Culture, History, Birdwatching and Shopping
Situated on the Pacific side of the Central American isthmus, Panama City holds a cornucopia of tourist attractions.
Panama City Overview
Spend a few days in Panama City as you plan your trips to other parts of the country and be sure to enjoy this, possibly the best capital city in Central America. Sure there is crime and poverty inherent in every Central American capital city, but there are few places in the world that cater to shopaholics, culture vultures, baby boomer retirees and birdwatchers!
Panama City – Facts, Figures and History
Founded in 1519 by the Spaniard Pedro Arias de Avila the city served as a major jump off point for the exploration and subsequent imperial gains of Spain. In years following the founding of the city it was razed to the ground by the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan.
With the California Gold Rush Panama start to grow with greater aplomb but it was not until the arrival of the Americans – following the French efforts – to complete the Canal and have it open in 1914 that real wealth started entering Panama City. As a banking, commerce, tourism and retirement destination Panama City and its surrounding areas now has a population of just over 1 million inhabitants.
Sights of Interest
Completed in 1914 by the Americans, the canal is now a major tourist attraction in its own right. Make your way to the Miraflores Locks, some 20 minutes from downtown Panama City, and marvel at a true feat of engineering as behemoth container ships and luxury cruise-liners pass through this cut.
Panama La Vieja
The remnants of the original Spanish settlement are now a few miles from the actual centre and can be visited in a morning. The incongruous backdrop of the original ruins with the new “Manhattan” skyline imposing behind makes for an interesting photograph.
After the sacking of Panama La Vieja by Henry Morgan the city was moved further along the coast to the North. What remains is a beautiful colonial area that is not dissimilar to parts of Havana or of Cartagena in Colombia. Money is pouring into the Casco Viejo and boutique hotels and trendy restaurants are springing up.
Museo Del Canal Interoceanico
In order to fully understand Panama and its conception as a country this museum in the Casco Viejo is a must visit. Exhaustive exhibitions detail the country as a Colombian province, its independence, the French efforts at the canal, the American takeover and then the handover to Panama. There are some optimistic forecasts for the future expansion of the Canal.
The Amador Causeway
Just to the east from the entrance of the Panama Canal and near to the former canal zone is a three kilometre long jetty built with discards from the canal construction and formed with two things in mind – as a sea wall to protect shipping on its way east and as a defensive measure. Now, tourists can rent bicycles and cycle to the Smithsonian aquarium here or just enjoy a day out at the marina or in lunching in one of the restaurants here.
Soberania National Park and Gamboa
A forty minute drive from Panama City along the Canal brings one to the Soberania National Park where visitors will be pleasantly surprised by the abundance of flora and fauna. Birders should to the Pipeline road with an experienced guide in the early morning and spot up to 300 species of bird in one day.
While the Zona Libre in the city of Colon is the Mecca for those buying in bulk, Panama City is truly a shopper’s paradise. For chic international purchases head to either one or all three of the following shopping malls – Allbrook, Multiplaza and Multicentro.