PANAMA CITY, PANAMA - TRAVEL DIARY
It's been almost two months since I traveled to Panama City, Panama and I'm still thinking about all the fun we had there. As usual, after I visit a new country I like to share a bit about my trip in case you consider visiting that country as well. I wrote about my trip to Aruba here as well as Cartgena, Colombia here and here but today, I'm extremely excited to share my experience of Panama City with you not only through photos but via VIDEO as well!
When deciding on where we'd go for vacation, Stef and I settled on Panama because we hadn't heard too much about it. We figured it would be low key and have less of a touristy feel. After a little research and noticing it was recommended by PassportHeavy, one of our favorite travel channels, we quickly booked our flights and hotel. Take a look at my Panama Guide video below and then continue reading for even more details and suggestions to make your stay in Panama City enjoyable.
WHERE WE STAYED
I have a deep love for beautiful architecture and vintage scenery and decided to stay in the old city of Panama know as Casco Viejo. We were also last minute in booking our trip so with very little time I picked Central Hotel as it suited my personal aesthetics, had a rooftop pool and good reviews. After making our reservations I had some time read up about the hotel and learned that Central Hotel was built almost 150 years ago and was the first hotel in Panama in 1847. Pretty cool, right?
The hotel boasted beautiful views of the old and new city from their rooftop and came with complimentary breakfast which is alway a plus. One thing to note is the pool is small and there are only six lounge chairs up there so it gets crowded. My trick was going super early in the morning for a dip while everyone slept or ate breakfast. There weren't any umbrellas or shaded areas either so getting the less intense morning sun was better than the harsh afternoon sun.
WHAT WE DID
On our first day in Panama it rained cats and dogs! I was so worried at first because your girl was on vacation, ready to soak up ALL the sun, live her best vacation life and the rain was getting in the way of what I was feeling (who get's that reference?). Anywhoo, while I wouldn't let the rain take away from all the fun, I really wanted it to be nice and sunny since we had a brutal Winter in NYC. I prayed to the Almighty and asked for his loving kindness to shine through on my vacation so I could wear all my cute shoes.
It didn't clear up that day so I decided to make a Spa day of it at the hotel. I got a manicure/pedicure combination and body wax because I didn't have time to do so before leaving NYC.Overall the Spa experience was fine except my leg waxing wasn't the best. My hairs are pretty thick and the wax they used didn't quite do the trick. I ended up getting a pack of shaving razors a couple days later from the local supermarket so I wouldn't look or feel like a porcupine.
Casa Gongora - Museum
The next day my prayers were answered and the sun came out so we decided to explore the old city. While shooting a look that I'll share soon (yes, I did some work on vacay), we toured Casa Gongora, a Museum in Casco Viejo and one of the oldest houses in Panama. It's the last surviving example of domestic colonial architecture of the 17th century in the city, was built around 1760 and named after Paul Góngora Caceres, a prominent merchant.
The employees at this museum were very gracious and even though we spoke little Spanish, we were able to grasp the main messages they were sharing with us about the house's history. I even sat down to take a look at the woman’s crafts of paper birds. I tried to purchase one of the birds but they didn't have change on them and by the time we returned they were closed. I was so bummed about this. If you ever visit this area be sure to stop in to get one.
Miraflores Visitor Center/Panama Canal - Historical site/Museum/Tour
On one of our days we took a trip to the Miraflores Visitor Center. We toured the Exhibition halls and learned about the Panama Canal's history, how it functions and about biodiversity. After touring the Exhibition halls we set out to the Observation Deck to watch the ships transit through the Canal Locks as you saw in my video.
Toured Casco Viejo by foot- Activities
What I loved most about staying in the old town was the ease at which we could get around on foot and all the free museums and sights we could explore. On one of our many walks, we spotted a couple dressed in traditional clothing taking anniversary pictures and they allowed us to take a photo of them. We also spotted many colorful street art murals as well.
Esteban Huertas Promenade - Historical site/local shopping area
This area has a lot of local vendors selling handmade items. I purchased gifts for family as well as some custom painted hats by a vendor called Manolo Robinson. Be sure to watch my video to see his beautiful work and get his information.
WHAT WE DIDN'T GET TO DO
I wanted to go antique shopping at Canal Zone but every time we passed by, the shop was closed.
We planned to visit the Biomuseo but it was also closed the day we tried to go. It was a Monday and we found out that most museums are closed on that day of the week so be sure to plan ahead.
Another activity we wanted to do was to take a trip to the beach but ran out of time.
WHAT WE ATE
As you'll see in a few, we basically ate our way through Panama and I wouldn't have it any other way! I love good food, it's such a good way to experience and appreciate another’s culture. It allows you to form conversation with strangers and creates a bond so without further delay let's dive into all the places we dined at and enjoyed. It’s quite the handful so be prepared to salivate!
El Caribe - Restaurant
On the first night after the rain subsided a little, we "Uber-ed" over (yes Uber is avilable in Panama) to the new city to have dinner at an Afro-caribbean restaurant called El Caribe. This was another recommendation from PassportHeavy's guide and let me tell you! The food was D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S! I had the run-down which we refer to as Metemgee in Guyana and Stef has the fried fish with rice, plantains and veggies. Everything was good including the pepper sauce which was similar to what we call Achar in Guyana. The. passion fruit mojito was fresh and a dream.
After dinner on our first night in Panama we took another Uber over to a car event in Panama City. My boyfriend is an avid car-enthusiast and found a car-meet happening that night. Very indicative of him!
Coincidentally enough there was a retro diner at the location so we both won that night. He got to check out the car scene and I got to hang at Roadster's sipping a Nutella milkshake, rockabilly style.
Diablicos - Restaurant/Entertainment
One night we ended up at Diablicos, a restaurant in walking distance from our hotel. The restaurant served traditional Panamanian cuisine and it was the best fish meal I had on my trip. I wished we would’ve returned once more before leaving. Their pepper sauce was my favorite too.
The dinner also included a live cultural presentation of song and dance that reminded me of Guyanese folk song and dance, only in Spanish.I even became part of the show dancing with the group and playing a part in a skit where I was crowned the queen and had to rescue the village from the devil. My Spanish is rusty so I couldn’t understand much of what they were saying but once I saw that devil, I knew what my part was. I successfully fought the devil off and saved the village. My video shows more of the dancing experience, and I’ll also share some more clips on my Instagram, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.
After dinner, we walked around Casco Viejo to check out the night life and ended up at a lounge for Reggae night. I don't remember the name of it but we had a couple drinks and danced the night away to reggae, soca and dancehall.
One thing to note about the old city is you can walk from spot to spot during the day and for nightlife fun.
CascaCasco - Restaurant/Night Life
Great multi-level restaurant with a club and rooftop lounge offering spectacular views of the city. We ate dinner on the first restaurant level then made our way to the rooftop for a nightcap.
American Trade Hotel - Restaurant
A stunning boho-tropical hotel in the heart of Casco Viejo with an American-influenced menu and the best bottomless brunch. The decor was right up my alley and my passion fruit mimosas were incredible. So incredible I ended up having 5 instead of my usual 2. A must stay/try when in Panama!
Nasca 21 - Restaurant
Delicious Peruvian food with creative, colorful decor in Casco Viejo. The pepper sauce is on point too!
Tacos La Neta - Restaurant
By far some of the best tacos we've had! The decor with all the painted banana leaves kept me wanting to stay for more and the cocktails were delicious too! Unfortunately I didn't take any photos here so these are screenshots of video from my Instagram. You can definitely see more here in my Instagram Travel highlights
Tomillo Panama - Restaurant
A definite must do for those looking to spend a romantic night dining under the skies and twinkling lights. They serve small shareable plates that graduate in portion size. We had about 3 off the menu as well as cocktails. You can also see more of this place in my Instagram Travel highlights as well.
Pescado Frito/Peachfuzz - Restaurant
This one was suggested by PassportHeavy and as described it's definitely in the hood of Panama. We didn't have any issues going over there to try what's considered one of the best fish spots in Panama City. The owner was super nice and when we called ahead to get info, he took our order via phone and started preparing so that lunch would be ready by the time we got there. That definitely made the experience enjoyable plus it's always nice to support local businesses.
If you're the type that gets skeeved out then this is not the place for you because stray dogs and flies will come.
La Michoacana Paleteria - Dessert
I could eat 1000 of these paletas aka popsicles. Be sure to try the yummy passion fruit! Can you tell I have a thing for passion fruit?
La Biciclette -Restaurant/Cafe
On one of our strolls we spotted this quaint shop with beautiful decor outside. Obviously I was a sucker so we went in and it was absolutely stunning. It was hot out so I got the fresh watermelon juice but you can also get lovely desserts and food here.
Bennissimo - Cafe/Ice Cream
This was my one of my favorite gelato and dessert shops while in Casco Viejo. Be sure to try the chocolate gelato and passion fruit sorbet. I could eat another passion fruit sorbet right now!
Ay Mi Negra - Dessert/Ice Cream
This was Stef's spot for yummy rolled ice cream but they also offer other desserts such as crepes and waffle pops. I even got him to be my personal ice cream model, lol!
GranClement - Ice Cream
Yes! I love ice cream and this shop had really good gelato too. Try the basil flavor, it's sure to surprise you in a good way!
I wasn't kidding when I said I ate my way through Panama and I hope you enjoyed my full travel diary on where to stay, what to do and where to eat in the beautiful Panama City, Panama! Please drop me a note in the comments if you found this diary helpful or if you have any questions.