If you’re looking for inexpensive cosmopolitan —but with many of the conveniences you’d expect in New York, Miami, or any other major First-World city—you owe it to yourself to take a serious look at Panama City.
Panama City boasts a skyline of skyscrapers, modern office buildings, condominium complexes and hotels of shining glass and steel, with excellent views of the Bay of Panama. The city is a major international commerce and banking hub, home to more than 80 of the world’s largest banks, scores of international non-profits, and giant multi-nationals such as Federal Express, Dell, 3M, and many more.
Panama La Vieja (Old City Panama)
Pedro Arias Dávila and other 100 inhabitants founded a settlement on August 15, 1519. At the time, it was the first permanent European settlement on the Pacific Ocean, replacing the two cities of Santa María la Antigüa del Darién and Acla. Two years later, in 1521, the settlement was promoted to the status of city by a royal decree and was given a coat of arms by Charles V of Spain, forming a new cabildo. Shortly after its creation the city became a starting point for various expeditions in Peru and an important base where gold and silver were sent to Spain.
In 1539 and 1563, the city suffered a number of fires, which destroyed parts of it but did not impede the city’s development. In 1610, the city reached a population of 5000, with 500 houses and convents, chapels, a hospital and the cathedral.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the city was attacked several times by pirates and indigenous people from Darién. On 2 May 1620, an earthquake damaged many buildings in the city. On 21 February 1644, the Great Fire destroyed 83 religious buildings, including the cathedral. At this time, there were 8,000 people living in the city.
In 1670, the city counted 10,000 inhabitants. On 28 January 1671, the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan attacked the city with 1,400 men marching from the Caribbean coast across the jungle. Morgan’s force defeated the city’s militia then proceeded to sack Panamá. Either Morgan and his army started a fire that burned the city or the Captain General Don Juan Pérez de Guzmán ordered the gunpowder magazines exploded. Either way, the resulting fire destroyed the city. Morgan’s attack caused the loss of thousands of lives and Panamá had to be rebuilt a few kilometers to the west on a new site (the current one).
Henry Morgan was arrested but after proving, he knew not of the recent treaty he was freed and later rewarded.
Built and settled in 1671 after the destruction of Panama Viejo by the privateer Henry Morgan, the historic district of Panama City (known as Casco Viejo, Casco Antiguo, or San Felipe) was conceived as a walled city to protect its settlers against future pirate attacks. It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003.
Casco Antiguo displays a mix of architectural styles that reflect the country’s cultural diversity: Caribbean, Republican, art deco, French, and colonial architecture mix in a site comprising around 800 buildings. Most of Panama City’s main monuments are located in Casco Antiguo, including the Salón Bolivar, the National Theater (founded in 1908), Las Bóvedas, and Plaza de Francia. There are also many Catholic buildings, such as the Metropolitan Cathedral, the La Merced Church, and the St. Philip Neri Church. The distinctive golden altar at St. Joseph Church was one of the few items saved from Panama Viejo during the 1671 pirate siege. It was buried in mud during the siege and then secretly transported to its present location.
El Teatro Nacional or The National Theatre of Panama, inaugurated in 1908, sits on the site of a monastery that dates back to the 1700’s. The theater was designed by Italian architect Genaro Ruggieri, with a style of Italian operetta theater, and opened on October 1, 1908. At the turn of the 20th century, when it opened, it had a luxurious aura and was a destination for Latin American celebrities and governmental elite. It is located at Avenida B between Calle 3 & Calle 4, next to the church of San Francisco, and the Plaza Bolivar.
The up-to-date agenda of plays being performed in the city can be checked here www.teatrodepanama.com, where there is also information on acting courses and workshops. Shake up your routine and check out the theaters in Panama, which promise to provide you with plenty of entertainment.
The Amador Causeway is a narrow land bridge, built with rocks excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal that connects the continent with four islands next to the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Panama Canal.
The Amador Causeway is the second longest boardwalk in the city. It has a varied selection of national and international restaurants, nightclubs and Frank Gehry’s famous Biodiversity Museum. Its open parks and its bike, roller skate and skateboard rental stations, are an invitation to participate in outdoor activities. You may take trips to the islands of Taboga and Contadora from its ports.
Home to lush vegetation and diverse fauna, a large Panamanian flag that can be seen from several points in the city crowns Ancon Hill. Both tourists and nationals may hike its trails and enjoy the views from the top.
Due to its location within the Canal Zone, Gamboa is surrounded by an abundance of exuberant vegetation. In this area we can find the Municipal Summit Park, home of the harpy eagle; Soberania National Park, one of the city’s largest green areas and home to lush flora and varied fauna (such as caimans, crocodiles and iguanas), as well as the starting point to many outstanding birding trails; centers for those interested in ecotourism; and hotels that invite you to relax in a jungle environment.
Albrook Mall is a large shopping mall and leisure complex located in Panama City, Panama. As of August 2015, it was the fourteenth largest mall in the world, the largest in the Americas and the largest shopping mall outside Asia.
The mall was opened in 2002 on the site of Fort Clayton, which had been a United States Air Force base in the former Panama Canal Zone. It is located beside the city’s main bus station and the Marcos A. Gelabert domestic airport.
In March 2013, the mall contained 700 businesses, which received between 30,000 and 50,000 visitors per day. As of March 2016, approximately 25% of the visitors are foreigners. The mall provides employment for around 10,000 people. Businesses included cinemas, restaurants, supermarkets, pharmacies, travel agents, hairdressers, fitness centers, and children’s play areas.
Nightlife at Panama
The Panamanian people love a party – a fact reflected in a wide variety of nightlife spots-bars, discos, pubs and casinos. It all takes place in three sectors of the city: Casco Viejo—by far the most popular nightlife destination and the historic Spanish Colonial, the business district, and the spectacular Amador Causeway connecting a string of Panama Bay islands with ocean and city views both day and night.
As in any big city, keep to the lighted main streets and have a great time. Taking a taxi from your hotel is the best way to get to any of these places.