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Old 06-09-2019, 12:40 PM   #1
Jiggy
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Heading to Panama city, Panama in a month. I've been digging for information on the internet but I'd love to get some thoughts from CPers who've been there.

-Is it easy to get from Tocumen airport to the city? What's the average cost?
-While in Panama, did you use US dollars, or Balboa?
-Is it easy to get around in the city with public transportation?
-Which areas would you recommend to stay in? I'd love to stay in a spot with good restaurants and decent nightlife.
-Which tours would you suggest?
-Any other information that is good to know?

Last edited by Jiggy; 06-09-2019 at 04:30 PM.
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Old 06-09-2019, 01:12 PM   #2
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Airport to downtown is about 20 minutes depending on time of day. I used Uber and was absolutley hosed $75. After speaking with the hotel concierge who insisted I request a refund, avenger charge should be about $15.

There were no Balboa dollar bills. Coins were Balboa, but all paper was USD. You can’t get Balboa from currency exchanges here.

The Metro runs through the main areas of the city, and is cheap and easy. You just buy a paper ticket for $2, and load money on it. One trip is $.35. There’s a big bus terminal across the road from the Alabrook(sp?) station, attached to the market mall. Buses don’t stop where they’re marked, so keep your eyes out for your bus number and follow it. The walk from Cinco de Mayo station to Casca Veijo is worth it, as long as it’s daylight and your not easily bothered.

In my very limited experience - Casco Veijo is a bit odd. I’d stay in one of the more posh places just for the experience and the night view of old Panama. Spend some time in any of the squares after dark and you might learn something. I had the pleasure of spending an hour with a guy who grew up in the area when it was truly a gang ran ghetto. Take a look at the stairwell in the lobby of the American Trade Hotel and learn about the history of Panama City, the American invasion and the aftermath. To me, hearing some authentic opinion on Panama history was the absolute highlight.
El Cranejo district has tons of reasonable priced hotels, restaurants and the metro line. Very easy to get anywhere from there.

I rented a car, and don’t find traffic any worse than Calgary, just way different. The total lack of road signs and addresses makes your GPS useless. My copliot did a fantastic job and we had a blast cruising around.
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Old 06-09-2019, 01:27 PM   #3
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We took Uber everywhere and it was actually really cheap and some of the best Uber experiences I’ve ever had. Taxis were complete scams and felt unsafe. They would negotiate a price when you get in and then double it when you reached your destination.

We stayed in the trump hotel. It was super nice and has a really nice infinity pool half way up the building. It was a few minutes Uber ride to all the nightlife and was walking distance from a grocery store. The nightlife doesn’t start until super late. We went to a few bars at 11pm and it was completely empty. Things didn’t start until 12:30-1 which was kind of weird.

“Old Town” was super cool to see. Tons of restaurants and night life. A ton of stray dogs too.

I will say it was extremely nice to have 2 people in our group speak fluent Spanish. It helped a ton.
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Old 06-09-2019, 01:31 PM   #4
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Make sure that you rent a car that allows you to ease the seats back.
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Old 06-09-2019, 01:52 PM   #5
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All of the above plus, get out of town to the Gamboa. Go for a hike in the rainforest and take a boat ride down the canal.
Love Panama, all of it.
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Old 06-10-2019, 10:10 AM   #6
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Went to Panama in 2016, friends sold everything they had here in Calgary and bought some land in the hills above Las Lajas and set up a little hotel with two villas and a pool. https://lamaracuyapanama.com/main

On the way home we stayed a few days in Panama City proper. Booked a private room at a hostel in Casco Viejo and loved it. Lots of restaurants to walk to all around it, and we went over to the fish market next door to it a few times. We spent a good part of a day exploring the Metropolitan Natural park. Was very easy to get around via Uber. Make sure to get somewhat off the beaten path and find the little restaurants that have lots of food at very cheap prices. We'd hit one up a few blocks from our hostel every morning to grab pastries and sausage for breakfast. Nice that the tap water was drinkable, made traveling with the kids very easy. If you do rent a car driving was easy, used Waze to navigate around no problem.

If you have time and want to escape the city I recommend making the drive to Cambutal on the southern peninsula. We stayed at a small hotel called the Hotel Playa Cambutal, a huge black sand beach at such a low angle that you could surf/boogie board waves for long stretches. Very remote, and absolutely beautiful. Dinners every night on the lawn overlooking the ocean. It was where our friends living there went to get away. It's the best beach I've ever been to in my travels. Driving time from Panama City to it is about 5-1/2" hours. https://www.google.ca/maps/dir/Panam...6667!3e0?hl=en

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Old 06-10-2019, 04:21 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jiggy View Post
Heading to Panama city, Panama in a month. I've been digging for information on the internet but I'd love to get some thoughts from CPers who've been there.

-Is it easy to get from Tocumen airport to the city? What's the average cost?
-While in Panama, did you use US dollars, or Balboa?
-Is it easy to get around in the city with public transportation?
-Which areas would you recommend to stay in? I'd love to stay in a spot with good restaurants and decent nightlife.
-Which tours would you suggest?
-Any other information that is good to know?

I live in Panama and most of the advice you have been given is quite accurate. A month is a long time if you are looking to keep busy with site seeing. If you want to get in some beach time, take the ferry on Amador Causeway to Taboga Island. It's easier and better than the beach communities in the Coronado area.
Car rentals are expensive because of the mandatory insurance they tack on.


Don't bring 50's or 100's. Most places won't take them and if they do it's a huge deal to get them approved. Take your passport EVERYWHERE. You will be amazed at how often you will need to present it.


Use Waze as your GPS. Nothing else works there as well.



There are way more bad restaurants than good ones. Service in most industries is not great or friendly. Tipping is 10% everywhere.


It's rainy season there right now so at about 2pm you get a real good downpour for a couple of hours then the sun comes out. Rinse repeat.


It's up to you but adult men wear long pants in public all the time. Kids wear shorts. I adapted and got used to it. Depends if you want to look like a tourist or not.


If money is no object, a side trip to Medellin Colombia is a good idea. It's one of the more reasonable places to fly to and you will easily see everything in Panama in about a week or so.


Any other questions, ask away.
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Old 06-10-2019, 07:50 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jiggy View Post
...
-Is it easy to get from Tocumen airport to the city? What's the average cost?
-While in Panama, did you use US dollars, or Balboa?..
We rented a mini-van at the airport. It was a well-used, diesel VW. Drivers and traffic are a bit crazy in Panama City, but we've managed. They asked if we wanted GPS at the rental counter; we took it and it worked fine wherever we went.
We did not need any local currency anywhere in two weeks. $US or credit cards worked fine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jiggy View Post
...
-Is it easy to get around in the city with public transportation?
Yes. Buses, taxis, Uber. People on the streets of Panama City were mostly friendly and tried to help if we needed directions with bus stops and routes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jiggy View Post
...
-Which areas would you recommend to stay in? I'd love to stay in a spot with good restaurants and decent nightlife.
I highly recommend staying at the Hard Rock Hotel. It is simply amazing. This IS the nightlife hub. One of the hotel entire floors is turns into a giant rave/night club every night. There are more locals then tourists there. Thousands of people of all ages looking for a good time. Felt very safe too.

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Originally Posted by Jiggy View Post
...
-Which tours would you suggest?
Gamboa Boat Tour

Panama Canal (book a table at the restaurant over there in advance to watch enormous ships pass by in a narrow channel while having a cold beer.

(Skip the ancient ruins tour, it's really boring).
We also drove to Farallon - Panama version of Mayan Riviera all-inclusive resort. Meh. Food was mediocre. Beach was dirty. Hotel rooms were ok. Lots of young women from Venezuela looking for dance partners at the disco though (if you are young and single, of course Didn't matter to me; as I am neither young nor single).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jiggy View Post
....
-Any other information that is good to know?
There are lots of armed soldiers/guards on the streets of Panama City, which should be alarming. But we felt surprisingly safe anywhere.
Old Town - walking the promenade along the shore and old town streets was nice.
Beaches in Panama City look awful. Avoid.
Golfing at the Marriott Resort in Panama City - was really nice and affordable. You can see lots of exotic birds and wildlife while golfing.
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Old 06-10-2019, 08:38 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Cheese View Post
All of the above plus, get out of town to the Gamboa. Go for a hike in the rainforest and take a boat ride down the canal.
Love Panama, all of it.

A man, a plan, a canal, Panama.
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Old 06-11-2019, 10:57 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FlamingHomer View Post
I live in Panama and most of the advice you have been given is quite accurate. A month is a long time if you are looking to keep busy with site seeing. If you want to get in some beach time, take the ferry on Amador Causeway to Taboga Island. It's easier and better than the beach communities in the Coronado area.
Car rentals are expensive because of the mandatory insurance they tack on.


Don't bring 50's or 100's. Most places won't take them and if they do it's a huge deal to get them approved. Take your passport EVERYWHERE. You will be amazed at how often you will need to present it.


Use Waze as your GPS. Nothing else works there as well.



There are way more bad restaurants than good ones. Service in most industries is not great or friendly. Tipping is 10% everywhere.


It's rainy season there right now so at about 2pm you get a real good downpour for a couple of hours then the sun comes out. Rinse repeat.


It's up to you but adult men wear long pants in public all the time. Kids wear shorts. I adapted and got used to it. Depends if you want to look like a tourist or not.


If money is no object, a side trip to Medellin Colombia is a good idea. It's one of the more reasonable places to fly to and you will easily see everything in Panama in about a week or so.


Any other questions, ask away.
Thanks for everyone's responses.

Flaming Homer, can you suggest good restaurants in El Cangrejo?
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Old 06-11-2019, 11:31 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Jiggy View Post
Thanks for everyone's responses.

Flaming Homer, can you suggest good restaurants in El Cangrejo?
That area has most of the best ones in Panama. You almost can't miss there. Rana Dorado and Istmo are two good brew pubs.

The local restaurant app is Degusta which even though it is in Spanish will be very helpful with pictures and ratings. You can specify the area and it will show you your options.

Make sure if you are drinking to get an Uber. There is zero tolerance for tourists breaking local laws.

El Cangrejo is quite safe. A general rule is if you wander into an area that doesn't feel safe, it probably isn't. Conditions can change quickly that way too.

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Old 06-11-2019, 01:13 PM   #12
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If you want an amazing restaurant experience, try Donde Jose in Casco Viejo. It's one of the best restaurants in the world. It's a tasting menu and it's created with ingredients that represent Panama. If you go, try to get the Chefs Table. Chef Jose Carles explains all the food (he's bilingual)
The restaurant itself is difficult to find. It's not marked at all. Give yourself some extra time to find it. Many drivers aren't sure where it is. You book online.

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Old 06-11-2019, 01:29 PM   #13
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While I'm thinking of it, the best time to go to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal is about 1pm. "Rush hour" (there will be about 4 or 5 ships in a row headed to the Pacific side) is just after 2pm so it will give you time to go through the interpretive center/museum then settle in to watch the ships go through.

To see the new larger expanded locks you have to go to Colon on the Atlantic side. The Agua Clara locks have a more modest set up for viewing but it's still pretty good. It's about $90 to Uber there. Far less than Ubering across Canada.

If you get a car, you can drive a bit further past Miraflores to the Pedro Miguel locks and park along the fence and join the locals in watching the ships go through those locks for free.


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Old 08-10-2019, 10:19 AM   #14
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Jiggy! I assume you have done your trip by now. Anything to report?
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Old 08-11-2019, 10:21 AM   #15
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Panama was absolutely amazing. I felt safe the entire time, and the people in Panama were really nice. Everything was also reasonably priced which was a nice surprise.

El Cranejo was a great spot to stay. Lot's of good restaurants and pubs. It seemed pretty central to get around in the city from here. Casca Veijo area was very cool. Went there during the day and night and it was blast.

The food was great. Everything from local dishes to Sushu in Panama is a must have. And the service was not as bad as I expected.

Panama Canal was marvelous. Watching huge ships come in and taking the boat tour was well worth the money.

Gamboa rain forest and monkey island was really neat. Really cool to see exotic wildlife.

Nice beaches in Bocas Del Toro. Had a few days to wind down there.

And the women in Panama are top notch
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Old 08-11-2019, 10:48 AM   #16
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Yes, yes, but did you buy a hat?
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Old 08-11-2019, 05:18 PM   #17
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Yes, yes, but did you buy a hat?
You know those are made in Ecuador, right?
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Old 08-12-2019, 09:45 AM   #18
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Yes, yes, but did you buy a hat?
I did buy one! But I ended up losing it during an amazing night in Casca Viejo. The rooftop restaurants/bar in that area were amazing!
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