I completed my visit to Panama with only one question in mind – “When do I get to come back?”
Without a doubt, Panama is one of the most interesting countries I’ve ever visited. It’s essentially three destinations – beach area (Playa Blanco and Playa Bonita), the Rain Forest and the metropolitan area of Panama City. Each destination, in and of itself, would make a wonderful vacation, but being able to visit all three areas makes a visit to Pamana something very special indeed.
Upon arrival in Pamana City, you’re struck by the city’s modernity and energy. High-rise hotels, high-rise apartment buildings, banks, casinos, restaurants, shops and businesses make up this bustling area with its very active commerce, arts, culture, nightlight and dining. And, a visit to the old Colonial City (Casco Viejo) – founded in 1673 – should definitely be part of any Panama itinerary. At the center of Casco Viejo is Independence Plaza that has many restored and colorful buildings.
By the way, I wasn’t aware, until my visit, that the Panama Canal doesn’t run East to West; it runs North to South, with Pamana City anchoring the southern port that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Panama’s official currency is the US Dollar and English is widely spoken as a second language. Service is “American-style” and the hotels’ and restaurants’ quality is top-notch.
The Miraflores Locks – just a half hour north of Panama City – has a wonderful Visitors Center boasting cool and very informative museum outlining the importance of the canal to Panama and the world. There’s a shaded viewing pavilion from which you can watch ships – large and small – pass through the locks. Some of the larger ships go through with literally inches to spare on either side! (A visit to the Miraflores canal museum is included in several of Apple Vacations’ optional day-tours and in our Explore Panama program.)
Some cool tidbits about the Panama Canal:
- Two million gallons of fresh water are used for every vessel that passes through the Canal locks.
- A typical transit of the Canal by a cargo ship takes approximately 8 to 10 hours.
- The highest toll was $419,420, paid by the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl in February 2011.
- A multi-billion dollar project designed to widened and deepen the canal be will completed in 2014 and will allow ships double the size of today’s canal-capable vessels to go through it.
About an hour north of Panama City is the Soberania tropical rainforest that quite literally powers the Panama Canal with the billions of gallons of water it needs annually. The Rain Forest is simply incredible; it’s home to hundreds of types of birds, mammals and reptiles. What struck me most was how dense and colorful the jungle is in this area, with its flowers the size of dinner plates and incredibly large trees. From this area, you can hike, bike and take a boat tour of the Chagres River and see rare white-faced monkeys jumping around the trees above.
The beach areas of Playa Bonita and Playa Blanca are, respectively, about 40 minutes and 90 minutes drive from Panama City. The drive to the beach areas is through very picturesque, rolling hills and small towns and shopping areas. Playa Blanca is a particularly large beach that stretches along the Pacific Ocean; beach walkers will love the fact that they can walk for miles. Guests looking for value and fun should look at the Decameron Resort, a family-friendly all-inclusive resort that stretches along the beach; during my visit to the Decameron, it was very clear that families were having a great time.
If you’re thinking about visiting Panama, check out our seven-night “Explore Pamana” tour that splits time in all three areas – Panama City, the Rainforest and Playa Blanca.
So, the answer to my original question “when do I get to go back?” – As soon as possible!