What a Skyline - Panama City
We flew into Panama City at night so our first impressions were simply how awful the traffic was... we could see the streams of stand still lights from the air! Therefore it took us an hour to do a 15 minute journey by taxi. Apparently this is because it was raining and it was rush hour...
Arriving in the city centre was amazing as we haven't seen anything so modern and such high rise buildings since leaving The UK. The dramatic skyline is not too dissimilar to that of Hong Kong, New York, London or Singapore.
We checked into El Machico Hostel which is nice, modern and clean and in a great location before heading to the old town. We were meeting a friend for dinner in the old town which is beautiful, full of old ruins combined with modern European style architecture and lots of churches. As it was night time our sightseeing was limited...
The next day we got up bright and early and - in true tourist style - we jumped on the big red City Sightseeing Bus!
Panama City is very large and it requires transportation to get from most areas outside of the main CBD. The bus worked perfectly for us - we did the complete loop (aptly named The Canal Route) once without getting off so that we could get our bearings and work out what stops interested us.
On the second loop we got off at the first stop which was the Miraflores Canal Visitor Centre. It's about 25 minutes out of town but it's worth the visit!!! We absolutely loved it, there's an interactive museum with lots of the history, modern information including the new locks that were completed in 2016, a cool video which shows the process of how it works and of course the canal itself.
The Visitor Centre / Museum is spread out over 4 levels and there's plenty of viewing deck space. Including stadium style tiered seating where you can (and trust me, people do) sit for hours on end watching and waiting. It overlooks the Miraflores Locks which are the Locks on the Pacific side of the Canal so you can watch the boats pass through. We were lucky enough to see two small boats pass through and it was fascinating. The larger cargo ships that would be more impressive to watch come through after 2pm we were told but unfortunately we couldn't wait around.
The Locks are very long and very deep so it's interesting to just watch how they work and the various water levels that need to change in order for the boats to pass through. The Visitor Centre costs $15 but it's amazing and the best way to see the canal.
You can also see it from various points throughout the city including Ancon Hill but not close up and certainly not near enough to see the process and sheer size of the Canal.
Next stop for us on the bus was Isla Flamenco which is a pretty marina with fabulous views of the city on the way to and from the island and also a lovely marina full of posh boats and a great place to bask in the sun and grab some lunch. Which is exactly what we did, through the marina you can see the impressive skyline and it is a nice place to simply relax. There are a couple of restaurants that are on the front of the marina giving you an ideal backdrop!
Another stop was the Bio Museo which is a fabulous example of modern architecture but we didn't fancy going in to the museum when we had such glorious weather so we continued to Casco Viejo - The Old Town.
Casco Viejo is very interesting and quirky, it has a strong European influence from various past historical events and also lots of "ruins" which are said to be from a previous ruler who set the Old Town on fire! Nowadays when walking around you can see the ruins mixed in with the modern and still surprisingly European-style buildings. It's a fantastic area to wander around full of churches, ruins, small bars and restaurants and another good place to look back on the skyscrapers and get that postcard picture.
A great lookout point and an awesome place to do some wildlife spotting is Ancon Hill which is the only hill visible in the city. On a clear day the views are amazing and you can see the Canal, Locks, Skyline and all the surrounding Sea and Suburbs.
You can get a taxi right to the top but it's nicer to get the taxi to the bottom and walk up the road that winds up the hill, it takes about 30mins from bottom to top. We saw a Toucan, Capybaras and lots of Monkeys and Butterflies on our walk up and as aforementioned the views are incredible.
At nighttime there are a lot of rooftop bars than you can go to in order to see the iconic skyline and picturesque views. One of them is Trump's Towers - the tallest option boasting a bar and an infinity pool on the 66th floor. Another is the Hard Rock Hotel with "Bar In The Sky" which is on the 62nd floor. Both have great views and are nice places to hang out and grab a drink in the evening.