until its return to Panamanian control in 1977. In addition to the panoramic city and canal views you also have the opportunity to walk through a dry tropical forest. We saw multiple cayberra, sloth and even a few monkeys. Stop at the local home selling food and drink for a respite on the way up or down or both!

Back to Casco Viejo for another great coffee at Café Sucre then it was on to La Rana Dorada (the green frog). Calle 9 con Calle Boquete for happy hour. La Rana Dorada is a brewpub with a great vibe and delicious beer and before 6pm the drafts are half price.

Then to Pip, Calle 9a Este for a $5 Miller and ceviche happy hour special. An early evening after a visually entertaining dinner at Marzola Parrilla Argentina, Calle 8a Oeste.

Day 7, Tuesday:
I always love opportunities to learn more about the history of a place so we headed up to Panama Viejo,just a $7 Uber ride away and paid a $15 entrance fee to walk around the ruins of the original city founded in the early 1500’s and burned to the ground in the 1600’s after being attacked by pirate Henry Morgan.

Grabbed a delicious roasted chicken lunch down the street from our hotel at Rosticeria Don Gallo, Edificio La Exitosa, Calle 45 Este at Columbia St.

And yes, of course we headed back to Casco Viejo for our final day. Started at Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar, Calle Avenida A Casco Antiqua for a couple of rum drinks.

Then on to the rooftop bar at CasaCasco, 10 Calle Este, then over to Terrazzo del Soldado on Calle 5a.

Another stop at Finca del Mare and finally back to the unnamed rooftop bar at Casa Eusebio A. Morales for more octopus!

Next time we’d definitely go to San Blas Islands and visit some of the more beach resorts, but we loved this city and would gladly return!