Panama: The Art of Seeing the Things You Are Supposed to See

~By:  Julie



We landed in Panama at 9pm on April 24. This is important because that is the beginning of what we call the Panama Time Vortex. That is the last moment we understood the date or time until we actually made it to the airport for our flight, a day later than expected, with brains full of experiences that will last a lifetime.

My first concern is that I’m not going to be let into the country at all because my passport is completely full. It has been full for months and some how it still keeps getting me into where I need to go. I’ve been meaning to turn it in to get a new one, but this trip was an impromptu one for me so I got on the plane fully prepared to be deported. If you can’t live life to the fullest, then why even try? Clearly they let me into the country, otherwise this blog would end here.

The beautiful thing about 2016 and traveling is Uber. I realize there is a lot of controversy associated with Uber and local hard working people. However, for girls who travel, to have a picture of the driver, a license plate number, and a detailed map is everything. The sense of security that you’ll not be taken down a dark alley, sold, or  driven in circles to rack up a giant bill is huge. We began our journey of getting six very excited, slightly intoxicated girls from the airport to our hostel in Casco Viejo. Luckily, two of us speak the local language and each of us has dealt with taxi scams all over the world so we were prepared for battle. After many debates, bargaining tactics, and mind games we finally got a guy with a van for six of us and all of our bags for $60. Even if you don’t actually use Uber it is a wonderful bargaining tool to use with other taxi drivers.


We travel as a pack and each one of us brings something to the group. I always say that together we make one fully functioning adult. I love my girls so much. If a trip were solely left to me to plan, Lord knows where I’d end up. Amanda and Anna make up our hotel committee. Amanda lives and breathes researching every detail about hotels, hostels and airbnb. She has to keep between the budgets of a large group and a wide variety of standards and she is amazing at it. We end up with a hostel in the Casco Viejo district called Magnolia Inn. Such a lovely place! Great location, clean, amazing staff and pretty cool place in general. They were very accommodating because we had booked five beds in a six bed room and the sixth bed was already occupied by a poor German man that had no idea about the tornado of women heading his way. The staff let us stuff six girls in that room with the German man until we could rearrange things the next morning. We claimed our bunks, dropped our bags and pursued our mission of celebrating our friend, Adrian’s, birthday. We end up at a bar at the end of the street called Picasso. I’ll spare you all the details but I’ll sum up the rest of that night with tequila shots and free nachos.

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After we’ve slept off the night, we wander around our area exploring and planning out the day. Gratefully, we have a completely blank agenda so we easily come up with brilliant ideas over vodka, champagne, and steak & eggs at Tantalo. If you only do one thing in Casco Viejo, go to Tantalo for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner. I would fly to Panama just to eat there again. Our champagne fueled brilliance leads us to Lazotea roof top pool at Hotel Casa Panama. We are the only people there so it feels like we own the top of the world. Great view, amazing staff, good drinks. We played all day in the sun until the rain came around 4pm. Every day it rained around 4 so planning around mother nature was an adventure in itself. We eventually ventured off to the Londoner Pub on Calle Uruguay where we made wonderful friends and we let the night fizzle.

Some of our group had already seen the Panama Canal but the majority of us had not. We grab the biggest Uber we could get and head over just in time to see a giant ship from Hamburg glide through the locks of the canal. It was truly magnificent. We have a sunset/canal cocktail then Uber over to the Balboa Yacht Club where we had an incredible meal. After our dinner, we headed back to Calle Uruguay to catch the local night life.
Some of the things you should know about Panama is that a section can be very safe but one street over you could be dead-center in the middle of a gang war. So just like most places you travel, please be smart. Stay in groups. Keep aware of your surroundings. There are police with machine guns on a lot of corners which normally would incite panic but as an avid traveler, makes me feel safe.

Another thing you should know about Panama is that prostitution is LEGAL. Every bar, club, bathroom, street corner we passed there were prostitutes who attract a specific type of shady character that I do not recommend sticking around for. At one point, I popped in a restaurant to grab a shawarma. I walked outside to enjoy my findings in the fresh air and realize I am standing next to a prostitute that, by the looks of her, should have her hospital bag ready to go. I’m not even kidding, she has got to be 8 or 9 months pregnant and working like a champ. I realize my surroundings and evacuate. So if you are a woman, especially traveling solo, be aware of your surroundings and be careful. Have an escape route, a back up plan and be careful.

You should realize by now that I travel through my taste buds. So any blog you read of mine will most likely be mostly about food. I’m part Italian, I don’t love food; I love GOOD food. To sum up everything, from my taste buds to yours; go to Tantalo for all three meals, just to experience it. Have dinner on the rooftop over looking the city. Casa Nuratti fueled our days with their tapas and Bloody Marias for $5. (Ask for the man with a beard.) My only regrets are this: I wish we went to the Balboa Yacht Club during the day for the view, and that we had more time. We are absolutely going back so we can go to the islands and see the rest of the things you are supposed to see. But for our short trip, we lived it to the fullest. We made so many amazing friends, and every single person we encountered was beyond gracious. Panama was everything we dreamed and nothing we imagined all at once.

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