October 24, 2016

Top Attractions in Panama

Trip To Panama Flying in Turkish Airlines Business Class

Last month, Mike and I traveled to Panama for the first time where we stayed four nights in the beautiful capital, Panama City. We flew with Turkish Airlines in business class although we had to originate from Budapest instead of Stockholm since the fare was much cheaper starting from the Hungarian capital. Between Stockholm and Budapest, we took the direct flight on Norwegian. Since I have Diamond status with Hilton, we stayed at the Hilton Panama and Waldorf Astoria Panama where we got upgraded to a Master Suite during our stay at the Hilton Panama. We also had a chance to stay at the Radisson Decapolis Hotel which was also a nice hotel, although not as nice as the two Hilton properties we stayed at. When in Panama, you should never miss doing the Panama Canal Tour as it was definitely the highlight of our trip. Take note that they don't have tours everyday so make sure you check the availability beforehand. Our trip to Panama was one of the best trips we've had and having flown in Turkish Airlines business class, it couldn't have been better!


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Selfie with the Bridge of the Americas during the Panama Canal Transit

First visit: September 2016
Places visited: Panama City

Honestly, visiting Panama was not on my plan this year until I saw a good business class fare on Turkish Airlines and told myself, why not Panama! Surprisingly (or maybe not) it turned out to be one of the best trips we've had as Panama has a lot to offer to its visitors. From the famous Panama Canal to its historic district of Casco Viejo, it's friendly people and its tasty cuisine, Panama should really be on your travel list. We only stayed here for four nights and sadly, we were not able to visit all we wanted to (I guess there's always another time) like the Panama Viejo and the more distant Portobelo in Colon Province. If you are planning to visit Panama (and you really should), here are some of my traveltips.

Panama Canal Transit: Having read the brochure the day before, we sort of more or less knew what to expect on this tour. But OMG, there is nothing like experiencing it! We waited for about 15 minutes for the "right ship" to follow (the Mazowsze in this case) as we were not allowed to enter the canal by ourselves and slowly navigated through the Canal passing by different locks. It was such an amazing experience. And to think that it only happens here in Panama Canal, this should no doubt be on your bucket list!

Here's one of the videos I took during our tour.

Miraflores Visitor Center: As we passed by the Miraflores Locks, we saw lots of tourists on the other side (Visitor Center) as they curiously watch our ship and see how the Panama Canal works. It includes a visit to the museum as well and costs 15 dollars. This is an option if you have very limited time but I would really suggest doing the Panama Canal Transit as the duration is only a few hours more.

Casco Viejo (Historical District): In 1671, the original Panama City or Panama Viejo was almost completely destroyed by the pirates and with this, Casco Viejo was built. In 1997, Casco Viejo was declared a World Heritage Site. Here, you will find the Presidential Palace, the Plaza de La Independencia and the Teatro Nacional among others.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Mary (Iglesia Catedral): This church, consecrated in 1796 is one of the largest in Central America.

Palacio Municipal: One of the prominent buildings surrounding the Plaza de La Independencia.

Plaza de La Independencia: This is the main square in Casco Viejo and the place where the country's independence from Spain and Colombia were celebrated.

Panama Interoaceanic Canal Museum (Museo del Canal Interoceanico de Panama): This is definitely a must visit museum when visiting Casco Viejo with lots of information about the Panama Canal. Entrance fee is 10 dollars.

Teatro Nacional: Situated near Plaza Bolivar, it is hard to miss the fine architecture of this building.

Palacio Bolivar: Originally the convent of San Francisco, this building is currently where the offices of the Foreign Ministry and Bolivar Museum are located.

Plaza Bolivar: A popular tourist attraction, this square is named after the South American leader Simon Bolivar, El Libertador (The Liberator). It is surrounded by the Teatro Nacional and St. Francis of Assisi Church among others.

St. Francis of Assisi Church: Destroyed during the fires of 1737 and 1756, this church was almost entirely renovated in 1918. Among all the churches I've visited here in Casco Viejo, this is the only air-conditioned church.

Ruins of Iglesia de Santo Domingo/Flat Arch: Built in 1678, this church was one of the first to be founded in Casco Viejo.

French Plaza: Dating from 1922, this square was built to commemorate the failed effort by French engineers and investors to build a sea level canal.

Presidential Palace (Palacio de las Garzas): Standing along the waterfront overlooking Panama Bay, this is the executive office building and official residence although the President doesn't live here anymore. Visitors are not allowed (unless part of an organized tour) although we managed to have a quick look during our visit.

Catedral de La Merced: Built in 1680, it is the only church in the old town that preserves the original facade of its first construction in Panama Viejo.

Plaza Herrera: Dedicated to General Thomas Herrera in honor of his battle for independence when Panama was still part of Colombia, this park is popular with the locals. They also offer free wifi access here and yes, it was FAST.

F&F Tower: This building was selected among the winners for the 2011 Emporis Skyscraper Award. Needless to say, the architectural design is impressive.

Metropolitan Natural Park: A very big nature park very close to the city, this park is not to be missed. Entrance fee is 4 dollars.

Cinta Costera: Enjoy a walk, jog or bicycle ride along this coastal promenade which is very clean and well maintained. We actually had a very nice walk here on the way to the Historic District or Casco Viejo.

Parador Fotografico: A nice park where you can have a selfie with the "Panamá" in the background the way I did.

Mirador del Pacifico: This is the spot where you can get a very nice view of the skyscrapers in Panama City.

Biomuseo: Designed by the world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, this museum is his only work in Latin America and the tropics. We were not able to visit the museum personally but one interesting thing about it is that this museum when viewed from above resembles a scarlet macaw.

Public transportation: As I was traveling with Mike, we had only taken taxis and it is interesting to note that they have "taxi sharing" here. We actually experienced it on our way from the Metropolitan Natural Park to our hotel where the taxi driver picked up another passenger who was on her way somewhere near our destination.

The food: This Paella San Felipe from Casa Blanca Restaurant in Panama Viejo was sooo good. You really have to try Panama cuisine.

Panama coins: It is interesting to note that when you take out money from the ATM, you will get US dollars and not their own money which is the Panamanian Balboa. We paid for our meal in dollars and got the change in Balboa. If you happen to be a collector, make sure you get this one.


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