Right now I’m in a small port city called Portobelo in Colón Province, Panama. In a few hours Ill be boarding the SY Mintaka sailboat with 4 other aussies, a german couple and a swedish girl destined for Cartagena, Colombia. Our itinerary is to sail around the beautiful San Blas Islands for 3 days, do some snorkelling, meet some Kuna Island locals and generally chill out on some stunning beaches followed by 2 days of open sea sailing to Colombia.
I have now spent close to 4 months travelling in Central America and I have enjoyed this region so much. Starting in Mexico and finishing in Panama with a side trip to Cuba presented me with a few challenges and has provided so many rewards. My grasp of the Spanish language has strengthened and I’m glad I have something to take home with me at the end of my world tour.
Finishing my Central America world tour part in Panama City was not something I had particularly intended. Most travellers bypass Panama City and opt for beach destinations such a Bocas Del Toro. After a 2-day marathon bus ride from Leon, Nicaragua to Panama City with and overnight in San José, Costa Rica – I checked into the Magnolia Inn luxury hostel. Comfortable beds, hot showers, fully equipped kitchen and top location in Casco Viejo made my choice a ‘no brainer’.
I had a great week in Panama City and met some brilliant people. I was fortunate to meet a private chef staying at the hostel whom I quickly befriended – Kelly. She was cooking up a storm and most of the hostel was on the receiving end of her creations.
Some of my Panama City highlights are the following, and you may not necessarily need a week to cover them – but make sure you don’t skip this very cool city.
1. Panama Canal. This 77.1-kilometre ship canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean is truly impressive. The museum and viewing platform at Miraflores should be item No.1 on your itinerary.
2. Mercado de Mariscos (Fish Market) – Yes it is well-known that Anthony Bourdain visited this place and made it a little more popular. In my opinion it’s definitely worth a visit to sample a few of the ceviche (pescado, mixta and camarones) – at $1-3 per serve it is definitely a cheap eat and I didn’t find the smell of the market as bad as people describe.
3. Coffee. Another ‘no brainer’ with many world-class cafe’s serving some of the worlds best coffee. One of my favourites was Casa Sucre (near Magnolia Inn – Casco Viejo).
4. Ancón. A $5 taxi ride from Casco Viejo will bring you here (don’t walk) and you are rewarded with awesome views whilst gently strolling up the hill. A bonus is seeing some wildlife along the way such as Toucans and other bird life.
5. Eat. Panama City offers a variety of quality dining establishments. Some of my favourites included Rene Cafe which had a great value 3-course lunch for $10.
6. Party. Whilst I didn’t get to visit the bar district ‘Calle Uruguay’ I did have a great night at the Veneto Casino despite losing a few dollars. If you don’t mind being surrounded by an excess amount of ‘ladies of the night’ and don’t take gambling too seriously then you will have a great time here. Great sushi restaurant downstairs and free drinks alone make it worth a visit.
7. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The Pool Bar is definitely worth an afternoon visit for a few drinks offering stunning views of the city and well-made drinks.
8. Walk. There are some great sights to see just walking around from street art to skyline to sea. Stick to the designated walking paths and make sure you don’t venture into the wrong areas.
Panama City will definitely surprise you if you haven’t visited before. The locals are super-friendly and out of all the Central American capital cities this rates as my equal favourite along with Mexico City.
And that concludes the Central American part of my world tour. My next update will be from Cartagena, Colombia and I am super excited to visit this amazing country.
Adios for now.