Panama Metro – primero en Centroamérica

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Metro – catching up

The first Metro system in Central America
The first Metro system in Central America.

The first line of the London Underground was opened in 1863. A century and a half later the first trains of Panama’s City’s new Metro began running. We’re catching up.

This is the frst metro system in Central America and has come none too soon in view of the traffc congestion caused by the enormous growth of the high-rise city in the past two decades. The other measure to supplement the Metro rail system has been to replace the old city buses, secondhand school buses imported from the U.S and decorated into mobile folk art, with modern passenger buses. The old buses, known as “Red Devils”, partly because of the reckless way their drivers sped down Via España, can still be seen coming in from the country.

The first line of the metro rail system, which is partly underground and partly overhead, stretches from the national bus terminal at Albrook, through the city center and nine miles out to the distant suburb of Los Andes.

The plan is to extend the line on a new bridge over the Canal and out to the new city of Panama Pacifco and on to the growing satellite towns to the west.

The novelty of the Panama City Metro continually draws people in from country areas, including groups of indigenous people in chartered buses, just to take a ride on Panama’s “Underground”.

Az says it all

Reception area of the Az Hotel & Suites
Reception area of the Az Hotel & Suites.

Although you may not get everything from A to Z, you certainly get your money’s worth at the newly refurbished and aptly-named Az Hotel & Suites.

First of all, the 73 room hotel is located in the very convenient neighborhood of El Cangrejo in the heart of the city close to restaurants, casinos, stores and banks and two blocks from busy Via España and the Metro station at the beautiful El Carmen Church. Facilities include pool and infant pool, business center, salon for meetings, free parking and a comfortable restaurant and bar.

United Country

An indication of the buoyancy of the real estate market in Panama is the opening of two more offces of the international giant United Country. The company, which has over 500 offces throughout the world, predominantly in the United States, franchised an office in Panama City a few years ago and now two more offices of United Country have been opened in Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast and Coronado, on the Pacifc beaches of the province of Panama where many residential projects are under way.

RedPlus

If you have money to change upon arriving in Panama, forget the banks. Go straight to RedPlus, a money exchange house in Panama City’s banking district and be attended in an elegant, friendly environment with staff who understand a traveller’s needs. An example: RedPlus offers packets containing 100 dollars’ worth of the most-used currencies, allowing travellers to hit the ground running upon arrival at most destinations. They call the packet “pocket money”.

The company offers many more services – money transfers to and from most places in the world, services to businesses which receive payment in non-dollar currencies, and the thing which really sets it apart – it’s online presence.

Through the interactive chat service, accessed through the RedPlus website (gruporedplus.com) Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., savvy planners can get advice, including as to when the exchange rate favors them.

The main offce of RedPlus is on the ground foor of Magna Corp Building on Calle 51 and as we went to press, the frst of a series of other branches was about to open at Multiplaza Pacific Mall at Punta Pacifica.

Tu Chofer

Taking a taxi in Panama City is to take pot luck. They are all yellow but there the similarity ends. Some are new and clean, others are tatty, some have air conditioning, some not. Some drivers are nice and others refuse to take you where you want to go.

A happy client of Tu Chofer
A happy client of Tu Chofer.

Then there is TuChofer.com. Use your smart phone as an Alladin’s lamp and Hey Presto, not a genie, but a clean, air conditioned taxi with a courteous and skillful driver pulls up beside you. And you have even been tracking his progress towards you.

Inspired by car services in France, TuChofer’s app uses GPS-enabled smart phones to locate the customer.

The app is available from App Store or Google Play. Paying by credit card is a convenience and security is ensured because the client must provide the driver with a unique pin, given through the app. Many clients use the service for transfers to and from Tocumen Airport. Give it a try.

Hyatt Place

The new Hyatt Place hotel in Panama City is indeed a place to enjoy. It could be at the pool 19 foors atop the hotel; just imagine the view from up there! Or in The Market Restaurant enjoying fresh-baked pastries, or working out in the Stay Fit R Hyatt Gym which stays open 24 hours, or at the complementary breakfast buffet.

The comforts of home are offered, too, in the 165 spacious rooms and 23 “deluxe Large King Rooms” and complimentary Wi Fi is available all over the hotel.

The hotel, which is strategically located in the banking district close to shopping malls, restaurants and nightlife, is only a few steps away from a Subway station which can take you to the giant Albrook Mall and the Central bus terminal at Albrook.

For meetings, Hyatt Place offers five elegant banquet salons and boardrooms. The hotel was expected to open in the second half of 2014.

Casa de Cristal

Wedding planners who may want to add a fairy tale quality to their events will be taking a good look at the Finca Lerida Coffee Plantation and Boutique Hotel in Boquete in the Chiriqui Highlands.

Casa de Cristal under a full moon
Casa de Cristal under a full moon.

The hotel now offers a unique wedding venue at its Casa de Cristal, an edifice constructed with transparent acrylic and polyurethane which can accommodate up to 300 guests. The almost ethereal ambiance of the building, the columns of which are illuminated internally, is enhanced by the transparent banquet chairs with the trademark “Tiffany” and “Ghost”.

Finca Lerida’s general manager, Sr. Angel Rodriguez, told us that after the frst wedding at the new Casa de Cristal recently, enquiries have been pouring in.

The Casa de Cristal is by no means the only draw for Finca Lerida as a venue. The 150 hectare property is a coffee plantation whose rolling rich green hills are backed by towering peaks. The landscaping and gardens where riots of fowers bloom year round is a showplace of tropical splendor.

Hot Chombo -- hot sauceHot Chombo, the hot sauce manufactured by Panamanian company Secrets of Panama Corp., recently entered the South Korean market on the heels of successful incursions into the Canadian and U.S. markets. Their (not too) secret ingredient, rum, grants a special Caribbean favor.

Luxury Camping at Altos del María

Camping is not what it used to be. No more the rugged pleasures of struggling with tent pegs, guy ropes, mud and bugs. At Altos del Maria in the mountains, an hour and a half west of Panama City, a novel style of holiday has been established called Luxury Camping.

Luxury and love in the mountains
Luxury and love in the mountains.

The tent you sleep in is a tent in name only. It has en suite bathroom, hot water, mini bar, Wi Fi, arm chairs and a terrace with a panoramic view over the distant Pacifc Ocean and the massive peaks of the cordillera. For a camp fre, the fve tents on the camping ground share a barbecue area, or you may prefer to dine in the restaurant or take advantage of room service in your tent. There is air conditioning, too, but that is naturally provided by the ambient temperature which at several thousand feet above sea level oscillates between 17 – 24 degrees Centigrade.

The point of all this is that, apart from the undoubted luxury, you are situated among the most rugged and beautiful natural surroundings that Latin America can offer.

Ecological trails passing rivers and waterfalls lead to the top of the Divide, where at over 3000 feet, there is a simultaneous view of both the Pacific and the Caribbean. Altos del Maria is also a birding destination. The Audubon Society has identifed about 276 species in the area. It is also an extreme sport destination, offering mountain biking and rappelling down vertical mountain clefts.

The decor of the fve tents at Luxury Camping is themed for the elements: air, fre, earth, water and the most powerful element of all…. Love.