The Panama Canal No Panama trip is complete without a visit to this iconic landmark. Located in Panama city and can even be spotted from the sky as you come in to land. Construction of the canal was started by the French, before the US took over in 1904. The construction took 10 years to complete and the length of the canal is a staggering 82km. Sometimes as many as 54 ships a day pass through the canal, which significantly cuts their journey time. The average toll fee a ship pays is $150,000. It was fascinating to stand at the side of the canal and watch the ships being guided through by the canal workers. Some of the ships were literally carrying thousands of containers.
Casco Viejo - The Old City I'd recommend 3-4 hours casually strolling round Casco Viejo. There's plenty of restaurants, cafes, and attractions within the area. The Metropolitan Cathedral (renovated in 2003) is beautiful and located in Independence Plaza, where there are many other sights, including The Panama Canal Museum. Walk the wall next to Plaza de Francia and Las Bovedas Monument. You'll then get great views of both the ocean and the city. Also don't forget the National Theater, where guided tours are available. You'll see plenty of Spanish colonial architecture, but then also blends of French, which gives the area such character.
Soberania National Park A huge draw of Soberania National Park is it's close proximity to Panama City. You can be at the park entrance in just over 30 minutes. What awaits you is beautiful greenery, a selection of hiking trails, and wildlife. I saw many different bird species, a keel bill toucan, and a slow. Being in nature is a winner, but the wildlife is an added bonus.
Gatun Lake & Monkey Island Gatun Lake is a large freshwater artificial lake, which is also a major part of the Panama Canal as it carries ships on part of their transit. There are regular boat rides that operate daily, which will enable you to cruise along the lake and visit Monkey Island. This consists of multiple island, which all have slightly different wildlife. The first had white faced monkeys, the next had capuchin monkeys, and then the third had tamarin monkeys. In addition, you'll see plenty of bird species and also crocodiles.
Fort San Lorenzo This spot was once the chief Atlantic port of Panama, which will explain the abandoned village you'll see on the way into San Lorenzo National Park. This is also the spot where the Chagres River (discovered by Christopher Columbus) and the Atlantic Ocean meet. The fort itself was built in the 1680's and held approx 350 people at one time. The cells have quite a picturesque view and the fort as a whole is very impressive. You'll take the main road through the park en route to the fort, so do keep your eyes open for wildlife.
Panama Viejo The remaining part of the original Panama City is referred to as Panama Viejo. This is an archaeological site that also holds the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded in 1519 by the Spanish and was actually the first European settlement along the Pacific. Most of the ruins are actually buried under a poor residential site, but the site is definitely still worth a visit due to its historical importance to the country.
Biomuseo An entire museum focusing on the natural history of Panama. The building itself is colourful and architecturally pleasing. There's an outdoor atrium covered with colourful metal canopies. The exhibitions convey how natural forces affect humans and the importance of the interconnectivity of life to the survival of all plants and animal species.
I booked The Executive Hotel. It's centrally located to explore the city as a whole, and it was very good value for money. The facilities are great, which include a high end fitness center, the breakfast had a good selection, and the WiFi connectivity was strong. The rooms are spacious and have great amenities.
During my time in Panama, all of the food was superb, so it was difficult to pick a favourite. However, special mention to Restaurant MILANO, which is located in Simon Bolivar Plaza. I had a delicious serving of pork which was covered in a papaya salsa. This is a popular local dish, so thought I would give it a go! The cheesecake is also a worth dessert follow up. Was also great to catch up with fellow traveller Randy Williams.
For my contact on the ground to help me with logistics, I used Kat and her company Kats Tours. She has years of experience, was extremely knowledgable, competitively priced, and also very helpful with onward travel arrangements. She can be contacted via Whatsapp Kats Tours +507 6480 9444.