Panama City, the Capital of Panama
Located at the entrance to the Panama Canal, Panama City is that country’s largest city and its business, political, and cultural center. A thriving metropolis with over 700,000 residents, Panama City stretches along the Pacific coast from the old city to the edge of the Panama Canal. The city has an international flavor, thanks in part to its importance as a crossroads and banking and commercial center.
History with Pirates and Gold
Panama City’s fortunes have always been tied to the traffic across the isthmus. The narrow strip of land between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans has drawn travelers since the city’s founding in 1519. Not all of the visitors were friendly. The ubiquitous pirate, Henry Morgan and 1400 of his men looted and destroyed the original city in 1671, before moving on to wreck havoc in Jamaica. The foundations of the original city can still be seen today.
The California and Alaska gold rushes of the mid and late 19th century brought thousands of travelers to the Panama City area, as fortune seekers raced to those areas in pursuit of, mostly illusive, riches. Later, the construction of the Panama Canal brought thousands of workers and administrators to the area. Today, the Panama Canal continues to be an important shipping and commercial mecca.
Casco Viejo, the charming Old City
The Casco Viejo is Panama’s old city, the city that was rebuilt after Henry Morgan’s raid. Today, it is a charming quarter, with Spanish colonial architecture, excellent restaurants, and interesting shops and art galleries. Of particular interest is “The Vaults,” a waterfront promenade jutting out into the ocean. The area also has a spectacular 17th century cathedral and the Teatro Nacional, an 800-seat performance center with naturally perfect acoustics. The Canal Museum here tells the story of the Panama Canal and the Presidential Palace, open to the public on Sundays, is an ornate example of Spanish architecture.
Panama City Today
Visitors to Panama City find a mixture of sleek modern skyscrapers, Spanish Colonial architecture, and tropical beauty combined with a Latin vibrancy. There are high-end boutiques – reputed to offer the best values in Latin America, a variety of ethnic and fine dining restaurants, and stylish passers-by. In addition to the Casco Viego, visitors can enjoy the Parque National Metropolitano, a 265-acre tropical rainforest within the city limits. Tourists and Residents alike can take a hike through the forest and marvel at the diverse plant life and wildlife. Panama City’s restaurants are tasty and diverse, with South American beef competing with ethnic fare from around the world. After dark, the city comes alive with a salsa beat and late night dance clubs.
Just offshore lies Isla Taboga, an idyllic getaway from the bustle of the city. Less than an hour’s boat ride from Panama City, the island boasts clean, white sand beaches, a myriad of watersports, and flower-lined hiking paths. No cars are permitted on the island. You can walk anywhere you want to go. Birdwatchers will delight in the variety of unique species there.
Panama City is a surprisingly diverse, modern, and affordable city. It’s also a great place to begin a trip to Panama’s rain forests, historic sites, and offshore island resorts. Panama City is more than just the canal; it’s a vibrant, clean, and exciting city.