Easy as 1, 2, 3 in Panama City: The Panama Canal, Casco Viejo & Panama La Vieja

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Easy as 1, 2, 3 in Panama City: The Panama Canal, Casco Viejo & Panama La Vieja

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Spanish course confirmed, check. Accommodation arranged, check. International flight booked, check. But wait, you want to spend some time in Panama City before heading to Boquete or Bocas del Toro? What are you going to do in the city, you might ask? No worries, it is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

View of the Panama City Skyline from my hotel in Bella Vista
View of the Panama City Skyline from my hotel in Bella Vista

When you set up your airport pickup in Panama City with Habla Ya ($35), we can arrange for your driver to give you a city tour. He'll charge you between $10 - $15 per hour depending on how long you'll need him and you'll have the peace of mind that your luggage is safe and sound. Or if you're spending the night in Panama City, you can do it by yourself by using a taxi. Below you'll find approximate taxi rates for Panama City.

The Panama Canal

Probably the first thing that anyone is going to ask you if you say that you have been to Panama, especially Panama City is, did you see the canal? Now for me personally, I was not sure what all the fuss was about. Yeah, it is history, but is it really worth going? But as I sat on the upper balcony of the Miraflores Restaurant, overlooking the water, sipping an ice cold beer, while watching the ships pass through the Miraflores Locks, I realized the answer, YES!

Less then $10 for admission (I paid $8), the Miraflores Visitors Center of the Panama Canal offers the opportunity to experience the significance of this grand endeavor that not only brought together several countries in its making, but has literally reshaped the marina import/export enterprise worldwide forever. It should cost you around $7 to get a taxi from downtown Panama City to the Miraflores Locks.

The Miraflores Locks Visitor Center
The Miraflores Locks Visitor Center

I would recommend starting your tour in the theater. Here you can learn how it all started, and you can even view the movie in Spanish and get a jump start on your practice!

After realizing the shear magnitude of this project (10 years in the making by the USA and a failed try before by the French), it was a humbling experience to walk through the museum of photos, exhibits, and reminders of the effort and passion that was put into the canal.

However, my favorite moment came in watching a container ship pass through the Miraflores Lock. You can do so from the observation area outside, or if you go upstairs to the Miraflores Restaurant, you can also (as I did) enjoy a cold beverage or meal while you wait for the next ship to pass through.

View of the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal from the Visitor Center's Restaurant
View of the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal from the Visitor Center's Restaurant

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Casco Viejo

There is just something about walking down the streets of an old city once grand, that is now marked by the signs of age. But even though some of the building may be weathered, the ambiance of romantic grandeur remains.

Currently in the intermittent stages of being restored, Casco Viejo is the old Spanish colonial sector built in the 1600’s. It is an exquisite mix of old and new, as there are beautifully restored buildings alongside those that have not yet been touched by modern restoration.

Panama City's Cathedral in Casco Viejo
Panama City's Cathedral in Casco Viejo

I recommend stopping by one of the cafes for a cappuccino and fresh out of the oven brownie, and then start your exploration.

The cobble-stoned streets lead the way to plenty of small shops, decadent restaurants, magnificent churches and plazas, and even ocean/bay look out points (great pictures to be had all around!). All of which allow a visit to this area to easily take up a full afternoon (or if you are like me, two afternoons).

Also, if you are looking for a night out, I would highly recommend a visit to Habana Night Club, also located in Casco Viejo. With a live salsa band every Friday and Saturday night (and only $10 cover), you will get a taste of the cultural vibes as you watch both professional and beginners dancers alike salsa, merengue & bachata the night away!

The stage of the Habana Club in Casco Viejo
The stage of the Habana Club in Casco Viejo

A taxi to Casco Viejo should cost you around $2 - $4 depending on where you're staying at.

Panama La Vieja

Last but not least, if you really want to encounter the ancient history of this city, visit the ruins of Panama La Vieja (which was attacked and destroyed by the pirate Henry Morgan in 1671). The recent restoration of the cathedral tower makes it possible to climb the stairs to the top for a full overlook of these 16th century ruins and the city.

As you climb the stairs to the top, it is fascinating to realize that intertwined with the restored areas, are stones that have literally been in place for almost 500 years.

Again, the humbling experience of realizing the magnitude of what was accomplished when these building were originally constructed, solely out of the pure desire of the Panamanian people to literally build a better life for themselves, a richer life.

Me in front of the restored Cathedral tower in Panama La Vieja
Me in front of the restored Cathedral tower in Panama La Vieja

A taxi to Panama La Vieja should cost you around $2 - $4 depending on where you're staying at.

So, there you have it, whether you have one afternoon or a couple of days, passing time in Panama City is as easy as 1, 2, 3!

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Search our blog if you're visiting Panama! From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss, you'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while in our country! We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years and nothing beats local knowledge from the locals themselves.


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1 Response to "Easy as 1, 2, 3 in Panama City: The Panama Canal, Casco Viejo & Panama La Vieja"

  1. Bret says:

    I never been in Panama La Vieja,this will be my next vacation. I really love travelling places with a medieval tower and castle. Last summer i been visiting the Dracula castle in Romania.


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