"Why do you want to go to Panama?" I was asked this question several times by friends and family members when I would tell them about a summer trip my wife and I had planned to visit Panama City for 5 days. We, like many other people, love to travel and experience new places. We had never been to Central America and had recently read some great articles on Panama City that piqued our interest. Set at the intersection of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the North and South American continents, Panama is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas and is truly a dynamic and diverse country. So, the question really should be, “But why not go to Panama?”
Before we left, the forecast was predicting a chance of rain of 80% or higher every day we were scheduled to be there. It was August, which is during Panama’s rainy season, but we were determined not to let a little rain ruin our trip. Luckily, the weatherman was wrong and we were fortunate to have only one afternoon of rain that lasted no more than a couple of hours. The rest of the time it was all sunshine and steamy, warm weather.
While Panama City has an impressive modern skyline, we live for all things historic, so naturally we booked a hotel in Casco Viejo or the Historic District of Panama. After the original location of Panama City, founded in 1519 by the Spanish, was devastated by pirate attack, the city relocated to the present-day location of Casco Viejo. The neighborhood is rich in architecture with Spanish, French and early American influence. The plazas, brick lined streets and historic churches lend a European air. While much of Casco Viejo has long been dilapidated, the area is undergoing a renaissance as more and more buildings are being restored, one of which is the beautiful hotel we stayed in, the American Trade Hotel. A member of the ACE Hotel brand, the building was originally a luxury apartment building with a bank and department store. The property is impeccably designed with no detail overlooked. Despite the construction throughout Casco Viejo, the area was vibrant and rich with shops and restaurants.
The highlights of our trip included visiting the impressive and recently expanded Panama Canal, enjoying the view of both the modern and historic cities from the top of Ancon Hill, exploring Casco Viejo and the ruins of Panama Viejo (the original city), going to the Frank Gehry designed BioMuseo museum about the biodiversity found in Panama, and taking a boat out to the idyllic San Blas Islands for a beach day. Staying for five days was the perfect length of time that allowed us to see and do everything we wanted. We can't wait to return in a few years to see the continued rehabilitation of Casco Viejo. With continued dedication to preserving its past, the city can only continue to grow in popularity in the coming years. In addition, the Biomuseo will complete the large two story-aquatic exhibit displaying ocean life from both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans that I can't wait to see.