Panama City Travel Guide
Panama City, the capital of Panama, is a modern city with plenty of impressive and new skyscrapers that its skylines remind of Manhattan.
However, the city also has a huge rain forest (the second largest in the world). It is the only capital in the world that has a rain forest in its jurisdiction!
Alongside the modern buildings and the huge shopping centers, there is a preserved old city, with low-rise buildings in a typical Spanish construction. If you go to the outskirts of the city, at a distance of a half an hour drive, you reach native Indian reservations in which the natives live without any electricity or running water.
Panama is famous for its engineering wonders: the Panama Canal was built by the Americans for ten years between 1904-1914. It is considered to be the most complex and largest engineering project in the world. The Canal covers over 80 kilometers from Panama City to the Pacific Ocean side, to the City of Colon on the Atlantic side. Every year over 14,000 ships passes through the Canal.
The Panama Canal was given to Panama in 1999 and today the revenues from it count for a third of the overall revenues of the country.
The Canal is also a “bridge” between the two oceans and saves ships from many days of traveling around the South America.
Alongside the “man’s miracle” there is in Panama a wild and a variety of nature. Thanks to its location, between the two Americas, there are in Panama animals and vegetation that are typical for both continents: over 10,000 species of plants (including 1,200 types of Orchids) and a huge variety of animals. It has more species of birds than the United States and Canada combined.
The weather in this country is tropical, with only slight changes in the temperatures between seasons. The typical temperature in Panama City fluctuates between 24-29 degrees Celsius, and only rarely does the temperature goes up to 32 degrees.
You can visit there all year round, because Panama is south of the hurricane region, tropical storms are rare there. However, the most popular season to visit there is during the winter months which is also the dry season. There is nothing like escaping the cold and rain to a sunny country with a coastline of more than 5,600 kilometers and over 1,500 islands!
The number one attraction in Panama City is undoubtedly the Panama Canal.
At the site of the Canal de Panama and the Miraflores Locks, there is a visitors’ center with a popular museum, and interesting movie about the method of planning and digging of the canal. There are of course observation platforms over the canal and the locks and the ships that go up and down these locks. The museum presents the history of the canal, its models and the equipment used for digging.
In the four-story building, there is a balcony on every floor to observe the ships that go through the locks which are really close to the observation building. You can see ships enter the locks assisted by 6 electrical locomotives. The doors close behind the ship and then the water level rises and lifts the ship up to the level of Lake Gatun. Then the doors open at the front and the ship sails into the lake. The entire process, in each lock, is about twenty minutes. It is Very impressive.
After you see the ships climb up to the lake it is time to sail in it.
It is popular to take a guided cruise, leaving the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, which has a marina on the shores of Lake Gatun and is very close to the rain forest.
The cruise is in a small motor boat onto the canal to the same route the ships sail. You watch for close the huge ships sailing on the lake and the canals and later, the highlight of the tour, is the sailing in the coves and the branching from the lake into the jungle.
You sail slowly in order to see the animals in the forest. You can see a variety of birds, crocodiles and different types of monkeys jumping sometimes from the top of the trees into the boat and you can feed them bananas.
A popular tour leaves from the Gamboa hotel to the rainforest and includes going up with a cable railway in the forest up to a spectacular observation point overlooking the canal, the lake and the Indian tribe and the town of Gamboa.
The tour includes also explanations about the
local vegetation and their characteristics.
In Panama City, you must not miss, the impressive observation point over Panama from Ancon Hill – a hill 210 meters high from which there is a wonderful view over the entire city and the canal.
The hill was ruled by the Americans during their control over the Panama Canal and was transferred to Panama in 1977, which then the flag of Panama was at the top.
It is also recommended to take a tour of the old city of Panama City, Casco Viejo, which these day is going through renovations and impressive preservation.
Many buildings were rebuilt interiorly while the exterior is preserved as it was and went through renovations and moderation. The roads were renovated and paved, shops and restaurants opened to the tourist crowds.
The city was founded already in 1519 and is considered as the first European settlement on the business side of the United States. It is pleasant and interesting to walk in the ancient alleyways between the old buildings and the apartment buildings in the old style. It is a complete contrast to the modern city with the skyscrapers that have grown nearby.
You can see the skyscrapers from the promenade located along the waterfront with many stands of souvenirs and decorations are spread all along it. This is the place to buy typical native souvenirs and handcrafts.
Of course, in Panama City, you will also find simple housing complexes like in any other metropolises. Some of them were painted in all the rainbow colors by the tenants.
If you are interested in experiencing a full day with an Indian tribe it is recommended to join a tour to the Indian village of Embera. The tour includes an hour drive along the canal and the national park to the entrance of the village to which you can only reach by sailing in large canoes.
You sail for about 30-60 minutes in a river that passes through a rain forest filled with birds. During the sail, you can see the sea turtles and the caimans (small alligators). Later you hike to the waterfall and swim in its pool. After arriving at the village there is a reception with singing and dancing.
The children of the tribe explain about the lifestyle there with various demonstrations. You walk between the houses in the village and see the local artists who carve wood and prepare crafts from palm leaves, draw tattoos and eat a typical meal. The children can play with the children in the village.