When it comes to Panama City, there seem to be two schools of thought: You either love it or hate it. I lived in Panama City for over a year, and I tend to go back and forth between the two. As I mentioned in previous entry, Panama City channels a Miami meets Las Vegas vibe and is saturated with high-end restaurants, casinos, spas, ritzy hotels and of course, plenty of strip clubs, dance clubs and bars. A perfect adult playground, as long as you can stand the heat. But even city-haters just passing through before heading to quieter sometimes have no choice but to stay a night in the Panama City. I’ve already talked about what Panama City offers those looking for a little adult fun, but what about those of us who prefer a good cup of coffee to a bottle of Abuelo rum? Not to fear, I’ve outline my perfect day in Panama City:
Head to Casco Viejo, Panama’s attractive historic district, where you’ll find plenty of Spanish colonial buildings, handsome churches and fancy restaurants. I recommend heading here in the early morning to avoid the mid-day Panama City heat and humidity. Skip the museums and just stroll around a bit (unless you’re skipping the Panama Canal, in which case I recommend visiting the Casco Viejo Canal Museum), admiring the restored (and sometimes still dilapidated) architecture. Around Las Bovedas, admire Kuna molas and handicrafts and take in the fantastic Panama skyline view. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, be sure to head to Granclement (Avenida Central between Calle 3 and Calle 4), serving up some of the city’s best ice cream. If you’re looking for something a bit heartier, head to one of Casco’s many fine restaurants. I recommend Manolo Caracol for culinary adventurers (www.manolocaracol.net), S’cena (www.scenaplatea.com) for those who prefer high-end elegance and international fare and Deli Gourmet (www.granddeligourmet.com) for those just looking for a good sandwich or salad.
If you’re tired out from your hard day of strolling, souvenir shopping and dining, head back to your hotel for an afternoon siesta or head to one of Panama’s City’s excellent spas for a few hours of pampering and relaxation. As I am not much of spa person myself, I consulted with my friend Jennifer Crissman, a Panama-city based expat who gave me the following advice on top Panama City spas:
Alta Vita (http://altavitaspa.com/about.htm): mostly organic many services. Located in San Francisco.
Mosaico: Super lovely, highly recommended but kinda pricey. Located in Multiplaza Mall.
Intercontinental: Nicest hotel spa.
Radisson: Fanciest hotel spa.
Veneto: Best-priced hotel spa.
Since you’re feeling reenergized now, head hail a cab and go to the Amador Causeway, Panama’s manmade boardwalk and one of the city’s quietest and most attractive areas. Watch the sunset over the Pacific and enjoy the evening breeze. For dinner, head to Mi Ranchito, a popular, long-time favorite with affordable dishes, a good view of the Panama City skyline and nice breeze. You can’t miss the restaurant — it got a thatched roof and is the only place on the Causeway that’s always full. You may have to wait a while, but I recommend sitting under one of the thatched-roof bohios on the restaurant’s patio for the best view of the city. At Mi Ranchito, you can choose from a variety of tasty Panamanian fare, such as ceviche de camarones, pescado al ajillo and pulpo a la plancha (shrimp ceviche, garlic fish, grilled octopus). If you’re still not tired out, head to The Wine Bar for an after dinner merlot or cocktail before heading back to your hotel for the night.