Friday February 17, 2023 – Travel to Panama City
Landing late in Panama City, we grabbed a taxi to the Meridian. And when we got to the Meridian, we checked in to the Diamond Suite, which is larger than most people’s first houses, including a dining room, kitchen, living room, bedroom and a bathroom larger than our bedrooms, all decorated in the latest 70’s decor. And a hallway that smelled like smoke in a building that claimed it was smoke free, with the strangest green glass atrium.
For dinner they recommended a place called Azahar, which we couldn’t find initially. We walked by it, doubled back, and then we asked some people. We went up an elevator that’s basically unlabeled, and then through a flower shop to an unlabeled door, and we came out in this beautiful restaurant with a super cool vibe, They had a great bar and a ton of tequilas and Japanese whiskeys. And so we had good drinks and excellent food. And we sat outside and we looked out over the harbor. That was really, really fun. We would recommend that place.
Satuday, Febuary 18, 2023 – Carnavale
We were jet lagged but we got up at 9:30 in order to get into breakfast before closed at ten. Breakfast was very aggressively mediocre, but we ate some food, walked to Starbucks, and got some real coffee. We found a convenience store next door where we bought some sunscreen. Was nice to walk around a bit.
We were soon hungry again, so we went to go have lunch in Old Town. We found a place called Mahalo Snack Shack. They had a really good curry chicken salad and guacamole and smoothies. And then we walked around Old Town, which was fairly well preserved.
We walked into the cathedral, which was fairly standard fare. We walked around the Point and saw some of the old fort buildings. Then we walked back towards the Carnivale and of course, by the time we got there it was all done. So the water and music all happens between ten and four. By the time we got there at 430 or so, there was nothing.
We had heard there was going to be a parade at five, but there was nobody there. There were a couple of parade floats, but no parade. There were a bunch of local Panamanians that were drummers and they just started going at it, which was fun. There were a couple of folks dressed as devils stomping around, blowing whistles. So we got a tiny little flavor, but basically there was nobody there.
We walked back. It was a pretty long walk, actually, back to hotel along the along the harbor. For dinner, we had a recommendation for a restaurant called Filamina that was supposed to be good, in the same building as Azahar. Instead, we went to a place called Eolian, which had BBQ and hamburgers. Unfortunately they didn’t much GF, so we had some pork belly and french fries.
And then we went back. We were tired, so we decided not to go do the music at Carnival. We just went back and basically went to bed.
Sunday February 19, 2023 – The Canal
We got up and had hotel breakfast, which actually had an omelet station this time, which was good. Yesterday’s was terrible.
And then we walked to the Coffee Bean, which was like a couple of blocks down, basically the same place we had dinner last night, and got coffee. And then we Ubered from there to the Miraflores locks.
Everything you read says the boats will be coming from the Pacific side between nine and ten. So we arrived around 9am. When we got there, turned out that all the boats from the Pacific side had finished at like eight. So there no boats and there were hardly any people. Well, we thought, we’re here, so we bought a ticket, we went in and we looked around and we listened to the guy talking about the locks. Later he recognized us, actually, when we came back, which was awesome.
We spent a few minutes learning about this stuff. And then we went and we watched the IMAX movie, which was actually kind of great. Morgan Freeman and lots of great shots of the locks. They talked about the original construction and they talked about the new Neopanamax size locks that they built that are more safe, and that sort of thing. It was a little bit of a commercial for Panama, but it was great.
Then we got in an Uber and we went to the Biomuseo. The design is a Frank Geary Building, which is a super funky building, and it was actually a very well done museum. Lots of docents to tell you what was going on in English or Spanish. Lots of exhibits with the history of Panama, and the flora and fauna. We were hungry so we kind of hurried through the last few parts and went to find some food.
Next door was a bike rental place with a smoothie truck called Tierra – boy were we psyched to find that! They had really quite, very good bowls with chia and peanut butter and banana and other fruit. They took a while to make, but we devoured them.
And then we rented electric bikes, which was fun. They were pretty powerful, actually. We kept them on the lower setting, and we rode out the Amador causeway to the island. There’s a nice bike path and lots of people. We didn’t stop really, and it only took an hour or so.
If you know when the boats are coming through, one thing to do would be to do that when the boats are going by after they’ve gone through the Panama Canal. You’d have a great view of them all coming out. But our timing was off.
By now it was almost two, so we hopped in another Uber and went back to Miraflores. By the way Ubers are great, super cheap and distances are short.
Once we got there, the line to buy tickets was out the door around the corner, and doubled back all the way. It had to be a couple of hours long. It was crazy. So we just decided, well, the heck with this, and we walked up the stairs and we went up to the guy and explained that we’ve been there this morning and that we wanted to see the boats.
And he was like, oh, sure, come on in. And then as soon as we got inside, the guy who was talking about the boats recognized us and said, hey, you’re back. He said we just missed a giant container ship, but that there was a car carrier coming through in 20 minutes. There were a lot of people there. but we sort of stood up in the back and watched the car carrier come through.
You could also see in the distance a Neopanamax boat going through the new locks just on the other side of the ridge that looked like an LNG. You can’t actually see those locks very well because it’s definitely on the other side. These are the old locks that are the original Panamax.
The car carrier was an enormous box with a car ramp at the end of it. There were a bunch of people enthusiastically waving and it took a long time for it to go through. The electric mules were fun to watch. They’re basically little locomotives on little tracks that help keep it in straight.
And then right behind it, basically at the same time was a big Maersk container ship. And that was almost more fun because by that time there were far fewer people around, so we got better views and pictures. So we waited for that one to go through the first lock and by then it was like three, and we needed to head to the domestic airport.
So here we are, sitting in the domestic airport in Panama City on our way to Bocas del Toro on a Sunday afternoon. We’re a little bit hungry because it’s 05:00 and the food court was completely closed. And it’s a pretty basic airport, where the toilets don’t have paper, which is kind of a bummer. They do have vending machines, which provided dinner of a sort.
We had a good time in Panama City. We found a couple good places to eat, and ended up with a great visit to the Canal. We didn’t really see Carnivale, but that was mostly our fault. We are looking forward to visiting Bocas del Toro next!