Dusklife and Dawnlife
Things to do in Panama City
Last update: November, 2009
Panama City earns its sobriquet “Crossroads of the World”. The fact that so many people pass this way, and so many pause awhile, gives this Latin city a uniquely international feeling.
The city has a population of about 700,000—about the same as Portland, Oregon—and a vitality about the same as a parlay of Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Rome, and Macao. Any resemblance to Panama City, Florida, means your tour conductor has goofed.
Scholars have put it forth, after fusty etymologic foraging, that Panama is an Indian word meaning “an abundance of fish.” Any tourist could have told them so after 30 seconds of foraging through a restaurant menu here.
Panama City offers its visitors nightlife, daylife, dusklife, and dawnlife.
DAYLIFE — Shopping, for a start: everything from bond issues to boa constrictors is on sale here.
Panama receives visitors from the world around, and sells products from the world around, many at duty-free prices. Somewhere along the line, a tourist is going to find himself wondering why he came all this way to buy something from the old home town.
Solution. Buy something from someone else’s home town.
After shopping: tours. First and foremost, see the Canal. To visit Panama without taking in the Canal would be like visiting Niagara without seeing the Falls.
NIGHTLIFE — Casinos, restaurants, discotheques, bars and floorshows.
Read all about it further along in this booklet. The rhythm of tropic tamborito now has competition as Panama’s night sound from the carillon-pealing of slot machines.
As for peeling, there’s that too. Withall, the dark is lively, lively.
There are restaurants of dozens of culinary allegiances. See our restaurant section to make your choice.
DUSKLIFE AND DAWNLIFE
— For dusklife, the ritual of ancient antimalarial precautions. On the rocks. Malaria was eliminated from Panama two generations ago. Do not tell your barman.
Dawnlife consists of (a) produce boats from the interior chugging across the bay (b) tourists trying to remember where they parked their hotel.
Panama City has been on the move, geographically, as well as figuratively, for the past 300 years. In fact you could call it the world’s only moveable fiesta.
The original Isthmian headquarters of Balboa and the Spanish was Acla on the Atlantic coast near the San Blas island of Mulatupo. The first governor sent from Spain, Pedro Arias Dávila, also known as Pedrarias, paused only to behead Balboa before relocating the miniature colony to the healthier and drier Pacific coast where he founded what is now Old Panama, a photogenic disposition of ruins.
Panama grew and prospered at its new site and was a sizeable township when it attracted the larcenous attention of the English pirate, Henry Morgan. After Morgan and his men marched into Old Panama singing. “There’ll be a hot time in the Old Town Tonight”, (we said you’d learn about history), the Spaniards opted to move the fiesta again to the more defensible peninsula where the Casco Viejo, or Old Compound now stands.
Along with them went the Golden Altar, thought by experts on religious art to have been made in Ecuador, which had been concealed from Morgan’s men. The altar is a prime tourist attraction today.
Also in the Casco Viejo are the President’s Palace of the Herons, the restored National Theatre and the Metropolitan Cathedral, dating from 1688, a superb example of Colonial architecture.
Plaza Bolivar and Plaza Herrera have also been restored. Restaurants and side walk cafes abound and ancient buildings which had sunk into decrepitude are being restored to their former splendor as residences for an influx of more sophisticated dwellers.
This area of the city has been in the process of restoration for some years and is a tourist attraction for its ancient buildings, balconied streets and plazas, restaurants and bars.
In the 273 years from the resiting of Panama City behind the walls of the Old Compound to the end of World War II the fiesta that is Panama City moved no further than to about where El Panama Hotel now stands but in the last few decades, the pace has quickened.
The growth of the city was restricted to a relatively narrow strip between the coast and the border of the U.S. administered Canal Zone. In recent years, since the Canal Zone was handed back to Panama, suburbs and shopping centres have spread rapidly outwards and the city has moved over the once-confining border.
Should you doubt this rhythm of the moveable fiesta that is Panama City, have the band strike up a tamborito.
Things to do in
TOUR THE CITY
Travel agencies offer city tours which take about two and a half hours. A typical city tour will take in the ruins of Old Panama, Colonial Panama (El Casco Viejo) and the modern sections.
For greater flexibility you can hire a tourist taxi outside all the main hotels. Their drivers speak English.
VISIT THE CANAL
Tour agencies offer a tour of the Canal area which takes about two and a half hours.
A partial transit is an excellent way to experience the Canal.
VISIT THE PANAMA CANAL MUSEUM
The museum is situated in Cathedral Plaza, Casco Viejo.
Visit the Reprosa Factory Tour
Tour the famous REPROSA factory and see how the gold and silver treasures of Panama are made by virtually the same technique as the ancient goldsmiths. Scheduled tours are at 9.30 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. and cost $10 per person Children under twelve get in free. Includes beverage, snack and "goodie bag". To make a reservation call Teresita at •
Call: (507) 271-0033.
Visit the Rainforest Discovery Center at Gamboa on the fabled Pipeline Road known to birders world wide for its record numbers of species. From the 100 foot tall observatory visitors can see out over the canopy. Guides are available to help you explore the surrounding forest. Open every day from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entrance costs $20 before 10 a.m. and $15 thereafter. •
Call: (507) 264-6266.
TAKE A FERRY to the Island of Taboga, situated at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. •
Call: (507) 390-2402.
GO RACING at President Remon Race Track. Meets are held in the evening on Thursday from 5, p.m. and from 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and holidays.
WATCH A FOLKLORE SHOW with colourful typical costume and traditional dances. These are offered by the Tinajas restaurant.
Consult a tour agency. There a number of options:
• Gamboa Rainforest Resort
• Metropolitan Park – a rainforest reserve situated surprisingly within the city’s limits.
• Barro Colorado Nature Monument which is situated on an island in Gatun Lake. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is the custodian and visits can be arranged through them or with a tour company.
• Summit Botanical Gardens and small zoo.
RIDE THE TRAIN
Along the banks of the Canal to Colon for a day trip. Departs from Corozal 7:15 a.m. Returns 5:15 p.m. from Colon. 317-6070.
HANG OUT AT THE CAUSEWAY
A perfect place to relax and enjoy the picturesque view of the city from the bay. Stroll, jog, bike or enjoy one of the many restaurants.
EVENTS: For news of events and activities, get a copy of the newspaper “The Visitor” at any hotel.
Art & Culture in Focus Panama
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