Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Lost and Found to Panama City
This was always going to be a bit of an adventure. We were aiming to get on a boat to Colombia in the next few days, so we skipped over David and Santa Catalina to get to Panama City for a few days. There are a couple of buses coming from Bocas del Toro direct to Panama City but there’s no guarantees of spaces. We decided to go straight to David ($4ea) and then connect to a bus for Panama City ($18.15ea) assuming it would be quicker. We ended up waiting for about 2 hours in David until a bus had space for us. The trip to David was about 1.5 hours and then to Panama City another 7 hours including 30 minutes for a lunch stop.
When we arrived in Panama City we went straight to the Mamallena hostel by taxi ($2ea) to pay our money for the boat to Colombia and try to stay for the night. The new metro system is connected to this main bus station, and might be an alternative depending on time of day you get there. The taxi seemed a little questionable for safety when we got in, but Toby practiced his Spanish with the driver and we were on our way in no time. Due to the time now being nearly 7pm, the hostel was fully booked for the night along with many of the other hostels nearby. We got some directions for some nearby cheap hotels and came across the Hotel Bella Vista. It wasn’t luxury, but for $38 per night it had a private bathroom (hot water) and air conditioning so wasn’t too bad, considering most privates at hostels in Panama City were more than this.
The new metro system for Panama City
The new Panama City metro had Toby in boy’s heaven. We’d been given a helpful tip at Lost & Found hostel by another guest that the new metro system had only been operating for a couple of weeks and was free to use up until the election on May 4th. Construction of Line 1 of the Panama Metro started in February 2011 and was completed on time, with some minor cosmetic work to be carried out still. The line was officially inaugurated on April 5, 2014. Line 1 is 13.7km long with 12 stations, including seven underground stations and five elevated stations and an initial cost of $1.8bn. From what we’ve read it was a very well run project both for timing and budget; perhaps something other countries could learn from. The future plan is for a second line in 2017 and then possibly a 3rd and 4th line after that. For the train geeks (Toby includes himself in this group); the subway trains were built by a French company (Alstom) who also builds the high speed French TGV and Eurostar trains.
This is one of those man made wonders that often get spoken about as a must see. The canal itself is 77km long and connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and has 3 locks to raise ships up 26 metres above sea level to cross through Panama. Construction was initially abandoned by the French and taken over by the Americans for 10 years to open officially on August 15, 1914 (yes nearly 100 years ago). The canal was designed to save huge amounts of long and potentially dangerous travel around the southern tip of South America (Cape Horn).
There are countless organised tours to join onto, a train trip along the canal, a boat trip along (even cruise ships) and probably even helicopters and planes. We chose the simple way by getting a public bus ($0.25ea – 25 minutes) and paying our own way at the Miraflores Locks ($15ea), the closest to Panama City.
The big tip with the Locks is to get there early (9am-11am) or late (3pm-5pm) when your chance of seeing bigger ships is higher. The visitor centre has 4 levels, so make sure you go to the top to get the best birds eye view of the locks and surroundings. There is also an hourly movie in the theater to explain what the canal is about, though it wasn’t all that great in our opinion. There is also a museum to walk through which also gives more details of what is happening. Tour groups are most often here in the morning and it gets very busy if you can see from our photos below. If you want a good spot to view the ships, you might need to push into a spot or hold on for dear life as others try and get your spot.
Walking around old town – Casco Viejo
This is a popular place to stay for both hotels and hostels, though it can be more expensive. This is where Panama City existed after the city was moved in 1671. It was fortified by walls against invasion by sea. It’s popularity dropped over time and fell into a huge state of disrepair. It has been rebuilt over the past 20 years but there are still many buildings yet to see any work begin on restoration. It is definitely worth a walk around for a few hours and very picturesque. The old theatre is worth a quick walk into ($1ea).
Parque Natural Metripolitano
This is just to the North of downtown and offers some reasonably good animal spotting along with good view points of Panama City. We walked from our hotel (about 15 minutes), but a taxi shouldn’t cost too much depending on where you are staying. Entry fee to the park is $4 each and it is recommended to get there early for the best animal spotting. We were lucky enough to see some Coati, Titi monkeys and various birds The trails are well maintained and quite easy. We covered the 5km or so of trails in under a couple of hours as we tried to avoid a rather large and noisy school group.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/