Country of Panama
A Visitor`s Perspective

Panama, a country very rich in scenery, culture & peoples. Not third world by any standard.

Panama City

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Panama City, Panama

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Panama, just a great country to visit or perhaps even retire to. Our (Kathy & John) three month visit took place in the December thru February 2006 time frame. This is the Panamanian summer (dry period with summer break for school) and rainfall is limited but there is plenty of sunshine and very warm temperatures. Most North Americans may find the temperature rather warm (+30c or +90F), but if you can schedule inside activities during the hours between 11 am and 4pm the climate could be considered as perfect (night or day).

Panama City has many great attractions and the site will allow you to look before you go, or even make that choice that it is not for you. However if you decide to visit, you should have done some homework and prepare yourself. If you are like me (with very limited Spanish capabilities) it may be best to arrange with others to meet you. Try here for a site that allowed me to pre-arrange service from the airport and review accommodation requirements. If you are going for more than a week then arrange for cell-phone usage. Also review and select your accommodations (note later comments on this subject). Personally Panama City provided more than I expected, people were friendly and accommodating. I at that time found it safe enough to walk around, even at night. Although the roads were not up to North American standards at all times, they were passable enough to allow one to travel to many of the nearby attractions. One of Panama City`s first scenes will be your introduction to the "Red Devil`s" or bus systems. While very colorfull and cheap most will use the taxi system. Most locations within the city may be reached for less than $5, and that could be up to 10-15 miles. You will soon learn that taking a taxi to the grocery store for a dollar is well worth it. Talking about Grocery Stores in Panama City ( Reba Smith for true North Americans, but Super 99, Rey or others usually provide most products that you have at home).
John`s Comment Boy, very they noisy, but so colorful. At most times, you could hear them coming several hundreds of feet away so it gave you the time to stop when walking, and view the "Red Devil`s" as they passed by.

Now that you know how to get around visit some of the sites. Visit some of the great shopping malls. Our favorite was Allbrook Mall with over 150 stores and very similar to North American Malls but larger.
John`s Comment Actually the shopping malls were the biggest surprise of our winter trip. They compared quite favorably to most malls in the US or Canada. This was something not expected!

Visit the ancient city ruins and purchase some Native handycrafts. Prices are reasonable and the products are usually quite native to the country.
John`s Comment Not that large of an area but after all it is centuries old. Buildings are showing their age and restoration is ongoing to maintain their stability. Impressed by the quality of merchandise in the adjoining tourist shop, so much so, that one of the purchases is still part of our home.

Downtown Panama or By-the-Ocean Panama has many great sites and most individuals would consider themselves to be in a major North American city. There are restaurants, shopping, & medical facilities that compare to the best of our cities.
John`s Comment Walk along Balboa Avenue provided views of ships awaiting transit thru the Panama Canal system as well as modern condominiums, hotels and the Balboa statue area. The odor of raw sewage in a small river emptying into the Pacific did bring back the fact that all is not perfect in Panama.

The Business district also has the shopping, restaurants, banking facilities and gambling casinos that make the city so vibrant. Panama`s famous " Carnival" is also held just prior to Lent.
John`s Comment Just imagine shutting down the traffic in our business areas. Would not happen, but here was a major festive party that lasted for days. Business did not seem to suffer as the party goers were quite active and plentiful.

Certainly one of the areas within Panama City (Casco Viejo) could be considered as third world. It however has a marketplace, museums and the Presidential Grounds that almost make it necessary to visit. The experience of seeing products advertised for 25 cents along with the Golden altar in one of the churches will remain with you for a lifetime. There is also a major renaisance happening in the area and one is able to picture how it will look like 5-10 years from now.
John`s Comment Not the cleanest nor does it appear to be the safest area, however, it really is the most interesting location in the city. Shopping ( with a lot of bargaining ) is something else, as normally pennies are not of concern but when the product may not be a dollar, then they become meaningful. History takes precedence wherever you turn, from narrow streets to golden altars.

Panama City has come a long way from the days of Noriega, but to many North Americans that is a subject that often arises. During our trip we were very fortunate to tour his home and grounds. As the video clips highlight, Noriega is no longer an issue, and Panama City is experiencing the growth of one of America's great cities.
John`s Comment A story that will not be forgotten. Peaking throught the gate to the residence, caused the local constabulary to visit. My thoughts of a visit to the local jail where changed quickly with a the question " Do you want to go inside and visit? " Walking the grounds and buildings of a man that I had only heard in news items has become a memory that has stood the test of time.

Before we highlight some of the surrounding country sites outside of Panama City, it is important to make note of why our trip was so special. To us it was our accommodation and being close to many of attractions in Panama City. If you travel to Panama consider your location as being the prime factor. It is where you have the possibility to meet others, to rest up for your next excursion or maybe just sit by the pool. Our location made us feel at home, and it is the real reason on why we will return.
John`s Comment Arriving in Panama City with only a hotel reservation for a couple of days, one would not expect a three month stay be as great as it was. Our contact ( ex-pat ) found us THE place to stay that made this trip to a strange country so enjoyable.

Panama (the country)

Santa Clara Sunrise

Interactive Map
Panama (the country)

Just outside of the city are two areas that you can actually take a taxi to. One being the Amador Causeway that was created by the dumping of grounds removed to create the Panama Canal.
John`s Comment We were there several times and found the walk quite interesting as well as several restaurants along the way where we spent an an hour or two. Interestingly, at the end of the causeway beside the marina is a duty free shop with many interesting products.

The other is the Miraflores Locks in the Panama Canal itself. Here one can see how these great ships migrate from the Pacific to Atlantic oceans.
John`s Comment Well worth the trip, especially when we had lunch at the restaurant overlooking the ships as they transited through the lock system.

Our first trip outside of Panama City was almost the last. Off to Punta Chame with map in hand ( plus a rented car ).
John`s Comment We left the Trans America highway and encountered what was possibly the worst road that I had ever driven. After an hour and a half and twenty miles we finally made it but a valuable lesson was learned.
Ask others before you explore on your own! It was however another adventure with a satisfactory end. Unfortunately by not going, you would miss seeing the great beach, and a small Panamanian fishing village that is quite interesting.

Next up, a visit to Santa Clara and the Royal Decameron Resort. Picture perfect white sand beaches made for a great afternoon stroll. This area provides many of the pictures that we see in resort advertisements. The beach in Santa Clara is uncrowded while Royal Decameron Resort is used mainly by North American vacationers. Both are outstanding but at Santa Clara one is able to see how the local population brings home their catch in the early morning hours.
John`s Comment Comments are mainly about Santa Clara as this was the place that we absolutely fell in love with. Much of it had to do with our lodging as it looked and felt like as this is what we had dreamt about as being what Panama would be like. Panama City actually had many North American features, but here in Santa Clara we had colorful lodgings, and palm trees and a fabulous white sand beach and the local population made us feel part of their home.
The Royal Decamoron on the other hand if a major resort with resort type features that caters to one or two week vacations.

El Valle is up in the mountains west of Panama City and gives you relief from the hot Panama City temperatures. It is cooler (25c or 80f) and very lush. It is also an area that experiences more rain. It is a pleasant drive up the mountains (rather curvy however) and the town is quite clean compared to many others in Panama. To visit one really needs a vehicle (or a taxi) to see most of the town sites.
John`s Comment El Valle is a lovely small town, easy to walk around or make short drives to attractions like the Rainforest, local zoo or the hot tubs. We enjoyed them all, but particularly the open air market that was open that day. The weather was cooler than Panama City and felt very refreshing. You could actually see yourself being retired here and making trips to the big city or beach locations when needed as they are within a few hours drive.

Gamboa Resort is an example of what is done right. A beautiful location, resort & grounds gives one the feeling that we are so fortunate to live on this Planet. Activities abound for all and very few would be disappointed. It is however a bit expensive, but if you are there it is worthwhile to visit.
John`s Comment This three month trip to see another part of our world was done with the expectation that costs could be contained, to generally what would have been spent at home. We kept to that and met our expectations even with this great trip to Gambao. Here luxury was in order and a fabulous weekend of activities.

After three months very little of the country was seen, but that provides the incentive to return once again to Panama.

Hope that you enjoyed the trip,
but there is really nothing like seeing it yourself.
If you like what you see,
tell your friends and be sure to visit our other sites!

Panama Highlights

Now if you prefer a more personal view, then check out Panama Trips of a Lifetime
where our Panama Trip links back to this website for video clips

More in Panama

Casco Viejo


Santa Clara

El Valle

Panama Canal

Remember, this web site is a personal site for friends and others that may wish to view other parts of the world. We just hope that you have the same opportunities as ourselves and if not, at least be able to share our visit from
a visitor perspective.

Another Reminder, there is a lot more to see.
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