What to see in Panama City, Panama - Contrast Between Old and New

Typing "Panama City" in an image search engine will give you multiple results showing extremely modern and attractive skyline filled with a forest of impressive skyscrapers. Indeed, Panama City has the largest number of skyscrapers in Latin America and the view over the horizon is spectacular without a doubt. However, looking more deeply, the city is not as perfect. Often, the sidewalks between the glass high-rise buildings are damaged and tangled wires as well as other unspecified objects protrude directly from the ground. The pollution can be another issue.

Nevertheless, Panama City is an interesting capital to visit indeed, unlike some other cities in the region - such as San Jose in Costa Rica (take a look at my post about San Jose). Not many people know that Panama City, apart from the skyscrapers, also has a historical district called Casco Viejo, which is an equivalent of an "Old Town". The architecture here is beautiful, very colorful and more and more buildings are renovated in a hope of bringing more life and tourists into this forgotten former heart of the city.

And, there's the most famous canal in the world - the Panama canal.

 

Arriving in Panama City - How to get to the city from the airport - taking a bus is not easy

 

Panama City is not the most touristic destination in the world - so don't expect too many options and information at the airport.

One of the strangest things right after your arrival is that it's not that easy to get to the city using public transport. This is not because public buses do not exist - they do and there are plenty of them, just a short walk from the airport, there's a bus stop, however in order to use public transport, you must have a travel card. Nothing's wrong with that of course - travel cards instead of single tickets are common nowadays, however, the tricky part is that it's impossible to buy such a card neither at the airport, at the bus stop nor on board - you can only purchase it in the city, and...the bus drivers don't accept cash.

We didn't want to get ripped off by taxis and pay 10 times more for a relatively short trip to the city. So having entered the bus (which was pretty cool, colorful and old style), we managed to buy this card from of a kind passenger who didn't mind exchanging it for cash.

 

 Public buses in Panama city

Public buses in Panama city

 Panama City

Panama City

 Beautiful church we came across in the city center

Beautiful church we came across in the city center

 The church and one of the modern skyscrapers

The church and one of the modern skyscrapers

 High-rise buildings

High-rise buildings

 Socialism is barbaric - graffiti on one of the glass buildings

Socialism is barbaric - graffiti on one of the glass buildings

 Panama City

Panama City

 Beautiful house in the forest of skyscrapers

Beautiful house in the forest of skyscrapers

 The Twisted Tower

The Twisted Tower

 Panama City - modern center

Panama City - modern center

 Contrast - right beside The Twisted Tower

Contrast - right beside The Twisted Tower

 Interesting building of the Biodiversity Museum

Interesting building of the Biodiversity Museum

 

What to see in Panama
 

Modern City
 

The skyscrapers aligned along the waterfront look really impressive, especially when viewed from a distance. There are a few of them that are pretty unique and it's nice to walk around to see them. The city boasts numerous shopping malls and restaurants, so you won' walk hungry. You'll also spot some beautiful churches here and there squeezed in between the glass high rise buildings - the only reminders of the older times in the strict business district.

Nevertheless, the Panama modern city is not too walking friendly city and sometimes you must walk a lot just to get around a massive intersection. Also, the polished, glamorized skyscraper-filled brand new area is not as spotless up close as it seems from a distance. While gazing up admiring the newly finished skyscrapers, you must also be careful not to break your leg and look down to mind some holes and wires sticking out of the pavement.

One of the most characteristic landmarks in the modern center of the city is the F&F tower with its original, twisted shape. You can spot it from many places while just walking around. The building was ranked among the top 10 best skyscrapers in 2011, according to Wikipedia.

Also, if you wish to join the tour that goes to the paradise San Blast islands (and it's totally worth it - probably the most beautiful islands I've seen so far - I'll write about them soon) - the hostel that organizes such tours with some deals and discounts is located in the modern area. The hostel's name is El Machico. Unfortunately, the price for the trip is quite high, but as I mentioned before, I wouldn't hesitate to pay a second time to see this paradise again.



Old district - Puerto Vieho
 

Visiting Panama city is easy as it's divided into two separate sections - the very modern skyscraper metropolis and a tiny but cozy and colorful old district called Casco Viejo.

Casco Viejo could easily pass as an equivalent of  an "old town" in European cities. It dates back to the 17th century and it's beautifully situated right at the beach. Although the sea water is pretty murky and the beach won't be the most beautiful you'll ever see - it is one of the nicest spots in Panama City.

While walking down the narrow streets of Casco Viejo you can't help but think that you're in a completely different city or a town. The only reminder that you're still in Panama City is the skyscrapers visible in between the old, beautiful houses with decorated balconies.

You can clearly see that this district was wrongfully forgotten and neglected for so long. But now - as restoration works are still ongoing - you can enjoy amazingly colourful colonial architecture - it resembles some Spanish towns but has its own, unique charm. There is a surprising number of church ruins in Casco Viejo - most of them are usually not restored but tidied up. You can get an impression that these are some ancient ruins while walking back.

Another great thing about Casco Viejo is that it's so easy to reach it by Uber or bus. Uber in Panama is very affordable and reliable. It takes only 15 mins to reach the old district from the modern part - depending on traffic.

Casco Viejo offers some of the best views of the sea and the modern part. While walking around in the new district, you don't realise how many of the high rise buildings there are in Panama - here, in Casco Viejo, you can enjoy the viewpoints of the entire horizon filled tightly with glass skyscrapers.

 

Panama Canal - Is It Worth it?

 

The easiest way to get to the canal (in around 30 minutes) is to take Uber. It's also possible to catch a bus which will be considerably cheaper, however, Uber is not expensive at all.

The exact place is called Miraflores Locks and this is where the visitor center is located. If you wonder if it's worth visiting, as prices are quite expensive - 15 USD per person, it all depends on your interests. Don't expect breathtaking views or thrilling experiences. The crossing process is very slow. If you're interested in history, however, and how the canal was created so long ago with limited technology and an immense amount of human work and effort - you'll love it.

We really enjoyed the experience, however, as a tip, I must say that it is worth it only if you manage to watch the way a real ship crosses the locks and how the level of water in different parts changes - it all demonstrates how ingenious the technology behind it is. Without seeing it in person - you'd be better off just watching a documentary on YouTube rather than paying the entry fee and bothering to travel here. And vice versa - if you just watch the crossing without knowing the history - it will also seem like a waste of time. Bear in mind that the ships don't cross the canal all the time - it happens only 2 or 3 times a day, sometimes you have to wait a long time - it's better if you call the center and find out for yourself when there will be a ship crossing the next time.

 

 Panama Canal - the level of water changes

Panama Canal - the level of water changes

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 A street in Casco Viejo

A street in Casco Viejo

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 San Francisco Church

San Francisco Church

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 Modern skyscrapers in the background

Modern skyscrapers in the background

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 Beautiful houses in Casco Viejo

Beautiful houses in Casco Viejo

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 Ruins of a church

Ruins of a church

 A street in Casco Viejo

A street in Casco Viejo

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

 One of the old buildings awaiting restoration

One of the old buildings awaiting restoration

 Casco Viejo from a distance

Casco Viejo from a distance

 In Casco Viejo

In Casco Viejo

 Panama City skyline seen from Casco Viejo

Panama City skyline seen from Casco Viejo

 

Author: Tom @ Adventurous Travels

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