Five nights in Panama is simply not enough. The 9am departure of the close to 5-hour, non-stop flight from Washington Dulles to Tocumen International coincided with the beginning of the ceremony of the Inauguration of the 45th President of the United Sates. And, with the kick-off of my birthday celebrations. Perfect timing.
Upon landing, and quickly clearing customs, we requested our Uber and in less than ten minutes, were on our way to Hyatt Place in downtown Panama City. We’d decided to spend one night downtown, and the rest of our time at the beach. We learned on a recent trip to Puerto Rico, that for a nice, modern, moderately-priced, one night stay downtown, before or after a longer stay at the beach, you cannot go wrong with Hyatt Place.
Mercado de Mariscos
The traffic was bustling, the sun was out in full force, and the city seemed to be just waiting to show itself off to us. Our female Uber driver spoke perfect English (we requested Uber English!), and she was more than happy to give us an impromptu driving tour along the way.
After check-in and a change into summer clothes, we headed out. First stop, Mercado de Mariscos. This bustling open-air seafood market is a must-visit! The market consist of a bunch of little outdoor food vendors, with make-shift seating areas, and music piped through outdoor speakers. The wait staff run up to you, wielding menus, shouting out their specials of the day…complimentary ceviche with an entree, $1 national beer, for example. We settled on Las Perlas, at the end of the “strip”. A few local beers, ceviche appetizers, salad, tostanes, and a mixed grill of shrimp, fish and calamari loaded with butter and garlic, left us happy. And, so stuffed, that we had to get up and get moving.
It has been said that the only bigger attraction in Panama other than Casco Viejo is the Panama Canal. We were anxious to check this place out! This gem of a walled city was once a deteriorating part of town, but in 1997 UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site. This recognition got expats, and investors to take notice, making it one of the quickest revitalizations in the Americas. It now consists of a cultural mix of residents and visitors, along with restaurants, polite street vendors, historically preserved buildings, and buildings in various stages of renovation. The beautiful Presidential Palace is also here.
Dining and Nightlife
With amazing restaurants and bars at every turn, we had a difficult time making a choice. We made our way up the hill to Capital Bistro Panama (CBP), which is one of the many lovely rooftop restaurants in Casco Viejo. Over cocktails, we took in the views of the city, including the line of ships waiting to move through the Miraflores Locks. Watching the sun set over this cosmopolitan city was an event itself.
After CBP, we headed to another great rooftop spot. Tantalo. To enter, you walk through Tantalo Kitchen, which looks like a small modern art gallery. As you walk in the door, the good vibes hit you right away. Great music and a lively dining crowd, move you through to the elevator. The ride up takes us to the decked out, music-thumping rooftop. The views are breath-taking! It seems like there is art everywhere. The walls, the bottle coolers. Awesome! They serve dinner until about 9pm. We got there pretty early, and watched the partiers flow in and fill the place. After many delicious sangrias, and a round of appetizers, we called it a night.
While we could have stayed a few more hours, we had to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning for our trip to our next destination…Playa Bonita!
Travel Tips – Panama City, Panama
Getting There ~ Copa Airlines has some of the best direct flights from The U.S.
Getting Around ~ I suggest Uber for everything…airport transfers, hotel transfers and getting around the city. From Tocumen to downtown was about $28 USD. From Hyatt Place Panama City to Mercado de Mariscos, about $4 USD. Taxi prices were much higher.
Official Language ~ Spanish.
Currency ~ The official currency is the Balboa. 1 Balboa equals $1 USD. The USD is widely used. We asked around several times and could not find any paper Balboas.
Credit and Debit Cards ~ U.S. credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Panama.
Weather ~ While we were there last week (late January), the average high was 90 degrees F, and the average low was 76 degrees F. It was very sunny. I strongly recommend sunblock and a hat.