Party in Panama City

Getting To Panama City

After my awesome Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica I’d gotten myself on a direct bus from the Costa Rican capital of San Jose to the Panamanian capital of Panama City. It was a very long drive. About 16 hours, mostly along the Pacific coastline. I gotta say I was tired of sitting down and ready to party in Panama City! Or sleep in Panama City.

I got into Panama City at about 3am and found my way to a hostel. They couldn’t check me in, but said I could sleep on a very comfortable looking couch in the meantime. Anything that didn’t involve sitting down was quite enticing for me at that point. So I took up residence on said couch and was snoozing a few seconds later. After a few hours sleep on the couch, the staff gave me a bed in a room. Then they said I wouldn’t have to pay for the first night’s accommodation. Sweet.

Casco Viejo – Old Town

My accommodation was in the old town, so I’m sure you can guess what I did. Explored the old town, of course! The old town is also known as Casco Viejo, which is Spanish for Old Quarter. Not only was it granted world heritage status by UNESCO in 1997 but it’s also home to some of Panama City’s best nightlife. This was very evident around Christmas time, when the party people took to the streets at night.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Casco Viejo Quiet Street. K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Casco Viejo Another Quiet Street.

Casco Viejo was surprisingly quiet during the day though. At times it felt like you were the only one in the area. There were also some parts of it that were a bit gritty. Several buildings had fallen into disrepair, despite the UNESCO listing, and it didn’t seem like any attempt was being made to fix them. For me, this just added to Casco Viejo’s appeal.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Casco Viejo Crumbling Old Building K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Casco Viejo Old Building in Disrepair

In stark contrast, just a few hundred metres away, one of the town’s major sites, Catedral Metropitana in Plaza de la Independencia was under reconstruction. Strangely, I didn’t hear any construction noises, nor see any workers near there during my stay. I guess they must’ve had time off for the Christmas holiday.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Cosco Viejo Cathedral Metropitana

There were also a few green areas in the town, which made it super lovely and relaxing. It was such a pleasure to walk around Casco Viejo. At times it even felt like you’d walked into another century.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Cosco Viejo Green Area

See the New From the Old

The town is rather tiny and very easy to navigate, although the narrow streets can be a bit disorienting to begin with. One of the most awesome things about Casco Viejo is that it isn’t very far from Panama City’s super modern skyline.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Casco Viejo View of Panama City

As a defensive measure, the town was built on a peninsula. Obviously, there’s no need for it to be defensible these days. But the design means that a short walk from almost anywhere in the old town will get you to a beautiful foreshore. On that foreshore is the Matasnillo River, which separates Casco Viejo from Panama City. The river is 12km long.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama. Panama City Skyline From Casco Viejo

From the heart of old Panama, you can peer across the water into the heart of modern Panama City. It looks beautiful.

Party in Panama City – Casco Viejo at Night

As lovely as it was during the day, the old town changed its tone at night. No longer were you walking along almost deserted streets. The narrow streets of the old town came alive at night. They were full of lights from restaurants and cocktail bars that weren’t visible during the day. Full of cheery chatter from many people that seemingly came out of nowhere to enjoy some drinks. Nighttime was the time to party in Panama City!

The atmosphere was quite jovial, possibly due to it being the festive time of year. That was before the fireworks. The main fireworks display, which I presume was put on by the city, was followed by more fireworks. This time smaller ones that looked like they were coming from nearby rooftops. They seemed to spur people in the streets to start dancing, as the music got louder so it could be heard over the intermittent fireworks.

Panamanians really know how to party! I didn’t want to be the weird tourist that just stood there watching. So I befriended some locals and joined in. Firecrackers may have been handed to me, to set off in unison with others. I may or may not have set them off while laughing uncontrollably. You’ll never know.

Party in Panama City – The Panama Canal

What trip to Panama would be complete without a visit to Panama’s most famous and one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects? The Panama Canal or Canal de Panamá is a marvel of not so modern engineering. It’s amazing to think that it was put into operation in 1914 and the original lock gates are still in use.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Panama Canal Looking Towards the Pacific Ocean

Why Make a Canal?

In short, the canal was constructed to reduce maritime transits between the Pacific and Altantic Oceans. The journey through the 82km canal takes nearly 12 hours. The alternative route, would take ships around the entire South American continent. That journey also includes traversing the treacherous Cape Horn and could take several weeks. Even with tolls that can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, the canal proves to be more cost-effective for most cargo and cruise companies.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Panama Canal Minaflores Lock Gates

What Happens in the Canal?

A series of 6 canal locks are used to raise ships the 26m required to sail through the artificial Gatun Lake, then lower them back down to sea level at the other end. The Gatun Locks raise/lower ships on the Atlantic side and the Minaflores Locks raise/lower ships on the Pacific side. While that may all sound rather boring, seeing it in action is slightly more interesting.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Panama Canal. Two Ships Passing Through The Minaflores Lock Gates

Obviously, Panama City is on the Pacific side of Panama and I therefore visited the Minaflores Locks. The most interesting thing I learnt there was that a man paid a 36 cent toll to swim the Panama Canal in 1928. These days the toll can run into the $100,000s, depending on the size and weight of the vessel.

The Party’s Over

They say all good things must come to an end. This is the unfortuante thing about travelling. Sometimes you need to leave a place before you’re ready. This was the case with Panama. The people and the sights had been beautiful, but I was quickly running out of holiday time.

Keep an eye out for my next post on my adventures in Colombia!

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34 Replies to “Party in Panama City”

  1. Sounds like you had a great time exploring old and new. The canal must be an impressive site– between the mechanism to get the ships across and the tight maneuvering involved. Glad you enjoyed yourself!

    1. Panama was beautiful! I wish I’d had more time there!
      The canal is impressive and a testament to the fact that they don’t build things like they used to! It’s a pretty slow process though. It probably takes one ship about an hour to get through the locks.

    1. I haven’t even posted about half the places I’ve been to yet! I have a huge backlog that I’m slowly trying to get through :o)

    1. Panama is lovely. At least it’s a lot more accessible for you. It took about 2 days of travelling for me to get to that part of the world!

    1. I wouldn’t know about business travellers, but it’s definitely great for backpackers, especially because the accommodation is so cheap!

    1. I’d say it’s probably a great place to visit at any time of year. I went in the winter and it was still fairly warm :o)

  2. The old town must be really charming to walk around! All the photos are fabulous. I especially liked the one with the view across the river, from the old city to the modern one. Looking forward to your travels in Colombia!

    1. Walking is my preferred method of exploration wherever I go! The thing I love about most old towns is that they’re so pedestrian accessible!

      That view across the river was quite amazing! I’m a sucker for river views!

  3. This looks amazing! Such a beautiful place to visit. I’m adding Panama City to my travel bucket list right now. Thanks for sharing your journey! Looking forward to reading about your time in Colombia (another place on my list).

  4. Ugh I swear you travel bloggers are responsible for my indecisiveness haha .Everything is so beautiful and you have a very detailed post with awesome info . Another travel destination to add to my bucket list .

  5. Wow Kez, thank you for all those interesting details. I find it so intriguing that it was so quiet during the day, especially since it was over the Christmas period! I wonder where all the people were? Then at night everything comes alive. It sounds like quite the experience! I would love to visit Panama one day, it sounds like there is so much to see and do that I would find interesting.

    1. I know! Maybe they were sleeping because they’d been partying all night!

      It’s a beautiful city. I got too enamoured with the old town to explore much else, but I’d love to go back again and see how things have changed.

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