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What happens when one couple semi-retires and decides to live as part-time expats in a foreign country? Southern TravelingMom Melody and her husband, Eddie, ventured to Central America to put roots down in the Republic of Panama. Find out their recommendations on where to stay, play, eat, and shop in this weekend guide to Panama City.
Weekend Guide to Panama City, Panama
Having lived part-time as an expat in Boquete, Panama, my husband, Eddie, and I know the Republic of Panama’s capital city quite well. We often travel to Panama City, about six hours from our Boquete home. It’s a fun getaway. Of course, Panama City has an impressive collection of high-rises and skyscrapers plus a financial district with a modern flair. Still, some areas are flanked with extreme poverty.
Getting to know Casco Viejo is my favorite thing to do in the city. Visiting the elaborate shopping malls, casinos, and international restaurants are a close second. Here you can check out my weekend guide to Panama City and see what this metropolitan city has to offer for you and your family.
Where to Stay in Panama City
Panama City is home to a myriad of luxury hotels. Despite being a luxury accommodation, many offer flexible pricing if you are willing to check rates on discount websites and such. Though it is not within walking distance of much, we enjoy staying at the Trump International Hotel. It has competitive rates, the best infinity pool in the city, and several top-rated restaurants and bars. The Trump International is gorgeous inside and has a casino on the premises. Sunday brunch at the Trump International is a must! You have to see the dessert spread to believe it.
To splurge, Eddie and I go to the Sortis Hotel, a brand in Marriott’s Autograph Collection. This trendy and popular hotel is enormous and houses an entire shopping arcade and nearly a dozen restaurants. If you can afford it, book a suite or loft. The chic and modern rooms have the best conveniences of any hotel in Panama that we have stayed at. The Sortis Hotel’s roof-top swimming pool is a great way to relax and enjoy stellar city views.
A third hotel that we have stayed at is the Marriott Hotel. It is located in the best part of Panama City for maximizing sightseeing. The Marriott Hotel has affordable rates for their typical hotel rooms. Restaurants on site include one of my favorite sports bars in Panama City. Americans traveling to Panama will be comfortable in any of these three hotels since they have plenty of English speaking staff.
Where to Play in Panama City
A short cab ride away, BioMuseo at Amador Causeway contains a huge offering of ecological diversity exhibitions. Wait until you see this innovative and colorful building that was designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. Museum Bio is eye-catching, with a different kind of architecture than anywhere else in Panama City. It is a Smithsonian affiliate. Stroll around Mercado de Mariscos (nosh on delicious ceviche while you are here) for the best skyline views of the city and museum. Nighttime affords the best pictures.
If you are in the mood for gambling, Panama City has plenty of casinos. The casino at Hilton Panama, Panaviera, and the Sortis Casino are three of our favorites. Exploring Casco Viejo, or Old Town, is another fun thing to do, especially because the Panamanian President lives there. Casco Viejo is a beautiful juxtaposition of modern and ancient facades. You will find quaint cafes, stellar souvenir shopping, and an outdoor market in this area. This is also where you can photograph the indigenous Kuna tribe women in their native attire. Keep in mind that they do expect a tip for the photo.
Witnessing the Panama Canal
Any trip to Panama City should include a visit to the world-famous canal. This is where we take friends who are visiting. Grab a cab to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center and enjoy a front row seat to see boats and barges transiting the Panama Canal. Eddie and I like to sit at the Atlantic & Pacific Co. restaurant’s outdoor tables for the most comfortable setting. The food is pretty good, too. Be sure to wave at the people on the boats going through the canal as they love the interaction. It is amazing to see how big the vessels traveling through the canal are and where they are coming from or going.
Where to Shop in Panama City
Panama City has elegant shopping, comparable to Las Vegas or Beverly Hills. Everything here is imported and the price tag will reflect it. So be prepared! The city has three shopping malls: Multiplaza Pacific, Multicentro, and Metromall Panama.
Of the three, Multiplaza Pacific is the most upscale. Its impressive luxury North American and European stores (over 200) include Jimmy Choo, Rolex, Cartier, and Hermes. A Marriott Courtyard Hotel is connected to the Multiplaza Pacific Mall.
In comparison, Panama City’s Multicentro Mall, near the Hard Rock Hotel, contains a hodgepodge of stores. It is a good place to walk around and people watch. Since you are so close, have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe inside the signature hotel.
Finally, the Metromall is extremely modern and houses our favorite movie theater. Check the movie posters to see if the movies are in Spanish, English, or with subtitles. Metromall boasts a large food courtyard featuring many American chain restaurant favorites. Eddie and I also enjoy shopping at the local places around the Obarrio neighborhood, which is also where Multiplaza Pacific is located.
Where to Eat in Panama City
My weekend guide to Panama City includes delicious eats of mostly international tastes. Some of our favorite restaurants are La Vespa, Beirut, Tāntalo, and Avatar Indian Cuisine.
One of the best risotto dishes I have ever eaten was at La Vespa. Though they are known for their pizzas, the pasta dishes more than impress. Be sure to order something that they use the entire Parmesan wheel to prepare your dish tableside in. La Vespa has indoor and outdoor seating. The restaurant is frequented by banking district workers for lunch so it is more upscale than dinner time.
Beirut serves your favorite Lebanese, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean dishes with a side of hookah. Everything is tasty and I recommend ordering several items to share. The hummus, baba ghanoush, and lamb Kafta are out of this world! Also, belly dancers perform at Beirut Thursday through Saturday evenings, adding an element of fun.
Tāntalo is a casual artsy eatery serving tasty empanadas and roasted pulled pork. Fun and colorful artwork adorn the walls. I like the funky vibe at the restaurant; it is one of the hippest spots in Casco Viejo.
Avatar Indian Restaurant
Since Indian food is my favorite, it is no surprise that I quickly sought out the TripAdvisor highly-ranked Avatar Indian Restaurant. I was so glad I did! The inside, decorated with white leather seating, has a homey, contemporary, and welcoming feel. As soon as I read the menu, I know this would be a winner. And the meal lived up to its description. Avatar’s food is tasty and full of Indian flavors that I crave. Dahi Vada (lentil dumplings appetizer), Haryali Murg tikka (tandor cooked green herb chicken), and the chicken Avatar special are our favorite dishes.
Panama City Will Win You Over
My weekend guide to Panama City should provide you with plenty to see and do in the city’s thriving metropolis. Although I love the entire country, the capital city definitely has the greatest offerings. As with all international travel, heed caution with your personal possessions and drink bottled water. Panama’s beautiful city and culture will win you over and make you want to visit over and over again.
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