I remember reading about the Panama Canal as a child in India. I was far from being the engineer I am today, yet I marveled at the engineering it was. I never thought I would visit the Canal one day, but I hoped I could. This was before the travel bug bit me. Panama Canal got hidden in the pages of my book and in the corners of my memory. In February 2015, my husband and I decided to visit Panama City, Panama. We were looking for a wallet friendly vacation outside of America, and Panama City won the lottery. The weather is beautiful, the food we assumed would be some version of Latin food, being in the city allowed for us to be on our own without tours and guides and bonus offer, they own the Panama Canal. We were on our way to Panama City in February 2015.
When you go budget vacationing, you have scope to see several airports before reaching the destination. We went from San Francisco→ LA→ Miami → Panama. We took a red eye one way which was hands down the best decision ever, but when we were returning back our flight was at 7 in the morning from Panama. We had endless hours in all the above airports before we finally reached home. Like I always say, as long as I don’t open my house I am on vacation so airports were vacation too.
We arrived in Panama City and were welcomed by the warm humid air. We got into our cab and were on our way to our hotel, Le Meridien on Avenida Balboa. Avenida Balboa is a landmark street in Panama with scenic views of the tall buildings of the city against the water. The avenue had areas where there were pull up bars, areas for dancing, chairs to relax and lots of space to walk around. I am not sure how long the avenue was but we walked the stretch from our hotel to the Fish Market on most nights for dinner. The avenue came alive at night when we saw several joggers, people walking their dogs, hunky dory men doing pulls up, push ups and to be fair to the men hot girls running, dancing and just chilling. There was eye candy for everyone.
At the end of Avenida Balboa lay the beautiful Old City of Panama or Casco Viejo with palaces, museums, and restaurants. The architecture was very Spanish. There were police on around the Old City to warn tourists if they were treading on any of the dangerous areas. We walked around the Old City and had our lunch at one of the restaurants there. Several of the architectural buildings were closed for renovation so we took pictures from outside. As we walked to our hotel from the Old City we saw the infamous Fish Market. The Fish Market sells fish in front and has restaurants that sell fresh fish dishes at the back. The local flock to the market at night, and on Saturdays there is even live music.
Our hotel recommended we do the hop on hop off bus tour to get around the city. For $24 per person, you can go anywhere the bus goes for 24 hours. We began by going to the Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal. We were just in time to see the Panama Canal in all her glory as a ship came in with cargo. The Canal was huge, and I was amazed it was manmade. The Canal just celebrated its 100th birthday. It used gravity from water to function, which was pretty impressive. What’s even more impressive is it lies on the Gatun Lake which is man made. We got to the Canal at around 11 and were able to catch the last morning ship arriving the Canal. We were told the next one wasn’t until 1:30pm. We took our air-conditioned chariot a la hop on hop off tourist bus to Panama Viejo or the ruins for us non-Spanish speaking folks. Panama Viejo was the capital of old Panama and today hosts the ruins of the old city. While there are ruins of old city, the best part of the ruins includes the Panama Viejo Cathedral. The Cathedral had three floors with old stairs. We hiked to the top of the Panama Viejo and got panoramic pictures of the Panama Viejo as well as the city. We hopped back on our red hop on hop off chariot and began our almost two hour journey back to our hotel. We were famished having not eaten the whole day. We were ready for some much needed food.
We still had few hours on our 24-hour chariot ride so we took the bus to visit the Amador Causeway. The Amador Causeway is a long walkway surrounded by water on both sides. The Causeway connects three islands to the mainland. We could even spot some ships that were headed towards the Panama Canal. The Causeway has coconut and palm trees on either sides, and the locals normally head to the Causeway to hang out in the fresh air. We ate at one of the small cabana looking restaurants, which was one of the best Panamese food I tasted in Panama. We walked the entire causeway taking several pictures of the Bridge of Americas. The Bridge of Americas is a non-hanging bridge that stands in the background as you walk the Causeway. We took pictures of the bridge from a distance, but did not actually drive on the bridge. We were told we couldn’t walk the bridge.
We ended our Panamese holiday by hiking Ancon Hill. Ancon Hill is a hidden gem in Panama but can be spotted from anywhere in Panama. We were contemplating not hiking considering we were walking several miles each day but the flag on the hill keep seducing us until we caved in for our rendezvous. We took a cab to the bottom of the hill and began our hike to the most panoramic spot in Panama. The hike is supposedly moderate to hard but we found it easy. It definitely helped that the sky was overcast making it an easy breezy hike. We reached top of Ancon Hill. Although it was overcast, we could see all the way to the Panama Canal. It was beautiful and one of my favorite spots in Panama.
Panama did not sweep me off my feet like some of the other places, but the skyline was spectacular. The food especially at the Fish Market was amazing. They serve green bananas with everything, which to a banana fanatic was pure heaven. Ancon Hill was a rendezvous I am not going to forget.