Ciudad de Panamá In Two Days
Famous for its bay, soaring skyline, and diverse architecture, Panama City is an eclectic Central American city. Its enchantment lies in its delicate balance between local and international, ultramodern and venerable Colonial. Its streets resound with melodious coastal Spanglish, its cuisine earned it the UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy designation, and its heat invites you to down a refreshing local beer after dusk.
By Alexa Carolina Chacón
Photos: Javier Pinzón, Ruben Rodríguez, Sira Pérez
07:00 a.m. – The Green Gold of Panama City
It’s a luxury to be able to explore exuberant virgin tropical forest right in the city. Start your day with a revitalizing stroll on Mt. Ancón amid local flora and fauna, delighting in unique and stunning views of the Panama Canal and the city. Toucans, sloths, and butterflies will keep you company on your walk.
10:00 a.m. – A Stroll Through the Old Quarter
After connecting with nature, head out to spend the rest of the day in the Old Quarter. Begin at the Plaza de Francia with a raspao (snowcone with fruit syrup and condensed milk) to help you beat the heat. Walk down Esteban Huertas toward the National Theater, pass the “Gold Altar” church (Church of San José), and pull up at the Café Coca Cola, the oldest café in the city and the only café in the world to bear the name of the beverage.
12:00 p.m. – Lunch on Chinese Food in Chinatown
If you’re looking for a true Panama City street experience, head down Avenida B (behind Chinatown) to the Kwang Chow restaurant, founded in the 1940s. It is the oldest dim sum restaurant in the city. As happens wherever Chinese people have settled, their restaurants borrow from their new home. A Panamanian example would be Kwang Chow’s sopa mayor alemán (noodle soup with various meats and vegetables). The sweet-and-sour duck and the suckling pig are acclaimed by connoisseurs.
02:00 p.m. – Interoceanic Canal Museum
Return to the heart of the Old Quarter going toward Plaza Catedral, where you can tour the Cathedral Basilica Santa María la Antigua. Diagonally across from the church is the Canal Museum, where you’ll find answers to any questions you might have about the history of the country or the Canal. There are also exhibits that explain the political idiosyncrasies of the Isthmus.
04:00 p.m. – A Refreshing Pause on a Terrace
The Old Quarter is known for the outdoor rooftop terraces on Colonial buildings that look out over the modern city. There are many rooftops to choose from, all with excellent views and delectable cocktails. Tacos La Neta (in Selina), La Azotea, Tántalo, Isaki, Casa Casco, Capella (in the Hotel La Compañía), and Vista Corona are just some of the places where you can admire the sunset and whet your appetite for dinner.
07:00 p.m. – World-Class Cuisine
In this zone you can savor the delicacies of one of the restaurants that is putting Panamanian cuisine on the world map. Fonda lo que Hay began as precisely that, a fonda (small restaurant serving affordable Panamanian food) on Avenida B that dished up whatever the kitchen had cooked that day. It soon turned into a culinary experience that attracts tourists from around the world. The quality and the local flavor landed it on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Make sure to try classics like toasted yucca with tuna carpaccio, sexy concolón (crispy rice with smoky tomato sauce), and LQH fried chicken. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so allow plenty of time for your visit.
09:00 p.m. – Parties for Everyone
The previously mentioned rooftops are the epicenter of the Old Quarter’s spirited nightlife. We can add the recently opened Ammi, at the luxurious Hotel Sofitel Legend, to the list. Nightfall brings out a DJ and cocktails to sip against a backdrop of the hotel courtyard and the modern city. La Pulpería and Pedro Mandinga are good choices if you prefer a more intimate setting. Rana Dorada is close at hand if you’re an artisan beer aficionado. If you’re ready to leave the Quarter after a long day of touristing, head for Furia in Urraca Park, ten minutes from the old part of the city.
08:00 a.m – Traditional Breakfast and Specialty Coffee
You can’t leave Panama City without trying a traditional breakfast. Now is not the time to worry about calories, considering that breakfast consists of fried variants of corn, pork, and yucca, among other treats. One of the most popular spots is El Trapiche on Vía Argentina in the El Cangrejo neighborhood, which features broad sidewalks perfect for strolling and pedestrian-friendly parks. After breakfasting on buñuelitos (fritters), chicharrón (pork cracklings), and hojaldre (fried dough), walking a few yards to the right will take you to a delicious Geisha coffee at Mentiritas Blancas. Buy a chocolate chip cookie for the road; you’ll thank me later.
11:00 a.m – Ride Down the Amador Causeway
Rent a bicycle and revel in the sea breeze as you roll down the spectacular Amador Causeway. Whether it’s for exercise or a pleasant ride, biking is a favorite activity for residents and visitors alike. One side of the Causeway offers a look at the Panama Canal entrance and a stunning view of the Bridge of the Americas, while the other side presents a panorama of Panama Bay fringed with skyscrapers.
01:00 p.m. – Amador and the Museum of Colors
The Biomuseum is the perfect convergence of science and art. This museum about the natural history of Panama is a striking example of architectural design as conceived by renowned architect Frank Gehry. Its eight permanent galleries introduce the natural heritage of Panama. Galleries that project Panama’s amazing ecosystems will immerse you in the country’s biodiversity and you’ll learn about the science behind the emergence of the Isthmus.
03:00 p.m. – Panama Canal
You’ve learned about the history of the Panama Canal in the abstract, now get a first-hand look at the reality. The Visitor Center at the Miraflores Locks is a 25-minute drive from the Vía Argentina area. The Center has an open terrace at ground level and bleachers on the next level that provide a view of Canal operations and the passage of ships through the locks.
06:00 p.m. – The City’s Modern Bars
Panama City is a worthy cocktail destination. You’ve already seen several suggestions that tend toward the relaxed and bohemian, so now it’s time for the modern, trend-setting ambience of places like Mangle on Calle Uruguay, Amano in San Francisco, and Salvaje in Costa del Este. These venues fulfill the demand for bars with fashionable interior design that nonetheless respects the owners’ authenticity; the walls of Mangle are hung with 1990s memorabilia that will take you back in time.
09:00 p.m. – A Grand Finale Dinner
We can’t leave without recommending the sixth best restaurant in Latin America, according to Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Maito serves Panamanian flavors in a fine-dining atmosphere, using the best ingredients our country has to offer, enhanced by the creativity of chef Mario Castrellón. Front and center is the concept of Chombasia, a fusion of Afro-Antillean and Asian flavors that pays homage to the melting pot that is Panama. The best of our cuisine ends your visit to Panama on a high note.