Panama City Secrets: Six Spots Off the Tourist Track27th August 2015
Small yet surprising, Panama City is a place of contrasts. A place where colonial ruins and restored mansions exist comfortably within view of towering skyscrapers. There are a plethora of sights and activities to keep fun-seekers entertained. And for tourists who like to go off the beaten track, there are hidden gems, unusual tours, and little known secrets. Make your vacation extra special with any of these not-so-touristy tips:
1. Miraflores Locks & A Surprise:
The Panama Canal is one of Panama’s must-see attractions—and with good reason. At the Miraflores Visitor Center in Panama City you can see the canal locks, which are massive and impressive. There’s a small museum and gift shop, as one might expect. But after the center closes at 5 p.m., night falls and the canal is a softly lit marvel. Want to catch a glimpse? No breaking and entering required…just head for the newly re-opened restaurant at the top of the building. With close-up views of the famous waterway, this restaurant is the best spot to get rare nighttime shots of the Panama Canal.
2. The Country Store in Ancon:
Ancon Hill is one of Panama’s most iconic sights. A massive Panamanian flag flutters at its summit, and there are pathways for anyone interested in taking the short hike up. If you want to leave the camera-toting tourists behind, just head to The Country Store, across the street from the impressive façade of the Balboa Union Church. What looks like a cute little shop on the outside is also a fun bar and restaurant. You’ll find craft beers on offer (ask for Panamanian Casa Brujas brand beers) and simple, flavorful items on the menu. On weekends, activities range from live music to special cookouts. The owners also sell organic produce and fair-trade items…like hand-rolled cigars!
3. A Hidden Hangout in Casco Viejo:
The stately plazas of Casco Viejo stand as a testament to Panama’s colonial past. It’s a great area to visit and take in historical sights, from monuments to churches and more. There are also a bevy of eateries and bars filled with well-heeled locals and cerveza-sipping visitors. It’s a great vibe, but if you’re interested in plumbing Casco’s secrets, head to the building known as Casa del Soldado, or the Soldier’s House. The building houses the Spain Cultural Center, and there are often exhibits on display. What few people know, however, is that there’s also a cool rooftop bar offering—what else—Spanish tapas. For some of Casco’s best views and a cool eclectic crowd, the Casa del Soldado terrace is where it’s at!
4. A Rainforest In The Metropolitano Park:
Visitors often wish they had more time to explore Panama. Not only is this country famous for its beaches and islands, but it’s also home to rare large tracts of pristine rainforest. But you don’t have to leave Panama City to see the tropical foliage. Right within the city limits, the Parque Metropolitano is an often-overlooked gem. Tucked away in the capital’s western tip, the rainforest park is massive—more than 650 acres.
This green giant houses two walking trails, a lookout point offering expansive views of the city and the Panama Canal, and an incredible range of species. Spot monkeys, anteaters, iguanas, sloths, and some 250 bird species—many of them rare and colorful specimens. Take a hike or hop on the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s crane to view the forest canopy. It’s an unforgettable experience!
5. Punta Culebra Nature Center:
Most visitors to Panama’s Amador sector head straight for the Frank Gehry-designed bio-museum. Though the museum’s crazy, colorful façade and sleek modern exhibits are great fun, there’s another sight worth seeing just steps away. If you’re driving, it’s easy to miss the tiny sign for the Punta Culebra Nature Center.
Our top pick if you’re visiting with kids, this center features fun interactive exhibits. Study birds and sloth families up close, hold a starfish or sea urchin in your hands, and stare back at wide-eyed fish that you might never have seen unless scuba diving. Smaller and more sustainable than big “marine world” style attractions, Punta Culebra lets kids (and parents) get up close and personal with the wetter side of nature.
6. One Of The World’s Only Baha’i Temples:
Looking for a little peace and quiet? It’s a well-kept secret, but the egg-domed temple on Sonsonate Hill in Panama City is one of only eight Baha’i temples in the entire world. Shaped to mimic a lotus, the temple is often referred to as an energy center by those who visit. There’s no denying that during Panama’s green season (from April to December), the views from this hilltop haven are spectacular. There are no events or sermons held at this place of welcome. With no museum or shop, the Bahá'í temple is open to anyone in search of a bit of quiet contemplation.
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