There are some old stories I may still commit to paper but it’s time to get into 2017 on the blog 😉
I have gone through various phases in my feelings about Panama. When I grew up, it was not considered a tourist destination. Then I had a friend visit and it got on my radar. Not long after, I transited through Panama City airport on my way to South America and the experience was horrible so I held it against Panama and it went to the bottom of the list. Then I read an enthusiastic article about Casco Viejo and discovered my birthday coincided with a great time to visit and airfare would be very reasonable.
Now that I’ve been, I would recommend being magnanimous about the airport and airlines who fly there because it is worth checking out but I had one of the ugliest flights of my life getting there. The theory was great. I would overnight to Toronto arriving early morning and then depart in a couple of hours for Panama City, sleep on the plane and arrive midafternoon to start sightseeing. It all began well enough. I got to Toronto and indulged in a great breakfast in the terminal. I had about an hour of sleep on the plane so would survive a little longer.
It didn’t take long for everything to go horrendously wrong. Our boarding time came but no one was boarding. There was something wrong with our plane and we would have to find another one. They suggested it would take a few hours. Not great but not terrible yet. The day wore on and information was sketchy. I discovered the terminal was filled with few options for either food or entertainment so a place you only want to transit through. Instead, I got to spend about 15 hours trapped there trying to stay awake so I wouldn’t miss a flight for which I didn’t even have a departure time anymore. I was a first world refugee.
Finally a flight came onto the board and we all lined up again, actually getting on a plane this time. The hotel in Panama City was excellent and changed my transfer from 2pm to 4am so I arrived exhausted and disorientated but didn’t have to find a taxi. I decided to stay in Casco Viejo, which is essentially the old town, but Panama City is an old Colonial city so it was relocated centuries ago so there is a Panama Viejo as well.
Panama has a long, bizarre and colourful history. Not only has it tangled with Spain, Colombia and the USA, pirates, conquistadors and dictators, it even has a unique place in geological history. We’ll talk more about all of that but, for the casual tourist, what will matter is modern Panamanian history. Thanks to Jimmy Carter, Panama got control of the canal on December 31, 1999 and in 2015 the expansion to accommodate modern supertankers was completed. This – along with a better electoral process – has brought a lot of change to the economy.
Like most developing countries, the spoils are not shared as equally as they might be, and it’s good to do some research and not wander randomly, but Casco Viejo is beguiling and I had a wonderful visit. You will also be supporting social change and economic revitalization (more on that in future).
I had a leisurely stay so split my time between two choices to get a fuller experience. I would highly recommend both. The choice depends on your style. First, I stayed at the Magnolia Inn, an actual restored turn of century mansion. It’s a mix of hotel and hostel, Staff are very friendly and prices are great. There is no elevator and you will need to search the neighborhood for entertainment but there are many options only minutes away.
If you want to glam it up at a super reasonable price and you are a sound sleeper, stay at Tantalo Hotel and gaze at Panama City from the rooftop. That’s where I spent my birthday, having one of the best hotel experiences of my life.
Stay tuned for more details of a tiny country with a lot to offer still under most people’s radar – exactly when you want to see it 😉