September trip to Panama - Brownell Travel

September trip to Panama

Read Rebecca Falkenberry’s experience over a long weekend in Panama earlier this month:

While I have sent clients to Panama over the years, I have never visited the country. I was totally unprepared (and pleasantly surprised) with what I experienced in a very short trip! Big city skylines, only a few upscale properties, cultural and historical sites, indigenous cultures, beautiful handicrafts, natural areas full of birds and other wildlife, and the Canal. Perfect for soft adventure. But Panama is so much more than the Canal!! I hope this information can pass along my enthusiasm for this little gem of a country: close, safe, USD currency, friendly people, and many US retirees.
Panama is well known for the Canal, which connects two oceans (Pacific and Caribbean) by a much shorter shipping route than going around South America. The canal was built by the US and opened in 1914. Many other countries tried to build the canal before then, but failed due to weather, mosquitoes and lack of labor force. The US operated the Canal until1999, when Panama took control. There are two operating channels now, for barges, freighters or cruise ships. However, due to increasing size of ships, especially cruise ships, Panama is building another wider channel, just to the south of the existing channels. The new channel will operate the same way, with locks and gates to raise and lower ships, but the water used will be recycled. A visit to the Canal (Miraflores locks are a one hour drive from Panama City), is well worth the trip, even if you have been through on a cruise ship. The visitor center tells the entire story of the Canal. It has nice bathrooms there and a small gift shop.

Panama City is experiencing a real estate boom. The skyline looks like Manhattan. Trump is building a high rise condo that looks like a smaller version of Burj hotel in Dubai. Some condo projects may not be finished anytime soon due to the global economic situation. Gambling and prostitution are both legal. One area of town has many casinos and jumping night life. Some of us went to the Wyndham to see Veneto casino and get a feel for hotel. It was cheesy! Also hard to find the check-in desk due to all the slot machines.

Medical tourism is big, with many surgical procedures less expensive than in the US. The hospitals are good and there is a very large one in Panama City.
The restaurants I visited had fabulous food and highly respected chefs. Menus were creative and beautifully presented. Seafood was fresh and abundant. Excellent desserts.
Dinner one night at the Buenaventura planned for a beach setting but it rained and we sat inside in a beautiful high ceiling room with lots of windows and plants.

We had lunch at a restaurant, S’sena in Casco Viejo.
Again, very good but really too much food at every meal. I over ate the entire trip, it is so hard to turn down good food!

Other activities we did:
· Driving tour of city and old town
· Seeing marina and cityscape from a distance
· Walking in neighborhoods going into small local handicraft stores in old city
· Shopping at YMCA building on Canal site with lots of MOLA designs (by Kuna Indians)
· Sea kayaks for rent at Buenaventura
· Swimming at three pools or in ocean
· Birding with Ivan at Buenaventura, saw 53 species in two hours, 41 were LIFERS for me (first time I have seen a particular species). The Blue crowned MOT MOT was one of my favorites!!
· ZIP LINE in El Valle de Anton, Canopy Adventure: Up winding roads to facility, four zip lines, one very steep one, one by a beautiful waterfall. Saw tamarind monkeys and leaf cutter ants. A gorgeous blue morpho butterfly flew past us as we headed to the zip lines. A fun and easy adventure with good guides that strapped us into our harnesses and were there to meet us at each station. And I got a certificate! Part of proceeds go to protect the surrounding rainforests.