Wednesday, September 16, 2015

No Place Like Home...Panama, Part 1: Panama City


Howie and I officially scratched Central America off of our travel bucket list last week during a wild and adventurous trip to Panama.  After having the opportunity to visit a cosmopolitan finance capital, a quiet beach town, the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the rainforest and a gorgeous Spanish Colonial Old Town - all in a single trip - I can most certainly promise that this won't be my last time visiting Central America.  There's no doubt in my mind that the most spectacular part about traveling to Panama was that it still felt like a secret.  I was at some of the most astonishingly beautiful places I had ever been in my life, but knew that only a handful of other people had laid eyes on the landscape or stepped on the terrain.

Welcome to Panama, the "land of 1,000 fishes"...and perpetual bad hair days.


We had the luxury of departing for Panama at 6:00 am (can you sense my sarcasm?), which meant a wake up time of 3:00 am.  By the time we arrived to the trendy Hard Rock Megapolis Hotel in the early afternoon, we were exhausted...and there was most certainly a massive downpour that we watched fearfully while we ate our lunch...but there was a whole city to explore!  Howie and I began walking down the Cinta Costera, a beautiful pedestrian pathway along the waterfront.  It's a great zero-cost activity in Panama City!


But then in true Panama fashion, the slight bits of blue beyond the cloud cover turned into an incredibly dark grey faster than we could say "rain, rain go away, come again another day" - we knew we were in trouble.  We started walking at a brisk pace and getting our rain coats out of our backpack when it started downpouring harder than I've ever seen in my life!

Hellooo rainforest!  I definitely should have mentally prepared myself for this.




Time for a side note: I don't care how hot and humid it is in Panama, it's an absolute necessity to have a rain jacket with you at all times and to always store your electronics in ziploc bags in your backpack!  I read about the ziploc bag trick the day before I left and it definitely saved my phone on more than one occasion!

Okay, back to the story.  So naturally, this huge rainstorm had to come out of nowhere when we were smack dab in the middle of the 3-4 mile walk from our hotel downtown to Casco Viejo - the only option was trudging forward in the pouring rain.  Luckily, within 5 minutes we heard loud music blaring from a funky pavilion along the Cinta Costera.  Once we got a little closer, we realized we had inadvertently found the wildly popular Mercado del Marisco, a bustling fish market complete with live music, beer, much-needed shelter from the elements and a huge variety of seafood snacks, including the best ceviche in Panama City.  Howie and I were without a doubt the only Americans in the entire market, but it was nice to get a little taste of authentic Panamanian culture.  I would consider the fish market a must-visit when you're in Panama City, even if you hate seafood as much as Howie!


After a half hour of taking in the people and music, the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to poke out; it was time to continue on our journey to Casco Viejo.


**deep breaths as I put my soaking wet rain jacket back on**

I was in absolute awe over how lush the grass and surrounding landscape was during our entire walk.  I know it must be nice to visit Panama during dry season, but the rainy season makes the vegetation thrive.  G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S.  Hotels and tours are also cheaper, which is a definite bonus for budget travelers like Howie and I!  My advice: visit in September or October - it's rainy for a portion of the day in Panama City and will be drier than usual in the beautiful islands of Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean side!



The closer we got to Casco Viejo, the "Old Town," the more beautiful the landscape and architecture became.  At just over 340 years old, Casco Viejo is the oldest standing city in the Americas on the Pacific coast!  I would highly recommend getting your hotel in this district of town because everything is walkable - the complete opposite of the downtown area in which you are not advised to walk anywhere except the Cinta Costera and a couple of streets known for their bars and restaurants.

Casco Viejo is basically Spain minus the price tag.  #winning



A few hours later, we were feeling tired, thirsty and "thirsty"...we were on vacation after all!  When we saw Finca del Mar, a patio bar with swing seats surrounded by palm trees in the middle of the urban landscape, we knew it had our names all over it!  Throughout the trip, I was constantly reminded that the art of cocktail-making is taken very seriously in Panama.  I quite literally had bartenders cut open an entire watermelon to pummel juice for my cocktail, and even had one run out to the beach to pick a fresh coconut for my coconut mojito drink!  Service was...in all honestly, extremely slow at every single place I went to in the entire country.  But I can promise you that each and every cocktail is worth the wait!

It's called "island time" for a reason.


As we were making our way home, we stumbled upon a huge market, well, more like fiesta, in the middle of a dilapidated, graffiti'd courtyard in Casco Viejo.  Music was blaring, drinks were being poured and hipster Panamanians were socializing with each other near vendors selling clothing, knick knacks and art.  We walked right past the market initially, but I'm so thankful that we backtracked and went inside.

This market definitely set the mood for the rest of the trip - sometimes you need to look beyond the worn surfaces of buildings and businesses to find the most authentic, vibrant and breathtakingly beautiful parts of Panama.


The rest of the night was low key and included sheltering ourselves from more rain in our massive Hard Rock Hotel complex and falling asleep early after all of our busy day of traveling.  Oh yeah, and eating dinner at a fancy Japanese restaurant in which Howie thought he was ordering "fish with eggs" and accidentally ordered actual salmon eggs.  I'm never going to let him live that one down.  I would post a picture, but there is a chance you might be eating or looking for something to eat on my blog...

Next Up, the Panama Canal and our move to Bocas del Toro!


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please share your thoughts!