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Panama City earns its sobriquet “Crossroads of the World”. The fact that so many people pass this way, and so many pause awhile, gives this Latin city a uniquely international feeling.
The city has a population of about 700,000—about the same as Portland, Oregon—and a vitality about the same as a parlay of Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Rome, and Macao. Any resemblance to Panama City, Florida, means your tour conductor has goofed.
Scholars have put it forth, after fusty etymologic foraging, that Panama is an Indian word meaning “an abundance of fish.” Any tourist could have told them so after 30 seconds of foraging through a restaurant menu here.
Panama City offers its visitors nightlife, daylife, dusklife, and dawnlife.
DAYLIFE—Shopping, for a start: everything from bond issues to boa constrictors is on sale here.
Panama receives visitors from the world around, and sells products from the world around, many at duty-free prices. Somewhere along the line, a tourist is going to find himself wondering why he came all this way to buy something from the old home town.
Solution. Buy something from someone else’s home town.
After shopping: tours. First and foremost, see the Canal. To visit Panama without taking in the Canal would be like visiting Niagara without seeing the Falls.
NIGHTLIFE—Casinos, restaurants, discotheques, bars and floorshows.
Read all about it further along in this booklet. The rhythm of tropic tamborito has competition as Panama’s night sound from the carillon-pealing of slot machines.
As for peeling, there’s that too. Withall, the dark is lively, lively.
There are restaurants of dozens of culinary allegiances. See our restaurant section to make your choice.
DUSKLIFE AND DAWNLIFE For dusklife, the ritual of ancient antimalarial precautions. On the rocks. Malaria was eliminated from Panama two generations ago. Do not tell your barman.
Dawnlife consists of (a) produce boats from the interior chugging across the bay (b) tourists trying to remember where they parked their hotel.
PEOPLE.— Panama has been called a melting pot, but actually it is a sancocho pot. As in the local dish, all the ingredients are in there contributing their own flavour, but keeping their own identity in the process. Here is a Central Avenue sampling of ingredients:
Criollos, Iberian-descended Pana- manians, as proud of their ancestry as New Englanders are flattered at being called English.
Mestizos, the Criollo-Indian blend that is the non-silent majority in most of Latin America.
Blacks whose fathers signed on in the then-British West Indies to dig the Canal.
The blonde wife and kid of an American businessman; Shopkeepers from India; Korean crewmen off a Balboa-berthed tunaboat; Blacks descended from freed or escaped slaves (Cimarrones); South American shoppers; Emberá Indians from the Darien; a Panama Canal pilot; Japanese bankers; merchants with Central European origins, whose families may have found refuge from Hitler’s persecution; French sailors with red pompoms on their hats; San Blas Indians, the women still in their island costume; a cruise ship gaggle looking for bargains.
This sancocho of people is the speciality of the house only in Panama City. Travel to the Interior, which in practice means anywhere beyond about five miles from the Canal in the direction of Costa Rica, and you will be in a land of Criollos and Mestizos.
HISTORY.- Panama City has been on the move, geographically, as well as figuratively, for the past 300 years. In fact you could call it the world’s only moveable fiesta.
The original Isthmian headquarters of Balboa and the Spanish was Acla on the Atlantic coast near the San Blas island of Mulatupo. The first governor sent from Spain, Pedro Arias Dávila, also known as Pedrarias, paused only to behead Balboa before relocating the miniature colony to the healthier and drier Pacific coast where he founded what is now Old Panama, a photogenic disposition of ruins.
Panama grew and prospered at its new site and was a sizeable township when it attracted the larcenous attention of the English pirate, Henry Morgan. After Morgan and his men marched into Old Panama singing. “There’ll be a hot time in the Old Town Tonight”, (we said you’d learn about history), the Spaniards opted to move the fiesta again to the more defensible peninsula where the Casco Antiguo, or Old Compound now stands.
In the 273 years from the resiting of Panama City behind the walls of the Old Compound to the end of World War II the fiesta that is Panama City moved no further than to about where El Panama Hotel now stands but in the last few decades, the pace has quickened.
The growth of the city was restricted to a relatively narrow strip between the coast and the border of the U.S. administered Canal Zone. Since the Canal Zone was handed back to Panama in 1999, suburbs and shopping centres have spread rapidly outwards and the city has moved over the once-confining border.
In recent years the Panama City skyline has altered dramatically with the construction of huge numbers of sky scrapers.
Should you doubt this rhythm of the moveable fiesta that is Panama City, have the band strike up a tamborito.
Things to do in Panama City
Tour The City.– Tour agencies offer city tours which take about two and a half hours. A typical city tour will take in the ruins of Old Panama, Colonial Panama (El Casco Antiguo), the modern sections and Miraflores Locks. Another option is the hop-on hop-off open-top buses.
Visit The Canal. Tour agencies offer a tour of the Canal area which takes about two and a half hours.
A partial transit is an excellent way to experience the Canal.
Visit Artesanias Nacionales located beside the ruins of Panama Viejo.
Visit the Reprosa Factory Tour the famous Reprosa factory and see how the gold and silver treasures of Panama are made by virtually the same technique as the ancient pre-Colombian goldsmiths. Scheduled tours are at 9.30 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. Monday to Friday and cost $10 per person. Children under twelve get in free. The tour includes beverage, snack and “goodie bag”. To make a reservation call 271-0033.
Visit the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center at Gamboa on the fabled Pipeline Road known to birders world wide for its record numbers of species. From the 100 foot tall observatory visitors can see out over the canopy. Guides are available to help you explore the surrounding forest. Open every day from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entrance costs $30 before 10 a.m. and $20 thereafter.
Take a ferry to the Island of Taboga, situated at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. Call: 314-1730 or out to Contadora in the Perlas Islands, call 391-1424 or 6780-8000.
Go racing at President Remon Race Track. Meets are held in the evening on Thursday from 5 p.m. and from 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and holidays.
Watch a folklore show with colourful typical costume and traditional dances. These are offered by the Tinajas and Pencas restaurants.
Go eco-touring: Consult a tour agency. There are number of options:
• Gamboa Rainforest Resort.
• Metropolitan Park– the only rainforest reserve in Latin America situated surprisingly within the city’s limits.
It covers 265 hectares and is home to a variety of mammals, insects, reptiles and birds
• Barro Colorado Nature Monument which is situated on an island in Gatun Lake. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is the custodian and visits can be arranged through them or with a tour company.
• Summit Botanical Gardens and small zoo.
Ride the Train: Along the banks of the Canal to Colon for a day trip. Departs from Corozal 7:15 a.m. Returns 5:15 p.m. from Colon. Weekdays only. 317-6070.
Hang out at the Causeway: A perfect place to relax and enjoy the picturesque view of the city from the bay. Stroll, jog, bike or enjoy one of the many restaurants.
Visit The Canal Museum: The museum is located in Cathedral Plaza in San Felipe, the colonial district which is being restored.
Go Shopping: See our section on Shopping in Panama City.
Events: For news of events and activities, get a copy of the newspaper “The Visitor” at any hotel.