Panama City – the richest capital in Central America

Back on dry land after our San Blas trip, we head straight for Panama City. We’re not planning on stopping in many of the capital cities whilst in Central America as the vast majority of them are grey and soulless, some of them downright dangerous. But Panama City is different. For a start, it’s a hell of a lot richer, something which is evident the moment our car approaches the metropolis, as we set eyes on the shiny, modern skyscrapers and expensive waterside apartment blocks. There’s been a huge amount of American investment in the city, and even Donald Trump has made his mark.

But there’s another side too, in the charming yet slightly decrepit houses and cobblestone streets of the Casco Viejo, the old town. Here, you can witness what Panama City was like long ago, before it grew into the international trade hub it is today. A wander through the streets takes you past old churches, cute plazas and several small museums. You can also get a great view of the new financial district across the water, a reminder of how much things have changed.

The Old Town

Having settled in to our hostel and freshened up after our three days at sea, we headed into town to meet the rest of the crew for a few drinks and something to eat. After a great meal at a little Italian place and several bottles of wine, we headed to the bar at Luna’s Castle for some more drinks, including a few rather strong caipirinhas. With all the best intentions of getting up and going to the canal the next morning, we headed to bed around 2am.

More of the Old Town

Unfortunately, Rich wasn’t feeling quite so hot the next day, not due to the alcohol but something he ate. So we decided to opt for a lazy day with a little late afternoon shopping for some new clothes – mine were all starting to look a bit tired and worn and we’d heard there was a bit shopping centre up by the bus station. Thankfully, after our unsuccessful bikini hunting trip in Ecuador, where everything was either extortionately expensive or hideously tacky or both, we had rather more luck and I managed to get a nearly a whole new wardrobe for a little over $50.

That evening and we hooked up with the Darien Gapster guys again for dinner. This time, we tried out a great little on the Amara Causeway, which connects four small islands to the mainland and was constructed using the earth that was dug up to build the canal. Unfortunately it was an open air setting and we hadn’t banked on rain. Although the food was good, and cheap too, we spent a large portion of the evening running for cover and trying to find somewhere to eat our food where we wouldn’t get wet. Still, we had fun.

Having failed to get to the canal that morning, we decided to head down the following day. The guys that had managed to make it had been disappointed as they hadn’t got to see any boats going through so we decided to try in the afternoon instead. We’d heard that boats start coming through from 2pm so we got there around 1.30pm, had a quick look around the museum and then bagged ourselves a good spot, ready for the incoming ships.

Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal

We were in luck. Two huge boats were lined up and ready to enter the lock. For the next hour, we watched and waited as they slowly made their way through, guided by small train-like vehicles from either side, went down the first step of water, then the second, and finally passed out the other side. I think Richard was more excited than I was but it was still an extremely impressive feat of engineering to witness.

Panama Canal cargo ships

The next day and we were off to Bocas Del Toro, on the coast. There was some confusion over whether the buses were running or not as there were reports that the road had been closed but after a wasted trip to the bus station to change our tickets we were reassured that everything was ok and off we went. Some of the guys from our San Blas trip was also headed up that way and we all piled on the bus for a long and very cold journey.