On the fourth of March, after departing Playa Venao, we crossed the Panamerican Bridge and drove into Panama City. About half of the population of Panama, some two million people, live in the area, and so we knew we were in for something different. Immediately the contrast with rural Panama was striking. Panama City is a large, dynamic modern city with a diverse blend of architecture, people and culture.
We stayed in a house in a nice part of town called Altos de Golf, which we arranged through Home Exchange. Up until this point we have stayed in AirBnBs and hotels. But going forward we will be using Home Exchange almost exclusively and that should help allay some of the costs for accommodations while giving us the opportunity to experience places as would a local. We enjoyed the house, especially the backyard pool which provided some relief as temperatures soared into the mid 30’s centigrade each day.
On day one in Panama City we enjoyed a walking tour led by a very knowledgeable local named Jorge who did a fantastic job. He gave us a good primer on the history of the area and showed us around Casca Viejo, the old quarter. We learned about Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Simón Bolívar, and the notorious Manuel Noriega among other historical figures. We also learned about the 49ers and the role that Panama played in the nineteenth century as a short cut to reaching the California gold rush.
Aside from that we ventured out to see the Panama Canal and later visited the Panama Canal museum where we learned about life in the Panama Canal Zone. We had an inkling that Panama City had a colourful history but suffice it to say came away with a much deeper understanding of its role in Latin American history.
Aside from that we did as the locals do in Panama City. We walked. We bought groceries. We ate delicious food. And the boys got haircuts. Our home exchange ran until the 8th and we needed a hotel for one more night in Panama which gave us a chance to see a different part of the city.
Panama City, and indeed Panama the country, is diverse and full of contradictions. The city has an incredible modern skyline, and also plenty of slums. It has pricey areas but overall the cost of living is significantly cheaper than its neighbour, Costa Rica. For example, the haircuts cost only $2.50USD. A ten minute Uber ride cost only about $3.00. And, although a patio drink in Casco Viejo is going to cost you, the food in a local supermarket, on average, is noticeably cheaper than what we’re used to paying in Canada.
Thank you Panama! If you have a chance to visit, check back here and follow in our footsteps. We made the most of our sixteen days in the country.
That’s it from Central America. Thanks for following along. Now it’s off to Lisbon to begin the European leg of our tour.