Avid traveler and Venezuelan national Andreina Pantin moved to the Republic of Panama in 2009, and has been exploring the ins and outs of its capital city ever since. The strategic planning consultant and mother of two believes that “to love a place, it is important to know it, its people, and its culture,” and practices what she preaches by blogging about her ongoing discoveries in and around Panama City.
Here are a few of Andreina’s favorite things about the cultural crossroads she calls home.
Panama City Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them to is my favorite place in the city, Casco Viejo (Old Town), to soak up the bohemian neighborhood’s charming mix of belle epoque and Caribbean architecture. Sitting and having a drink in Bolívar Plaza is the perfect way to end the afternoon.
December through March is the best time to visit my city because it’s relatively dry and the weather is cooler.
You can see my city best from Ancón Hill. You can see the Casco Viejo from one side and skyscrapers behind the Panama Canal—a century-old engineering wonder that was built to connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans—from the other. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a native Panamanian animal, the ñeque, as you’re walking around.
El Centro de Artesanía de Panamá Viejo is the place to buy authentic local souvenirs. My favorites are the intricate and colorful mola textiles made by the indigenous Guna people of Panama and Colombia. You can also find beautiful handicrafts, such as wooden figures, masks, and baskets, made by the Emberá. If you’re looking for upscale authentic souvenirs, head to Reprosa in Casco Viejo.
My city’s best museum is the gorgeous Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo. The museum’s focus is on migrations that occurred when Panama was formed, becoming a land bridge for animals to cross between the Americas.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that it is hot and humid, so it’s best to avoid walking outdoors past noon.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is Metropolitan Park, a piece of tropical rain forest on the edge of Panama City that is ideal for trekking and bird watching. You can also go for a walk or a bicycle ride on the Amador Causeway, a road connecting Panama City with a string of islands in the Pacific.
My city really knows how to celebrate Carnival season. The highlight of the festivities leading up to Lent is the mojaderas, where a water truck named Culeco dowses the crowd with an enormous hose as they dance to the beat of murga music.
You can tell if someone is from my city if someone greets you with “Qué xopá?” or exclaims “Ayala vida!”
For a fancy night out, go to Tántalo or any rooftop bar in Casco Viejo.
Outside my city, you can visit San Blas Islands to enjoy a white-sand paradise with crystal-clear waters. While you’re there, take time to learn about the Gunas, an ethnic group that retains its traditional values and lifestyle.
The Golden Unicorn is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and the restaurants along Vía Argentina are the spots for late-night eats.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read The Visitor Panama.
The dishes that represent my city best are ceviche and carimañola. Sample them at Mercado de Mariscos for ceviche and Niko’s Café for a more affordable option. Visitors should also consider dining at Tinajas or Diablicos, where they can get a taste of Panamanian cuisine while enjoying traditional dance performances. Seco Herrerano, a spirit distilled from sugarcane, is my city’s signature drink.
The most random thing about my city is the tide, which makes the sea move miles from the shore twice a day, and suddenly all the boats become stuck to land.
Taking a dip in the Caribbean and the Pacific oceans on the same day could only happen in my city.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the parks and water fountains at Cinta Costera or the Punta Culebra Nature Center, where children can touch starfish and sea urchins.
The best book about my city is The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough because it not only relays the story of one of the most extraordinary engineering feats of all time, it details the birth of a new nation and the political struggle that the epic undertaking brought.
In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because it’s a point of union between two oceans and continents as well as a melting pot offering an ideal balance between nature and culture.