A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of accompanying Keurig Canada on a coffee origin trip to Colombia. On our way there, we had a layover in Panama City, Panamá for 20 hours. Panama City had never been on my bucket list, and since we only had a short time there en route to Colombia, I didn’t bother to do any research (as I normally do, when I travel).
I went into Panama City with zero expectations and was pleasantly surprised at just how beautiful it is! Panama City piqued my interest and now, I definitely want to return! There are lots of things I learned and observed while on my layover in Panama City:
- Casco Viejo is the old/walled city, and essentially, where you want to be! It has many architectural styles, including Spanish colonial, French, art deco, reflecting the cultural diversity of Panamá. It’s also a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- The streets in Casco Viejo (even on a weekend) are completely empty in the morning. This is great for going for a stroll without hordes of other people around you or in your shot. It seems the streets pick up in the afternoon, perhaps once the cruise ships arrive!
- There is a Saturday market down at Paseo de Las Bóvedas, a trellised promenade covered by vines and bougainvillea. It runs along the top of the sea wall and is a lovely stroll from the centre of Casco Viejo. There are artisans selling straw products and other souvenirs here, which are good quality.
- You must (and I repeat, MUST) stay at or visit the American Trade Hotel. It is one of the Small Luxury Hotels (a collection of over 500 luxury boutique hotels in more than 80 countries). The hotel, itself, is beautiful (both rooms and grounds), and there is a great restaurant on-site that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try the ceviche – it will blow your mind!
- The American Trade Hotel overlooks Plaza Tomás Herrera, one of the main squares in Casco Viejo. It has a cobblestone walkway and is a prime spot for sitting down or people watching.
- I knew about the beautifully coloured doors in Cartagena, but I was not expecting to find them in Panamá. Casco Viejo is filled with them, so there’s a photo opportunity at every corner!
- It seems many flight routes to Colombia and other parts of South America include a layover in Panama City. Some airlines offer a 24-hr. layover in Panama City for no additional charge. So, take advantage!
I wanted to know more about Panamá, so I learned some other fun facts:
- Panamá is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific Ocean and set on the Atlantic Ocean.
- While it has its own official currency (the Balboa), Panamá was the first Latin American country to adopt the USD and the USD is its day-to-day currency.
- Due to the recent influx of wealth, skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, Panama City has been given the unofficial title of “The Dubai of Latin America”. Panama City ranks #45 in the world for high-rise building count.
- Casco Viejo (also called “Casco Antiguo”) and is not to be confused with Panamá Viejo, which is “Old Panamá”. Casco Viejo was built after the destruction of Panamá Viejo, as a walled city to protect against future pirate attacks. Most of Panama City’s main monuments are located in Casco Viejo and Panamá Viejo is mainly still in ruins.
Because I only spent a 20-hr. layover in Panama City, I don’t have many recommendations. If you want to see everything I saw and did there, you can check my “panama” story highlight on Instagram. And since, pictures tell a thousand words anyway, I hope you enjoy this photo diary!
Is Panama City on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below!