The Warm Capitals: Panama City, Manila, San Juan, and Port of Spain

Port of Spain, Trinidad, Tobago, architecture, dark sky, travel, photo

For many, the ideal vacation is to go where it is sunny and warm, be it the tropics or somewhere with good “Mediterranean” climate.  Be it the Caribbean, the South Pacific, or the Greek Isles, sun and fun seem to go together.  I am not as much a chaser of these climates but they definitely present great color and usually interesting and, pardon the word, warm peoples.  For the “Capital Cities” series,  I have chosen four warm capitals:  Panama City, Manila, San Juan, and Port of Spain.

Panama City, Panama

I have shared before about incredible and ever-changing Panama City, a place I have visited over four different decades and which I always enjoy.

Panama City, Panama, tropics, modern vs. old, photo, travel

Modern Panama City as seen from the Casco Viejo

As I have family there, I get to do both the things a visitor would do but also live a little like the locals when I am there.  Panama City is both old and modern and whether by visiting the old ruins of the original establishment, or exploring the old (but not as old) city or “Casco Viejo,” or entering the Canal Zone, or simply enjoying the modern life, Panama City offers great experiences.  And when those are not enough, then fly to the Pearl Islands or head to other beautiful parts of the country like the area near Chagres or Chiriqui, for example.

Manila, The Philippines

I have only visited Manila once and for a rather brief visit.  I shared in another post how the old district has much more history than I understood from centuries of Spanish rule, then American control, then Japanese occupation, and –finally- from the times after it gained its independence.

Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Manila Town Hall, Philippines, golf course, clouds, sky, Olympus

Looking from the Bayleaf’s Sky Deck towards the Manila Town Hall (notice the golf course)

While it can be quite hot and humid (as Panama City), the warmth of the people is well worth the warmth of the climate.  You’d expect that people in any large city would be short-tempered, always in a rush – a la Manhattan.  Not in Manila, where it seems the human connection is most important.  I did not get to venture outside of the city to enjoy what I hear are incredible beaches and other natural settings worth exploring.  But the city alone was well worth the visit!

San Juan, Puerto Rico

You may know from prior posts that I grew up in Puerto Rico.  We moved there when I was two and I left at 17.  15 years to make San Juan a piece of my heart, as the lovely song says:  “En mi Viejo San Juan, cuantos cuantos sueños forjé en mis noches de infancia…”  The old part of San Juan is referred to as “el Viejo San Juan” to distinguish it from the more modern city around it.

El Morro, fortress, San Juan, Puerto Rico, fields, kites, Caribbean, view, vista, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Great fields facing the ocean (note the kites and the city walls) in El Morro

The small island where old San Juan sits is connected by bridges to the rest of the city and, if you don’t pay attention, you may not catch that.

Old San Juan is truly a living museum.  Centuries old, it has not been destroyed nor significantly burned so what you see is what it was and has always been.  But it is not a lifeless museum or collection of old buildings:  people work, shop, play and live in those old buildings!  The heat of the tropics is kind in Puerto Rico due to the strong breezes coming in from the Atlantic, at least on the northern and eastern side of the island so Old San Juan is a great place to spend time as it sits higher than sea level for the most part and the breezes, combined with the shadows the buildings offer part of the day, make it comfortable even for the most cold-loving snowbird.  When you go, make sure you explore the old forts and walls erected by the Spanish centuries ago.  For more of what to see in this incredible place and the rest of Puerto Rico, check out my recommendations on experiences to have in Puerto Rico!

Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago

The capital of Trinidad and Tobago sits in the island of Trinidad.  Facing the water but with hills around it, it is a melting pot of races and cultures which results in a fun place to discover, even when it is not Carnival (which I hear is phenomenal!).  I visited for a few days and enjoyed GREAT food (whether Italian, Indian, tropical, or other!).  I loved driving around the neighborhoods and seeing some neat island architecture.

Trinindad, food, fish, rice, tropical, travel

A delicious lunch at Veni Mangé in Port of Spain was well-deserving of thanks!

While Port of Spain definitely has an industrial side to it, it has many other awesome areas to spend time in – and don’t forget Maracas Bay not too far away (passing through a beautiful tropical forest and great ocean views from the road!).

Port of Spain, Trinidad, Tobago, architecture, dark sky, travel, photo

Great architecture in Port of Spain!

Port of Spain, Trinidad, Tobago, architecture, dark sky, travel, photo

Modern architecture? Check!

The world has many capitals in the warmer climates.  In fact, quite a bit!  Here is to getting to explore many more of them!  Have any recommendations??

Always Changing Panama City, Panama

Paitilla in Panama City, Panama from the Casco Viejo (Old Town)

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.

Surprise!

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!

Paitilla in Panama City, Panama from the Casco Viejo (Old Town)

Looking towards part of Paitilla district from the Casco Viejo

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.

Around the Casco Viejo (Old Town) in Panama City, Panama

Around the Casco Viejo, typical street

Around the Casco Viejo (Old Town) in Panama City, Panama

Around the Casco Viejo

Around the Casco Viejo (Old Town) in Panama City, Panama

Around the Casco Viejo

You already have restaurants and some hotels (the Hotel Colombia is an impressive architectural piece).

Hotel Colombia in the Casco Viejo (Old Town) in Panama City, Panama

Hotel Colombia

Around the Casco Viejo (Old Town) in Panama City, Panama

Juxtaposition of old-and-older in the Casco Viejo

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.

Indoor at the Teatro Nacional (National Theater) in Panama City, Panama

Inside the National Theater

Foreign Ministry courtyard in Panama City, Panama with a large fan

Courtyard at the Foreign Ministry. Notice the HUGE ceiling fan!

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!

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See how we covered from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific coast in this trip ->  click here!

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