Last night, I made it to Panama for my 5th visit. I have relatives here and have always enjoyed coming to see them and enjoy the country.
This time, I made my trip coincide with my mom also coming over to visit my aunt – but as a surprise to my mom! One of my cousins picked me up from the airport and took me to my aunt’s where the surprise took place. My mom’s reaction was priceless! Of course, every one of my Panama-based family members were in on the surprise and, though it was getting late in the evening, they could not leave until they saw “the moment”. Well worth it.
The flight to Panama
Fortunately for me, there is a nice direct flight from Atlanta that takes 4 hours. The plane was close to full but I had exit row (score!) and the seat in exit row that has no seat in front of it so zero feeling of being in a sardine can – the usual feeling in most American airlines. The flight was smooth except that it it took between 10 and 15 minutes for a gate to be cleared for the plane to park. Then another 5 mins to open the plane door. Not sure why something so simple took so long. But perhaps I was just antsy for “the moment”…
Panama City – A City Changed
Today, my relatives took us around showing how much Panama City has changed. My parents hadn’t been here in about 10 years but I had been here 2 yrs ago. For them the change was much more dramatic as areas of the coast line in the city have radically changed. Instead of the waterfront small airport that used to take us and others to the Archipiélago de las Perlas (Pearl Islands), now there is a massive -and nice- mall and construction between it and the water! The skyline is beginning to look more like Dubai’s than anything else with high rises everywhere both finished and under construction. Massive construction boom. Paitilla, a waterfront area where even Trump built a tower, was already growing back in the late 1970s but it has, seemingly, growth logarithmically!
Our relatives tell us that most have sold but start of new buildings has slowed down a bit with the current economic environment. Many unit buyers are actually foreigners from Venezuela (escaping some lunatic there perhaps?), Colombia, and others. A new area called Costa del Este has been developed on the former city dump and in neighboring swampy areas. It took years to clear out and refill. Now, it teems with new construction – high rises and nice gated neighborhoods. Two of my cousins live in Costa del Este and I can’t blame them.
I had been taken on this same tour 2 yrs ago when I last visited but it was neat to see small changes, such as in the Casco Viejo (Old Town), the old part of town that reminds me so much of Old San Juan except the latter has been renovated extensively and kept up quite nicely. This time, I could tell there was more progress on the re-do of the old buildings, some which go back to the 1600s and 1700s. It is already beginning to shape up as a fantastic part of town and will be superb once the works are mostly done.
You already have restaurants and some hotels (the Hotel Colombia is an impressive architectural piece).
I got to enter the National Theater which I had never seen before and it was splendid. We also got to enter the courtyard of the Ministry of Foreign Relations where they have done a great job of semi-enclosing the courtyard to protect from rain but yet kept it somewhat open, especially towards the ocean. Talks and other events are held there and I can see why it would be a great setting.
We also drove to Puerto Amador (Fort Amador, formally a key intelligence center and bunker of the US military and, after the Panama Canal turned over, of Gen. Noriega). Now it bustles with eateries, shops, some condos, etc. I had been there in my last visit at night and it is definitely a good place to go to at night. Nice conversion of a former military facility to a place for folks to enjoy.
We drove through the old city center where many great stores are located. I remember visiting Panama when I was younger and my aunt going there to buy things from this or that “ethnic” store. For example, the Indian stores had great linens. (Indian, as in descendants of people who came from India). There is also an area of Chinese run stores (ethnic Chinese but Panamanian). This area looks a bit more run down than I remember and I couldn’t get a sense of how safe it is… Especially after my relatives said that the street called “Sal si puedes” (“get out if you can”) is particularly dangerous. I suspect that it may be no worse than many inner cities in the U.S. and that an adventurous traveler (not traveling alone) can likely make it through and “get out”.
So, after a lot of driving around, I am back at my cousin’s house to shower and get ready for happy hour at my aunt’s before heading out for dinner. Not really sure what we are doing tomorrow but I am sure it will involve lots of driving around. We have all visited the Canal before (3 times for me) so I doubt we will be doing that this time. Looking forward to another day here and happy to be back in Panama!
See how we covered from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific coast in this trip -> click here!