Hot and humid, Panama City stradles the canal that divides the Americas, and has grown off the back
of the significant chunk of the world's trade that passes right by. Particularly in the 21st century,
the city has boomed to become one of the highest developed in Latin America. It has seen its fair
share of turmoil too, with the
invasion and deposing of Noriega marking the latter part of
the last century.
I arrived into Panama City's domestic airport on a propeller plane from San Jose, to find a country
that was notably hotter and brighter than the cloudy Costa Rica I had left behind. This quickly became
a disadvantage as I wandered the Cinta Costera, and I was glad when I could check in to Le Meridien,
halfway along the seafront strip. I was very impressed with the skyline and also enjoyed wandering
the Casco Viejo in the evening.
Like all good cities of the FaceGram generation, Panama has its own selfie sign. I couldn't get a decent
shot of it with the skyline behind as they've built it the wrong way round, and I certainly wasn't
going to ruin it with my own fizzog.
Downtown Panama City has been built up enormously since control of the canal was handed over from the
in 1999. Towering luxury condominiums abound, a testament also to the banking industry
which forms another of the backbones of the country.
The marina on the Cinta Costera, the coastal belt which was reclaimed from the Pacific in the 2000s,
providing much-needed traffic relief and more space for landscaping and pleasant strolls along the
Colourful glass balconies on one of the towering apartment buildings on the Cinta Costera. This one
is called Element Tower and is relatively small at 38 storeys - several buildings reach over seventy
Vasco Núñez de Balboa was the first
European to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific, when he traversed
what is now the Panama Canal in 1513. Panama City itself was founded only four years later, and
his legacy includes not only this statue in the park of his name, but the national currency, the
Panama's Casco Viejo or old quarter is the active part of old Panama City - there is an actual "old
town" but there is very little left, and largely ruined. Notable chunks of the Casco Viejo were also
in ruins, but the area seemed to be undergoing something of an urban revival and gentrification, with
dilapadated structures shoulder-to-shoulder with shiny refurbished places.
The monastery of Santo Domingo was unfortunately closed when I arrived, but I could still see in to
the flat arch, partly visible through the doorway.
No trip to Panama would be complete without checking out the Panama hats, which to my surprise are in
fact from Ecuador, if it's the genuine article you're looking for. The brand of choice is the Montecristi
- nothing to do with
The Church of St Francis of Assisi, one of the Casco Viejo's more polished places of worship.
Plaza Simón Bolivar is where I found myself for dinner on my first night in Panama City, at an outside
table in a restaurant so busy, that I found myself sharing with a
KLM flight attendant.
The zoology museum, "Biomuseo" is Frank Gehry's rainbow creation, adding to his portfolio which also
includes works I have witnessed in
Bilbao and Seattle.
Puente de las Americas links the landmasses of north and south America, carrying the Pan-American Highway
on its nineteen thousand mile journey from the southern tip of
Argentina to the north slope of
The Pacific Ocean was studded with giant ships awaiting transit through the canal. Perhaps unintuitively,
the Pacific entrance to the canal is in fact further east than the Atlantic entrance.
Plaza de Francia commemorates the sacrifices of the people of
France in their attempts to build a canal
linking the Atlantic to the Pacific. After their success in
Suez, the same contouring techniques
were employed - but the jungle is a very different beast to the desert, and over twenty thousand workers
died, largely due to yellow fever.
Hotel Centrál sits on Plaza de la Independencia and is one of the grander historical establishments
The shining skyline of Panama City is testament to the success the country has made of itself in the
first decades of the 21st century. Also visible is the extension of the Cinta Costera, the six-lane
highway that they built elevated over water all the way around the old town, half a mile out. Much
better than cutting straight through it.
Back at my hotel, the view was just as spectacular as I looked up the coast towards some of the grandest
apartments, with the traffic relentlessly ploughing on below.