Panama City, Panama – a stunning blend of modern high rises and traditional Central American culture

Panama City is a stunning blend of modern high rises and traditional Central American culture that welcomes you, but also stuns you with all of its variations.


Every level of accommodation can be found in Panama City but if you’re here in the high season, or just seeking to get away, a hotel with a pool is probably a must.  Because this was my first time to Panama and because I needed a gentle introduction to the city, I chose a hotel where I knew what to expect and was certain my Spanish recall wouldn’t be in high demand immediately: the W Panama.

The W is a new entry into the hotel market here and has the funk and charm that you would expect from the W hotels.  Higher floors either have city views or ocean views but reader beware: the ocean view rooms aren’t directly on the ocean – the hotel is not on the ocean like the Hilton or the Intercontinental – but rather you need to look over and between buildings so, personally, I didn’t think it was worth the added cost.  I love watching a city come to life, and slowly go to sleep so the city view rooms were best for me.


It was a short stay in Panama City but if you have the chance, I would highly recommend Azahar (, which also happens to be a short walk away from the W Hotel (and right next door to the Hilton).  A fusion restaurant of Mediterranean and Asian influences, the staff here was outstanding and the food even better.  But here’s the fun part: when you get to the address, there’s a sign that says to go to the 7th floor.  And that is all.  It takes a while to figure out that the restaurant is meant to reflect a speakeasy and you enter the restaurant through a functioning flower shop and “their” refrigerator door!

On my second night, I did try Panamanian food – how could I not, right – but sadly it was underwhelming.  On the upside for this vegetarian, I haven’t seen any place that focuses on “mock meat” and very few with even tofu (and no tempeh or seitan, so far).  I tried the hojalda (a fried dough that accompanies many dishes but was very bland to my taste buds) and the tamal da olla, a mix of tomatoes, onions, garbanzo beans, and some spices that was interesting, but felt like it needed something to go with it (like rice or maybe I should have used the hojalda).  The restaurant was highly rated so I figured it was worth a short: I mean, I didn’t come to Panama to have American food right?


You really only need two nights and one full day in Panama City and that’s to do a tour of the Panama Canal.  I was honestly skeptical of doing a tour of the Panama Canal at first but I am so thankful that I did this and experienced this truly magical and wonderous engineering feat.

In my research, I found a lot of companies that offered tours and many seemed to take you to the museum on the canal (where there is a viewing deck, for the record).  But if this is what you want to do, I don’t think you actually need a tour: take an Uber out to the museum and take things from there. 

But I found Panama Marine Adventures ( who offer half day tours north (from Panama and the Atlantic to the Pacific) or south (a drive from Panama to the north and then to boat south through the locks back to Panama) and this was perfect.  The MC on the boat was informative the entire way, and entertained questions of all sorts.  It is a bit boring, to be honest, getting from the launch to the first lock – I think it takes a good two hours – as there’s not much to do and you do get a little tired of looking at the sides of what is, in effect, a giant river (but it’s a canal), but once you get to the first lock and see how this engineering feat works, and to learn about the process, it is truly wonderful.  And that’s not all because there is a second set of locks that you go through: a set of three, at varying levels, to see the water levels change to accommodate going from fresh water to sea water is stunning.  (Lunch is included.) Another site that I would recommend, but did not go, is the BioMuseum of Panama (  Why recommend something that I did not visit?  Because the BioMuseum is the only Frank Gehry-designed building in Central America and it is unlike any Frank Gehry design I have ever seen.  You will see this from your Panama Canal tour (above) if you do that one, and the colours and structure are simply amazing.

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