5 days in Panama, Central America
Panama has never been on my list of places that I’ve longed to visit, but given the opportunity to head there how could I say no? Marilyn’s work (Booking.com) led her down there for a company event, which allowed us to extend the trip by a few days to explore the city – which we always try to take advantage of!
Since we only had a few days, and it was the rainy seasons, we decided to stay in Panama City for the entire trip. This allowed us to see the old city, the canal and the rainforest all within a short Uber ride. Instead of doing a lot of research, we decided to try approaching this trip a different way and learning as we went – aside from one planned tour we knew we wanted to work in.
As a destination in another country, Panama is one of the easier places to travel to. In the early 1900s, the US helped Panama declare their independence from Colombia, in exchange for partnering with them to build the Panama Canal. The Canal drastically changed Panama, and brought an influx of cash unparalleled in the latin world.
Up until 1979, the “Panama Canal Zone”, the land on both sides of the canal, was considered a US Territory and people born there were considered dual citizens of the US and Panama. The area was a mix of US armed forces, and many engineers and others employed to keep the canal function from the US and Panama. John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone on an air force base there, which shows just how Americanized it is.
In 1977, the handoff began of the Canal Zone to Panamanians. It was jointly managed until 1999 before full control was turned over to Panama. From what we gathered talking to locals, the organization managing the canal does an amazing job, and is a source of pride for the Panamanian people. Unfortunately the government isn’t as efficient (sounds familiar), leading to some strife between the two organizations.
Although Panama has its own currency, it’s pegged to the dollar. Also because of the long history of ties to the US, they use the US dollar interchangeably with their own. This allows travelers to stick to USD for their entire trip. Most places even accepted credit cards (expecting them to have chips), although a few were cash only.
From Orlando, Panama is less than a 3 hour, nonstop flight away on Copa Airlines. After arriving and doing the customs thing, you can hop in a cab to take you to the a hotel for $35. Take care to hold onto your bags, otherwise someone might be expecting a tip for helping you out with them.
The Biggest Mall Hotel
The hotel is in the mall, the mall is huge. It took us over 30 minutes just to walk to the end of it and walk back – and it’s 2 floors! There are 3 food courts in this thing.
Dinner at Manolo Caracol
Amazing 9 course meal in Casco Viejo, which is the old district which is also very nice. After a few minutes of looking online for a restaurant we found Manolo Caracol which seemed like exactly what we were looking for.
Manolo is a bit different from a traditional place. Instead of ordering, you just sit down and they start bringing out food. Paired with a few local beers (or wine in Marilyns case), this proved to be our best meal of the entire trip.
We were too tired to explore the city more, so headed back to get up early for our tour the next day.