I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t super excited about Panama City; I’d heard that it was Central America’s version of Miami (so, like, not #1 on my international trip list). But ever since our friend Alex visited Panama in January, Jeff has been having fever dreams about seeing the Panama Canal. So we had to go.
Panama City was actually GREAT, and our time there was particularly memorable because we were able to connect with friends from home (more on that in a second). We had initially allotted several days for Panama, but ended up taking extra time to road trip through Costa Rica. So our visit was more of a 2 1/2 day stopover, which was pretty ideal.
Given that we haven’t exactly been “roughing it” from a lodging perspective, we felt kind of cheeky about how fancy our hotel was. But Panama City is kind of like Las Vegas in the sense that your money goes a loooong way when it comes to accommodations (less so food/booze/shopping). Which is how we managed to snag this 20th floor room at the Eurostars hotel for $60/night.
We spent our first full day exploring the city on foot, which is the best/only method as traffic in Panama City is C-R-A-Z-Y pretty much around the clock. At one point I took a taxi from a Panama City mall back to our hotel — just over a mile in distance — and it took 40 minutes. So walking is really best.
Anyway, on that first day as we were exploring the Panama Bay waterfront, I heard someone say “NORAH???” and turned around to see Katie, whom Jeff and I know through our mutual friend Tori. It turns out that Katie and her husband Kyler had just begun their honeymoon in Panama City, so we made plans to check out the Panama Canal with them the next day.
The same evening, Jeff and I celebrated our 4-year anniversary by going out to dinner in Casco Viejo — Panama City’s “old quarter.” Casco Viejo is a charming district in the southeast characterized by narrow cobbled streets and beautifully restored buildings and plazas. It is a lovely departure from the urban jungle-esque feel of Panama City, and its location provides some of the best views of the city’s skyline.
We had dinner at Tantalo Kitchen, which was among the best meals I have had thus far on the trip. It was so good that I immediately texted my mom about the “Eggplant Carpaccio,” which is served with cashew pesto sauce, balsamic reduction and fresh parmesan. It was incredible and I will happily email you my approximation of the recipe if you’re interested! Tantalo Kitchen also has one of the best rooftop bars in the area — Jeff and I highly recommend a cocktail called the “Payback”: tequila, Cointreau, jalapeno and pineapple juice (we think).
The next day, Jeff and I met up with Katie and Kyler to go see the Panama Canal. We took an Uber to the Miraflores locks, one in a system of three locks that ships pass through in their journey through the canal. The Miraflores Visitor Center has a nice little museum, which provided some much-needed (for me, at least) historical and technical context. We heard an announcement that some big ships were about to pass through, so we posted up at the center’s restaurant (aptly named Atlantic & Pacific Co.) to have a drink and watch the action.
Even though I kind of dragged my feet to the Panama Canal, it was truly incredible to witness. And we were so grateful to have Katie and Kyler’s delightful company.
Which brings me to the second unexpected rendezvous of the trip, this time with our friends from DC! Mary and Daniel were coincidentally in town for a wedding, and we may have missed them completely if it weren’t for Instagram. Shameless plug here for our Key2theWest Instagram account — follow us there, particularly if my long and rambling blog posts are too much for you!
Anyway, we met up with Mary and Daniel for another great evening in Casco Viejo, where we had dinner at Veggie Moon and rooftop drinks at Barlovento. It was so nice to catch up with those two, and — combined with our daytime adventure with Katie and Kyler — one of the best days of our trip yet.