I kept telling this to everyone I met in Panama: my image of the city is Michael Scofield figuring out how to escape the filthy prison cells or T-bag getting a hold of Charles Westmoreland’s millions which was passed from hand to hand in Mexico City; I see the jungle, borders where you can get killed, drugs and violence. Growing up watching Prison Break, that was what I was expecting as soon as I landed Tocumen International Airport.
As I drove towards the centre, I saw Dubai — tall buildings, commercialized, facing the ocean with beauty, bright lights. I was like “Am I really in Panama?” Or like my backpack, Copa Airways also put me in a wrong flight? Cab fares are over the top expensive (if you’re coming from the airport) and their currency is in US dollars.
I wasn’t in a hurry at all. Sooner or later, I will go back to this city and pave my way to Central America. However, I didn’t want to miss anything important. 24 hours is a long time most especially when you are worrying for a lost baggage. So here’s how to enjoy the city with the little time that you have:
1. HAVE SOME CEVICHE AT THE FISH MARKET
When travelling, I never really had the urge to visit landmarks, parks or monuments but I have always had a fetish for food. Street food. Ceviche is a popular dish in the Americas (Central, South) made from raw fish. It is marinated with lemon and spiced up with chilli. Normally, this is served as an appetizer.
2. CASCO VIEJO
I met up with John, a Couchsurfer from Minessota who lives in Panama and we decided to have dinner. He was staying at the same hostel as I am. What a coincidence! It was a Monday night so the city was a bit dead but there was one place that wasn’t — Casco Viejo, a historic district of Panama which looks a lot like Intramuros. It’s supposed to be an old town with narrow streets and antique buildings, however, they are already developing it to be commercialized. Here, you can find restaurants, hotels and even bars to dance the night away. This area is a bit posh so you might find food and accommodation a bit expensive than the usual.
3. EAT ON THE STREETS!
By street food, I don’t mean like Bangkok or Ho Chih Minh type of finger food. John took me to this street market where you can eat a full meal for a very cheap price! Food carts with huge fried chicken, rice and beans are parading just outside of Casco Viejo. There’s also a park in front where you can eat and just watch the city lights facing the ocean. Believe it or not, I had nilaga (that’s what we call it in the Philippines), soup with chicken and papaya. In Panama, they only call it sopa con pollo. I was also able to try some Yuca which we call camote back home.
4. PANAMA CANAL
It was a long way from my hostel to the canal but it was worth it. I took two busses with different routes just by following the hostel owner’s instructions and I made it! I can’t believe how travel made me sharper these days. Anyway, I wasn’t expecting much from the canal since it’s currently under construction. Apparently, the expansion project is happening at the moment (which leads a lot of Spanish men in the city. Gosh, my friends will love Panama!) A new lane will be added to the canal to double its capacity and allow more ships to transit. It is highly recommended to take transit in the canal (cruise) as I’ve heard from many people that it’s really awesome! I will do all this when I come back!
5. CINTA COSTERA
After eating at Casco Viejo, pave your way to Cinta Costera where you can have a full view of the city and the sea. Here, you will meet a lot of locals, bikers, runners and you can even join them yourself! There are free exercise equipments along the seawall such as weights. This is the best place for a 30-min run!
There is also a hop on/hop off bus that goes around the city for $29 – $35.
In 24 hours, I learned/realized/discovered…
.. that my image of Panama City is not what I’ve seen in the Prison Break series. I mean they’re taping on a different location for sure (outside the city) but the thing is, when you believe/see something on TV, it makes you relate it to everything that goes with it. That is, because, I am very visual.
In addition to the 24 hours, I had the worst flight with Copa Airways. Baggage lost, awful food and definitely not a very good service. This is another story.
Today, I am in Barranquilla, Colombia and will spend the rest of the holidays here!