The border crossing between Costa Rica and Panama was confusing, chaotic but somehow we managed to get in the right queues and get the right stamps. And now, Panama. Admittedly we didn’t know very much about Panama. We know it is got the Canal and we know the canoe guy fled here with his wife. But not much else. Not that we have now seen that much, we have stopped in David (about an hour over the border from Costa Rica), went up in the hills to Boquete and then travelled straight to Panama City. And that’s it, we won’t see more than that but it will give us a flavour of the country.
David is the second largest city in Panama and to be honest, not that great. It is a city; busy, hot and a bit gritty. We didn’t hang around and after one night went straight to Boquete, which is a lovely town up in the hills, about 1.5 hour bus ride away from David. From this town you can do a lot of hiking and it has beautiful scenery. We had a lovely few days there and particularly enjoyed an afternoon at Jungla de Panama Wildlife Refuge. It took us two hours to get there by foot, we were led to believe by the tourist office it was about a half hour but that was not the case! We wished we had taken the collectivo that goes about once an hour. In any case, we loved the refuge centre, it is only small but the people there are very friendly and we got to feed the monkeys from up close. We also saw parrots, a tortoise, geese, goats and a snake.
The owners were lovely and the food in the restaurant was nice with big portions.
From Boteque we went straight to Panama City. We got on the local bus at 8.30am, changed buses in David at 11am and arrived in Panama City at 7pm. We had booked and confirmed a room at Mamallena hostel but unfortunately the room wasn’t available when we got there at 8pm. The guy phoned around and said he found us a room elsewhere, a five minute walk away. So there we went, in the dark, in not a great area, in Panama City, in search of some hotel. When we got there, they didn’t have a record of his phone call but luckily they did have a room available. Not the best start in Panama City but hey-ho.
Saying that, since then we have had a fabulous time in Panama City. We visited the old town, a real mish-mash of ruins and lovely restored colonial buildings. We visited the Panamian Canal museum in the old town, unfortunately everything was in Spanish and staff at the museum wasn’t to keen on children. It was cheap, but unless you have good Spanish not really worth the visit.
On another day we went to visit the Panama Canal itself and it was an amazing experience. Very good museum there (with English translation!) where the highlight was a room where you could pretend being in control of the ship going through the canal.
The kids were in heaven. We spend most of the day at the Canal and we all loved it.
Panama City itself is such an interesting blend of the old town (with colonial buildings being restored) and the new town with skyscrapers. Panama City inhabitants are as varied as its landscape. Expats, Hispanics, white, black, indigenous, they are all here. There is a lot of construction everywhere, there is a vibrance and optimism about the city that is quite catching. We’ve fallen a little bit in love with it.