After a disappointing trip to the deserted beach town of Santa Clara, we headed to Panama City. At first we were very unsure of our decision ….would almost 2 weeks in Panama City be too much time? We were droped off at the busy bus station and greeted by the warm city air. Panama City is divided into the old city and the new city. We chose to stay at the popular backpacker hostel known as Lunas Castle. Lunas Castle is located in the Casco Viejo or Casco Antiguo district of Panama City. Casco Antiguo displays a mix of architectural styles, which in turn reflect the cultural diversity of the country: Caribbean, Republican, art deco, French, and colonial architecture mix in a site comprising around 800 buildings. Most of Panama City’s main monuments are located in Casco Antiguo, including the National Theater, Las Bóvedas, and Plaza de Francia. Casco Viejo used to be an area regarded as dangerous but it is going through a positve change. Much of the city is being re-done and transformed. The streets are also protected by the Turism Police and the Military which makes us feel more comfrotable.
The city is very muggy and hot mid day so it is best to explore early. Our first day we decided to do a walking tour around Casco Viejo. We didnt have an exact route, just wondered around. Our hostel provided us with a map and informed us of the “red zones” or the danger zones. As we wondered around we explored the old buildings and ruins. We also walked through the markets and the French quarter. After working up a sweat and a thirst we headed to the Coca Cola Café. It claims to be the oldest café in Panama, opening up its doors in 1875 and a World Heritage Site. It is also the only café in the world to be named “Coca Cola,” a namesake endorsed by the Coca-Cola corporation. This no-frills establishment is known for cheap panamian food. We both opted for the fried fish with fries which cost $5 a plate.
The following morning we awoke to the hot panama sun and needed an escape. We came across The Panama Canal Musuem and decided to give it a try. For a $2 entry fee we entered and greeted by a cool blast of A/C. Although everything was in Spanish, we were able to figure out what most of the things said (or at least we thought so). We learned that infact most of the canal was constructed by the French and then later finished by the Americans.
After craving something other than rice and beans, we headed to Las Bóvedas. This utterly unique French restaurant is set in the vaults of a 300-year-old fort that housed political prisoners for most of the 19th century. The whole experience was very enjoyable from the setting to our fantastic tunasteaks.
To feed our constant desire for fresh seafood we explored the local fish market. We were able to smell the market before we could see it. Once inside the building we were greeted by rows of vendors selling all types of fish. There were also famous ceviche stands dishing out the popular snack for around $2 a cup. So far Panama City has been very enjoyable for us and we look forward to the following days where we hope to explore the Panama Canal.