Panamá City is huge and has a skyline which Laura and I have never experienced before. The capital has very modern and old districts which are very rich, but also some very poor districts.
We spent 12 days in the Panamá City, had a lot to do and explore in the capital.
Fortunately, I have some friends in Panamá City, Julie and Jeremi, who moved to Panama some months ago and helped us with information and tips.
Panamá City is located on the Pacific coast, in the center of the country and is as well the thinnest point of Central America. About 880 000 people live in the captial which is 275km² big.
To compare: The captial of Luxembourg has 107 000 residents at an area of 51km²
The city is huge and split in three very different sectors.
One part of the city is very modern, has an impressive skyline with a fast Metro line and big malls. The skyline of Panamá City with the high buildings is well know and easy to see from far away. It´s also called "Dubai of Central America. Two of those impressive skyscrappers are over 200 meters high.
Another part is old and protected by UNESCO. It includes the very old ruins of Panama Viejo and the old buildings with Spanish charme of Casco Viejo (or Casco Antiguo).
The last sector of the city is very poor. People are living in horrible conditions, in high buildings which are next to each other or even on the street.
Around the city there are areas with national parks and rainforest.
Julie & Jeremie
Julie, a belgian friend who I met in 2013 in the Peruvian jungle in the nature reserve Taricaya, is living with her boyfriend in Panama City. They were so kind to show us some parts of the city and gave us important tips.
The first place they showed us was the Parque Natural Metropolitano, the only wildlife refuge in the city which was founded 1988. The park includes several trails to walk and it's possible to observe different kinds of monkeys, sloths and birds in the forest. There is a good view over Panama City with the big Skyline and Casco Viejo on top of the hill in the park. It was the perfect place to start our stay and gave us a good impression of what was coming and how huge the city is.
Afterwards we went for a short sightseeing tour and for some drinks to Casco Viejo, the Spanish word for "Old City". This part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and held its old charme of the colonial era. The city was rebuilt in 1973, at a location in the West of Panama Viejo, after it had been destroyed by the pirates.
Some of the buildings were renovated, others are left and start to decay - a beautiful place for good photos and rooftops to start in the evening. We also celebrated New Year's Eve in this part of the city and visited it several times.
Panama Viejo which was founded in 1519 by the Spanish conquistadors, its remains are a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. It was one of the first cities of the New World and a very important and strategic point to ship the Inka gold from Peru to the Old World.
Interesting fact: The narrowest part in Panamá is between Panama City and Nombre de Dios during which is the province Colón. On the trail Sendero las Cruzes, they transported and shipped over 60% of the gold to the Old World which also attracted pirates to come to this area. The city has been attacked several times by pirates and indigenous people. An earthquake destroyed a big part of the city as well. The legendary pirat Henry Morgan attacked the city 1671 and burnt most of it to the ground.
Today, the old ruins of the city are mainly buried under a slum but some buildings got saved and it's possible to visit them.
To have a beautiful and different view of Panamá City, we decided to wake up at 5 am to see the sunrise. We went to the bay with all the boats behind the fishmarket and looked out for a good place next to the water on the rocks to watch the sun rise.
You can see the result on the photos below.
The best view of Panama City is from the 200m high hill "Cerro Ancón", which is located west of Panama City. It's possible to drive up or to walk there.
An unexpected but fantastic experience was the F&F Tower. The huge building which looks like a screw is well know in every picture of the skyline of Panamá City. We saw it too and went to the buildings to have a look and take some pictures. It was a spontaneous decision to ask if it would be possible to go to the top. After some back and forth the security guy decided to show us the top and make Panamá City unforgettable!
The F&F Tower is one of the highest buildings in the capital (the highest is the Trump Tower) and has three sides with an incredible view over the city. We really enjoyed it and didn't get enough of taking photos and marvelling.
Sometimes asking gets rewarded!
Mercado de mariscos
For freshly caught fish, calamari and shrimps or if you just want to have an impression about the Panamanian seafood variety, it's worth visiting the fishmarket near Casco Viejo.
We went there twice, because we were fascinated. So much fish at one place, most of them freshly caught during the night, others out of the freezer. It's also possible to eat the very tasty "ceviche", a cold soup with lemon juice, onion and shrimps, calamari, fish or mixed.
As we stayed for more than a week in the capital, we used the time and went to visit several museums. The museums we visited were the "Museo de arte contemporaneo", "Museo Panama Viejo", "Miraflores" and the "Biomuseo".
The last one was the most expensive one but it's definitely worth a visit. Besides the fact that there were many people in the museum, it is showing very interesting information about the biodiversity in this country, the acquisition of Panama, the land bridge between North and South America and their importance for all the animals which started to migrate north- or southwards.
The most interesting part was to see the story of the first humans until now, but not from the view we knew, but rather from the side of Panama.
Only photos of the Museo de arte contemporaneo below.
If you talk to someone about Panama, they will all ask you the same: Did you visit the canal -or- are you going to?
Therefore we had to visit this place and yes, it's very interesting to read about the work they did for over a century, how much those ships have to pay to cross and to see how a giant cruiser is passing some meters in front of you and goes slowly down into the other ocean. They have a very interesting Museum, some observation floors to see how the boats cross and an interesting movie. The entrance is very expensive and it's full with people.
Interesting facts: The first boat crossed the canal on the 15.8.1914. They started to expand the canal 2007 and finished it 2016. The whole waterway is 77km long, 26m over sea level and is connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific. About 14 000 boats are crossing the canal each year and have to pay 48h in ahead. The price is depending on the weight and containers of the ship, the highest price was 800 000$. There exist special boats which are just bit smaller than the locks and fit just perfectly. They can transport a huge amount of containers.
It's a three lock system and the highest wall is 33m high and in front of the Pacific (Miraflores).
To keep the Miraflores locks in perspective, it's similar to the locking at the Mosel, the only difference being the fact that the boats which cross are giants!
By the way: The cruiser on the photo which comes from Netherlands had to pay 350 000 USD in cash for crossing the canal.
Parque Nacional Soberanía
The park is located 25km North of Panama City and is in the provinces Panama and Colón. It's next to the canal and there is a very rich flora and fauna in the secondary forest. The park got founded 1980 and is 220km² big. It is well known by birdwatchers. The Camino Oleoducto, Pipeline road, is one of the world's best places to observe birds. The trail is about 17km long and more than 525 birds got registered.
We hiked two trails, the Camino Oleoducto and the Camino Plantación. Actually we planned to walk a short way on the Camino Plantación but incorrect information by the rangers about the distance and the road forced us to hike more. In total we hiked 18km that day but we found some lovely poisonous frogs at our turning point.
As the Camino Oleoducto is one of the best places for bird observation, I had to visit the place! I'm very pleased, saw plenty of different birds and on the road I met many other ornithologists, professors and photographers from Europe and America.
We have never experienced such a huge and modern City like Panamá.
With helping information from Julie and Jeremie we found everything we wanted in the city and had no problems with public transportation.
It was very interesting to see the very rich district with the high buildings and all the banks on the one side and the poor districts where people live in horrible conditions on the other side. We visited both places to have an impression of what Panamá City is like.
The old part, Casco Viejo, which still has buildings from the Spanish era and the fishermarket were our favourite places and we visited them several times.
The Miraflores locks are huge and interesting to visit. It was impressive to see the huge cruiser passing the locks and going down / up 26m to cross the canal and to drive from one ocean to the other one. The idea to build a canal through Panama and to connect the Atlantic with the Pacific was unbelievable but became reality. However, for me, there were too many people.
It is very cool that Panama is still close to the nature.
Besides the park in the city which are easy and fast to visit, the big national parks aren't far away and have a very interesting biodiversity to show.
Panamá City is definitely a good place to observe birds. Inside the city there are only a few species like the Crackle or Pigeons. A place which is worth to visit is the coast. During the low tide the water is going back very far. The whole tideland is overfilled with birds. Shorebirds are running around to find food and pelicans, cormorants and herons are roosting on the rocks. Pictures of the migrating period shows that the tideland is a very important stop over for migrating birds! Unfortunately, it isn't migrating time right now.
The parque natural Soberanía is also worth a visit, especially the Camino de Oleoducto. The trail is 17km long and has a tower to visit. Foreigners have to pay about 30$ to climb up that tower, which was definitely to much for me. Instead of that we walked the trail and looked what we could find. In total there were many species and some really rare ones! Highlight for me was the Ocellated Antbird, Manakin and a big eagle sitting in tree being hated by Jays. Unfortunately, I was unable to get some good photos of the raptor and don't have any idea of what it could have been.
Now we will continue our travel to Colombia, a new country with new species and new biotopes to explore. Unfortunately, I was unable to built some contact to local ornithologists in Panama and had no chance to see any bird ringing stations. Hopefully I am luckier in Colombia!
Same same but different view