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Blah… Panama City

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Blah… Panama City
Panama City, Panama

As we flew down the highway in the back of a sweltering bright-yellow taxi staring at the distant skyline of Panama City, the excitement of finally being in Panama was really high, but something also just felt a bit ‘off’ already in those first few minutes. It was dinnertime, but the two-lane highway was completely deserted and overall, the skyline just seemed ominous. The light glow bouncing off the dark sky was dull and flat and for the most part, a lot of the high-rise buildings mainly stood in shadow. It was an impressive and sprawling city, yet from a distance, it felt eerily deserted. Even though the activity did pick up as we got closer to downtown, it still seemed too quite – restaurants and bars were empty, lone security guards stood outside glittering casinos with nobody else around, and shop owners sat behind their stands staring off into the distance.

Panama City Panama

It was a really bland first impression of Panama City and unfortunately it’s an impression that went unchanged throughout three days there. Bummer to start off Central America on that foot, but in thinking back on the trip, it was probably the low-light of my three weeks down there. From what I experienced, I just didn’t see a ton of character – Moderately bustling, yet boring streets during the day and dark, empty, and uninviting sidewalks at night. Newer buildings seem deserted and the older decaying buildings are crumbling. We were guests in the city, but we seemed to be more of a nuisance to anyone we met and tried to talk to, including staff at the overpriced hotel we stayed at. (The rooftop pool/hot tub/gym was awesome though!) Other than one memorable meal, the food was nothing special – Panamanian food in general really lacked any sort of profound flavor. I concede that there are apparently great international places to eat, but I’m stubborn on these trips and try to only eat ‘local.’ The Panama Canal was extremely interesting to see, but the other touristy sights were just unimpressive compared to their ambiguous reputations. Casco Viejo had some charm, but was greatly dilapidated. The Amador Causeway? There are impressive views of the city skyline there (If the weather’s nice. It wasn’t.) and other than the few uninviting restaurants (Bennigans?.. Seriously?), there seems to be nothing else out there. And unfortunately, Panama City was the most expensive part of the whole trip.

Panama City Panama

With its rich colonial history and current international banking and commerce influence, maybe I had just set my expectations for the city too high. Maybe I just didn’t spend enough time there or the right parts of the city. Or maybe it was due to the bleak gray weather that engulfed the city. Whatever it was, I should have taken some advice I had received and moved on to different parts of the country quicker (We skipped San Blas…). Luckily the trip only got better as we moved north.

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9 Responses to "Blah… Panama City"
  1. Panama city does have some of the best restaurants you just need to explore it wisely..It has the “sushi express” where you would love to taste their sushi dishes..the road side foods like the fondas are to good to taste..It has many Indian restaurants which you shouldn’t miss to visit.Panama has beautiful beaches as well as Panama city is a great place to explore many things..

    • Thanks for your comment. We did continue on through Panama (I’ll be getting more posts up soon) and it is a beautiful place! I do also admit that I may not have explored the city wisely and I also didn’t steer away from the local Panamanian food (I didn’t seek out Indian/Sushi).

  2. Peter Llamas says:

    I have seen that your experience was not very pleasant panama. Maybe it’s because traveling with a budget more than modest. 20 USD for a taxi is the minimum you can pay in any part of Latin America. Panama is a tropical country so humid temperatures that felt normal in most of the year. Maybe you should stay in a country where it’s cold? if you have no money to pay a taxi 20 seems expensive you better not travel because you seem to be broken.
    I think all is annoying to you then what you came to do in panama? without money and say it is inexpressive? you are expressive? I look like a penniless broke poor guy seeking pity from other travelers.

    take care and stay in your perfect country and not travel anywhere if you can not appreciate the good things in life.

    • Peter,

      At no point do I make any comment about my budget on this trip, and honestly, my personal finances are nobody’s business anyway. Cost is barely even mentioned at all in this post. When I say that Panama City was the most expensive part of my trip, it’s a statement of fact based on the amount of money I spent there compared to the rest of my trip. Nothing more. I am lucky enough to not need to worry about a $20 taxi ride, but according to my math, the $5/1-hour taxi in Nicaragua (another Latin American country…) was less expensive and a better value than a $20/20-minute taxi ride in Panama City. The $6 meal in Boquete is less than $11 meal in PC. Pretty simple.

      Also, thank you for the meteorology lesson regarding tropical climates. However, when locals comment that the weather “feels unusually hot,” I am more apt to believe it was unusually hot and not just due to me being more accustomed and adjusted to colder climates.

      You should not take offense and make any (false) assumptions based on one post. My “perfect country” is far from perfect and you’d be more than welcome to visit and provide your honest impressions, good or bad. That’s all this Panama City post was – my own personal experience.

      I continued my travels through Panama and had a wonderful time in a beautiful country.

  3. Sian says:

    ‘Bland and deprived of character’?! I just got back from my first trip to Panama (and Panama City) and while I can understand how you got this impression of the city, if you go again, you should try to befriend a local, or at least someone with knowledge of the city, so that you can have a real tour. There’s a lot more to the city than meets the eye 🙂
    I thought the city was one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been to, and I really want to go again. As for the taxis, learn to haggle! The moment they see a tourist they put their prices sky high 😛

    • Kevin says:

      Your’e right. The one thing you have to do is befriend a local. then the entire country will open up to you. When I lived there, I felt just like brendancaffrey. Nothing to see or do, just tall glittering buildings, and streets devoid of any activity. After one year, I finally met a few locals, and began to discover the city, beaches, and interior. You almost have to make your own fun – which I did, and enjoyed doing.


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