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A Day in Panama City, Panama (1)

Buenos Dias ! Three years ago if someone had suggested investing in Panama I would have laughed and thought they were crazy. Like most people I knew little of Panama. To the best of my memory it was a small country, somewhere in Central America, with a canal for shipping and I recalled talk of a dictator roaming about. A wake up call followed by some internet research changed my life and my knowledge of Panama forever.

My journey began as I prepared my apprehensive family for a different kind of vacation. We removed our jewellery, left our "nice" clothes behind, donned our backpacks and boarded a plane in Toronto. Less than 5 hours later we landed in Panama. Something had to be wrong! There was no stop-over and the time was the same. How could this world away be less than 5 hours, non-stop from Toronto and in the same time zone?

After arriving at the international airport in Tocumen we drove along the modern toll highway (Corredor Sur - the south run) into the city. Reaching the point where the highway is built out over the ocean, I looked to my right and noticed the ruins of Panamá Viejo. On a later trip I arrived at night and enjoyed a special little treat as the site is lit by flood lights and looks quite impressive and beautiful in contrast to the modern condominium towers of Punta Pacifica, directly in front.

Our whirlwind adventure began with a hotel stay, in the heart of Panama City, for just over ! Close by we noticed all of the night life and modern conveniences of any major city. It really was as modern as Miami, just as we had heard - too bad we left our nice clothes and jewellery behind! And where was this "Third World Country" we had been led to be afraid of? Although the city was busy and the drivers pretty crazy it reminded me of many other older big cities - Montreal, Rome, and Paris.

Rich pre-Colombian heritage of native populations stretching back over 12,000 years was still evident in the art and artefacts. Of course the Spanish Colonial period combined with some French influence is most obvious in the architecture. The protective fort walls (circa 1673) still stand along the edges of Casco Viejo - direct translation means 'Old Helmet' which is quite appropriate considering it was a location chosen for it's safety and ease of defence. Prior to Casco Viejo the city was located to the north east. This is 'Panamá la Vieja' although it is commonly referred to as Panamá Viejo. Panamá Viejo was founded in 1519 by the conquistador Pedro Arias de Ávila, better known as Pedrarias. In 1671 the city was sacked and burned to the ground by the notorious Welsh pirate Henry Morgan. There really is little left beyond a few ruins but it is certainly worth a stop or drive by. Casco Viejo by contrast is still a small city within the city and we spent a number of hours here during the day and returned again for some great dining at night. It's a mixed bag here and the area is definitely in transition. You find old buildings with peeling paint right next to beautifully restored ones. It is quite reminiscent of New Orleans with narrow streets, cafes, restaurants and even a jazz bar. My favourite sights included: the Church of the Golden Altar (Iglesia de San José); Plaza de la Independencia (this is the plaza where Panama declared it's independence from Columbia in 1903); Plaza de Francia, Plaza Bolívar, the area around the Palacio de las Garzas, and the Flat Arch (Arco Chato). It was lovely walking around and I really felt like I was in Europe when I visited this special place.

Although we didn't have any problems at all, Casco Viejo is known not to be the safest part of the city. However, like anywhere I found using common sense kept us out of any trouble. Also, there were plenty of tourism police around and that added a touch of comfort. Returning at night I really felt more comfortable being dropped off in the plazas.

To end our day we discovered one of my favorite restaurants in all of Panama, Manolo Caracol on Avendia Central y calle Tercera in Casco Viejo. When you plan your visit be sure to call ahead for a reservation!

Well it's time to head back to our hotel. I'll catch up with you tomorrow as we explore more of Panama City. Hasta Luego!

About the Author: Mark has been there and done it! He moved to the warm, stable Republic of Panama. With his wife and two sons he travelled throughout the country and learned how to Safely Invest in Panama Real Estate. Panama City, Bocas del Toro & Boquete - Now you can follow this family journey discovering the best places to eat, stay, live and invest. Learn more about Mark's adventures at

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