Landing in Panama City, we were very pleased to see blue skies and open spaces after being on little Bocas del Toro for so long and the busy streets of the capital city was a welcome change. Passing from the Panama City Airport to Casco Viejo, the old, colonial part of Panama, we managed to slip in behind a police escort for the president and made great time into the center.
The sister hostel of where we stayed in Cartagena, Mamallena, was completely full, so we continued our search to another couple hostels, which to our surprise, were jam packed as well. As we only planned to be in Panama City for a couple days to explore the city and of course, the Panama Canal, any comfortable, reasonably priced place would do. Was not difficult to find a "Hotel" in the center of town, for about $13 a night each, just outside Casco Viejo and we climbed the long marble stairs to an old, but clean room with huge fans, 2 beds and a bathroom. Sorted. Arriving in the afternoon we explored the old part of Panama City with gorgeous colonial buildings similar to Cartagena. Yellows, dark reds, lined with white trim. Big solid wooden doors, and bigger balconies that all seemed to have ivy or something green growing up them.
Looking from old Panama City to the future of Panama
We walked to a road slanting down into a small beach nestled in the middle of the city. Above which was a view point that showed the contrast between old and new Panama. Standing on this viewpoint, in the colonial part of Panama City, we could look over the water at the future of Panama. Huge, daunting, skyscrapers towering over the normal sized buildings below look somewhat out of place here, and with the water surrounding them, reminding me somewhat of Vancouver.
The next day we arose to head of and find the famous Panama Canal. Firstly, we had to ask the person at reception, Where is the Panama canal located, and how much to get there?
Travellers Tip: Always have a rough idea of the price to get somewhere from a local before asking, or agreeing with a taxi driver.
We all hopped into a taxi and a very enjoyable 20 or so minute drive later, we arrived at the big steps leading up to entrance to the Panama Canal. Having always wanted to see the Panama Canal because of its magnitude and significance, I really did not know what to expect. To say I was impressed was an understatement. Not only impressed from the sheer size of the canal when you approach the view point overlooking it, but also the facts provided as to what it entailed, in a sense of lives and labour, to create it.
Boat passing through the Panama Canal
There is a great collection of photos that show the progression of the canal over its roughly 10 year duration to complete. The fact that the idea to build the canal dated back to the 1500's and the possibly 22,000 people that died from disease and accident trying to build it, gives you a sense of appreciate of what you are looking at. It becomes much more than a man made canal. One of the funniest bits of information I found, was that the smallest cost to cross the Panama Canal was done by a gentleman, Richard Halliburton, who in 1928 become the first person to swim the distance of the Panama Canal and paid 36 cents to cross! Since then a few other people have swam the roughly 50 mile stretch but now it seems it is reserved for boats and tankers.
During our time in Panama City, we had pondered the ways of getting to Colombia because of course, there is no real land access between Colombia and Panama. Our options were to of course fly, or do the few day boat trip. A couple of our Australian friends who had taken the boat trip and were safe and dry in Cartagena mentioned that it was a bit of an "adventure" and not necessarily in a good way. This, couple with the fact that the weather had been horrendous the last couple weeks, provoked us to look into the flights. We found a couple cheap flights to Cartagena, with TACA Airlines, and jumped at them. Tomorrow morning, we would be heading to Colombia!