We just got back from our second trip to Panama this year. It is easy to get to, and all you need is a negative Covid test 48 hours prior to leaving. You can fly from Las Vegas to Panama City, Panama. It usually takes about 8-10 hours each way. Copa Airlines used to fly directly from Las Vegas to Panama City but stopped when Covid hit. They are hoping to start that route again around the end of this year. Cross your fingers.
Panama City is a metropolitan city of about 1.5 million people. The city is located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. It is very modern and has a lot of interesting architectural buildings. There is an old town, Casco Viejo, which is being restored and has lovely squares with parks, and restaurants. From our hotel, the taxi ride was $3.00. We went to the old town a couple of times to restaurants. In fact, we went to one for our anniversary. It was located on the roof of the building, and the views were incredible.
Panama uses the U.S. dollar for its currency. They use 110 and 220 electricity, so you don’t need adapters. It is easy to get around the City as taxis are very inexpensive. Most rides cost $3 or $4, or a long ride may cost you $5. A lot of people use Uber. There is a Metro subway system, but we haven’t tried it yet. We chose a private car to pick us up at the airport. It was more expensive, but it is worth seeing that sign with your name on it and someone who knows where you want to go. We were referred to Edwin Lopez as a private driver. He spoke great English and told us about the area as we drove to the hotel. We called him when we decided we wanted to look around for a day, and he referred us to a lady who spoke very good English, and she helped us negotiate prices while shopping.
They have great shopping in Panama City:
The Multiplaza Pacific is huge with all of the known luxury brands as well as local stores. I think it is the nicest mall I have ever visited anywhere. It is so huge that it is easy to get lost. It is three stories, and the food options are great. You can even buy groceries at Reba Smith, the supermarket.
The Albrook Mall is huge, more of a local mall, and full of people, not luxurious, but you can buy everything in one place. Gifts and Panama souvenirs are 50% cheaper than in the old town.
Multicentro Mall is well located but is still recovering from the Covid problems.
The Metro mall Panama is very large and quite close to the airport. There is a shuttle service between the mall and the airport, so it is a great place to shop if you have a longer layover. There is a mix of upscale stores and regular retailers.
The City has all of the major hotel chains, which are quite nice. I was surprised when we stayed at the Intercontinental Miramar Panama, that most of the staff spoke only Spanish. This is very common in most of the restaurants and stores. Usually, there is one person in most hotels and businesses that speaks English, but not always. As a result, Rich and I have started taking Spanish lessons.
Surprisingly there are no beaches close to the city. We drove about 2 hours west along the Pacific Ocean to Coronado, a very small retirement town mainly for ex-pats, but the beach is not white sand. I personally think it is too far from the city unless you want to just hang out there.
If you want to see more of the country, you can choose either a morning or afternoon tour from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean (or reverse). It about 50 miles across, and you take an air-conditioned vehicle, stopping at Fort San Lorenzo, then continue to Colon. You would then take a train back, which travels along the Panama Canal. You can also take a cruise through the Panama Canal – either a full or partial transit. Rich and I took a cruise from the Panama City side through the Miraflores Locks and back. We enjoyed it, and it was shorter than the round trip full-day canal trip.
We also went to El Valle Anton, a small town about a 2 ½ hour drive from Panama City, in the luscious green valley in an inactive volcano crater. It is the largest inhabited crater in the world. You can actually take a bus from the Albrook Terminal for just $4.25 and be directly in the center of town in 2.5 hours. It is a beautiful little town and great for hiking. They have thermal hot springs you can relax in for $3, and their Nispero Zoo is actually more of an animal rescue center but we really enjoyed seeing all the animals and birds there.
You can also take a tour to Monkey Island on Gatun Lake along the Panama Canal. They have a large population of monkeys and other wildlife. It is a 35-minute boat ride on the Chagres River. The tour takes about 80 minutes spent observing different species of monkeys, then a 35 minute ride back to your hotel. This is a popular tour.
Next time we go to Panama City, we want to go to Boquete. It is referred to as one of the world’s best retirement destinations. The ex-pat community is well-established and extremely active. Ex-pats and locals have set up a weekly market, a small theater company, a library, and much more. It has one of the world’s most perfect climates, with lows around 65F and highs barely in the 80s. It also has farm-fresh produce, award-winning coffee plantations, and the famous La Amistad natural park.
For more information or questions about your next trip, call Paige MacDonald at A Destination Travel, 702-248-1234 or 702-606-0993.