Visiting the Panama Canal

Visiting the Panama Canal

Visiting the Panama Canal is an interesting experience. The canal is internationally known. Panama because of the historical significance that comes with it. Plan to spend about two hours to get the full experience of the Panama Canal. The best time to go is between 12pm and 2pm. You are more likely to see ships passing through. Depending on where you are in Panama city, a cab ride to the Panama Canal can fall between $5-$8. When you get to the Panama Canal, you have to pay an entree fee. Locals and foreigners pay separate prices. They also have student discounts if you show your identification. The price for students is $3, general admission for observation only is $5, and for full access to the 3D theater, aquarium, and the university, its $8. They give you a ticket with a bar code that permits you access to different areas of the visitor center. Only the full access pass allows you to go beyond the observation area. The best time to go is mid day, because they have more ships coming through the Panama Canal southbound or northbound. You will notice visitors from all parts of the world. They have multiple restaurants and a café for you to sit down and enjoy the sight. Once you’re done viewing the exhibits, instead of taking the cabs that are right out front, walk to the main entrance of Panama Canal to get a taxi. It will cost you less money. The taxi drivers outside of the exhibit will try to charge you between $15-$25 if you’re a tourist. You can usually get them down to $10-$12 if they are willing to negotiate. But on the main road, you can a more reasonable offer to get back to your destination.

PNA_8313 Panama Canal Ticket Price

Growing up in the USA, we read a lot about the Panama Canal and the struggles that the people went through to build it. It’s really a marvelous site if you think about the hard work that went into it. The people who thought this through are really innovative. Being there and seeing the ships pass through was a worthwhile experience. To me it was reality meets the history books. To some people its just an area that ships pass through. But sometimes you have to look at the little parts of this Panama Canal that make it into the big picture that you see to put it in perspective. The Panama Canal was build decades ago and is still in existence.  Now that I’ve seen the Panama Canal, I feel that my trip is complete.

Panama Canal Panama Canal Mueral   Panama Canal Panama Canal Locks

 

Negotiating with Taxi drivers in Panama City

Negotiating with Taxi drivers in Panama City

Negotiating with taxi drivers in Panama City, can seem like a difficult task, but it is fairly easy. Hopefully, you know a little Spanish or are fluent. If not there are some great apps and books that you can buy that have sections on getting directions and asking for price. Coming from the airport, you have a lot of drivers willing to push each other out their way for your services. They want to take you to wherever you want to go even if they don’t know the particular address. For the most part if you can get the taxi driver or hotel transportation to get you to or from the international airport for $20 its a good deal. Most taxi drivers in Panama ask for $28. Unless you are in the city, you are at the mercy of the cab drivers at the airport. But with some luck you can negotiate them down a few dollars.  The more people you can get into the cab with you, the cheaper the price.

Panama City is broken down in zones. From one zone of the city to the next it’s about $3. The prices are cheaper if you take a taxi to and from within the same zone. Some of the cab drivers, based on your pronunciation of your destination will try to charge you more. Which brings me to my first point, know your area and get an idea of the distance you have to travel. At most you should pay $5 if you have multiple people in the cab. If you have the patience to withstand multiple outrageous prices to get to your destination, you will find an honest cab driver that will get you there for $3. When you name your price, stick with it and be willing to walk away of the cab driver doesn’t want to accept your price. The good part about these cab drivers is that they know some of the hotspots in the city.

While in Panama we met a great taxi driver by the name of Frank. He lived in the USA for many years before moving back to Panama. His prices were the cheapest and he was very knowledgeable. Whatever you wanted to buy, he knew where to go. He gave us the best price to get to the international airport, $15, that’s a steal. The hotel and hostels we stayed at were charging $25 and above. When visiting Panama city, find a good cab driver, take down his number and use him or her to get to where you need to go. They will appreciate the business. If not, learn to develop your negotiating skills. A few dollars here and there more than you should have to pay adds up. Be smart negotiate and find the best drivers who are honest.

To recap negotiating with taxi drivers in Panama City

  • Know some basic Spanish (directions, price, too expensive)
  • Know the distance of your location
  • Stick to a firm maximum price you are willing to pay
  • Be willing to walk away
  • Don’t give, have patience, the right cab driver will come along
  • If you meet a taxi driver you like, that gives you a great price, take down his or her number

Taxi drivers in Panama City

Great streets to visit in Panama City

While in Panama City, to maximize your stay, I suggest you check out some of the great streets to visit in Panama City. Although Panama City is big, like most places, some streets have more character than others. These were the area’s that piqued my interest the most while I wast staying in Panama City.

Via Argentina

Via Argentina is a great place to visit because it has a lot of restaurants, hotels, bars,hostels, shops, and the widely visited statue of Einstein. The Restaurants have a variety of authentic cuisines. Most of them have outside seating so you can enjoy yourself while looking at your surrounding, If you feel like exercising, Via Argentina has a big park for you to play basketball, run, walk your dog, and have a good time.

Eienstein Statue The New York City Bagel New York City Bagel

Avenue Balboa is a great because it has the nice fish market. Off the side of the streets you can find lots of street markets to do some bargain shopping. The locals know enough English for you to bargain your price. The street food in the area great as well. You can get some nice fruit drinks as you walk down and bargain for the best deals.

Amador Causeway

Amador Causeway is great place to catch the sunset or sunrise. When you get off the highway heading to the deeper parts of the causeway, they have a club to the right of the street, as you continue down, you will notice benches to sit and enjoy, a nice open sidewalk, nice restaurants, and shopping centers. If you look towards the city, you get a great view of the Panama City Skyline. This place can be very romantic in the evening.

Amador Causeway

Calle Uruguay

Calle Uruguay, is the most popular place for young people to visit. The street is filled with clubs and bars that are open till 4am. Be ready to pay anywhere between $5-15 to get to some of the better clubs and bars in the area. They have street vendors selling food like chicken, rice, fruit, and diners for people who want to sit down and relax.

Avenue Central

Avenue Central is another great street. You can find great bargains on clothing that you wouldn’t normally see in the mall. If your phone is broken, you can go to any street technicians to get it fixed. While I was in Panama, I dropped my phone in water, and one of the technicians was able to repair it. If you walk down avenue central it will lead you to Casco Viejo. In Avenue Central you will see how the locals interact with one another. The items in the area are not high-end products, but they are quality products. If you want to practice your negotiating skills. this is the place to be. You can buy great street food and get a feel of how the locals shop and make money.

Avenue central Avenue Central Avenue Central

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo is the old historical part of Panama City. You walk through any of the streets and you will notice something brand new. The old city is preserved and is lively throughout the day and night. Some of the places to see is the cathedral. It’s a great place to go on long walks. The different architecture of the buildings really bring out the beauty of the city. You can find great bars and clubs on any of the side streets. It’s one of the few places in Panama City where you can visit any day of the week and something interesting is going on. You can get a great view of Panama City skyline from Casco Viejo. The Cinta Costera connects to Casco Viejo, so you will find many people walking, jogging, and photographing the area.

Casco Viejo

Avenue (Avenida) Balboa

Avenue Balboa  connects the old historical part of Panama City which is Casco Viejo to the new high-rise apartments. There’s a beautiful park area called Cinta Costera which has basketball, bike, and run bath, the statue of Balboa himself facing the ocean. The street runs along the coast. It’s a great place for tourist and locals alike to sit back and enjoy the beauty that is Panama City. Along some of the side streets, are fish markets, street food, and bargain shops.

Avenida Balboa PNA_8253 Casco Viejo overlooking PNACITY

Great Hostels in Panama City

Panama by luis

The hostel was a great experience. The employees were very knowledgeable about the nearby area and other parts of Panama and Panama City. They also spoke English which was a plus because my Spanish was limited. As the description of the hostel is written, it’s in a convenient area to for the supermarket and nearby restaurants. When we arrived, we made the mistake of booking a double bed for two people when we wanted to beds. I am sure that’s a usual mix-up. The staff gave us a bigger room for the same price and were happy for our business. The newer and more specials room had its own bathroom in a separated and detached part of the main hostel. About 50ft. From the main area. They also gave us an extra cot.

One of the Staff members by Panama by Luis, and American from Wisconsin as he described himself, give us in great detail some of the great areas of Panama City to visit during our stay in Panama City. He even took it upon himself to bring us to the Claro telephone company to translate for us. If you ever stay in Panama by Luis be sure to have a conversation with him.

Panama by Luis Panama by Luis

Panama by Luis Layout

The hostel has a main lobby, upstairs when you get to the place

There’s a washer and dryer by the main stairs for $2 a load

The main lobby has its own WiFi

There’s one big bathroom in the main lobby private dorm rooms

On the first floor of the hostel is a kitchen that needs upgrading and two fridges to store your groceries

Be sure to label anything you put in the fridge

The first floor has its on WiFi but it’s very spotty, it comes in and out of service

They also have an eating area outside and a hammock

Beyond the eating area is another dormitory

The only negative that I could think of about the place is the location. If you could pick up the hostel and put it somewhere else it would be great. The cab drivers had a hard time finding the street and the hostel. They are used to looking for hotels. When describing where to drop you off, just say by the McDonald’s. Other than that, Panama by Luis is a great place to stay.

Panama by Luis Panama by Luis Panama by Luis

Los Faroles Guesthouse (Hostel)

Out of the many hostels in Panama City, I’m glad we stumbled upon this place. The place was clean and it appeared to be newly renovated. Its located in an apartment complex within a great neighborhood. The location is central to everything. Down the street of Los Faroles Guesthouse is the Einstein Statue. The statue is a giant head of Einstein which makes sense because he was very intelligent. Across from the Einstein is a well-known New York City Bagel place. You can tell by the name and the culture within this place that it was heavily influenced by New York City. The hostel is off the main street of Via Argentina, the pace is filled with mini supermarkets, German Bars, international and local themed restaurants.

The staff and owner of the place are very friendly and of course knowledgeable about Panama. They were happy to have some English-speaking visitors to so they can practice their English and it was great because I got to practice my Spanish. One of the managers gave us a tour of the nearby street and took us to the mall free of charge.

The rooms were decent size and they came with closets to hang your clothes. The bathrooms were shared and cleaned every day. The landlord gives you three keys to the hostel, the main entrance, the entrance to the hostel, and the 3rd key is for your room. At night, they have a security guard named Fernando. He works from 6pm to 3am and sometimes later. Fernando is fluent in Spanish and English. He is one of the most interesting people who I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking to. He knows most of the people in the neighborhood by first name. If you get the chance to talk to him, you will come out of the conversation more knowledgeable.

Los Faroles Guesthouse Los Faroles Guesthouse

Prices for both hostels were around $20 a night. I used hostelworld and hostelbooker to book the hostels. For the most part, the majority of hostels were around the same price when we tried to book them on the main hostel websites.

Flying from Bocas Del Toro to Panama City

Flying from Bocas Del Toro to Panama City

After the Ten hour experience on the bus from Panama City to Almirante, we thought our time would be better served if we flew back to Panama City. A round trip ticket from Panama City to Bocas Del Toro or vice versa is $250 and a single direct flight is $125. The airline does have a weight limit of 30lbs. You are allowed one carry on and a personal bag like the major airlines. If your carry on is too big to fit in the overhead compartment, you have to check it in. If you go beyond the weight limit you have to pay an additional $1.74 per pound. To guarantee your seat on the flight, its best to book your tickets in advance. The flight is full most of the time.There’s a total of three flights that leave Bocas Del Toro to Panama. The times are around 9am 2pm, and 4pm. Total flight time is about Forty-Five minutes to an hour. It’s a small commercial plane that Air Panama uses at the Allbrook airport near Allbrook mall. The airport in Bocas Del Torro is located in Isla Colon, a few blocks from the main road. Walking distance if you do not have a lot of luggage.The air stewardess serves beverages and cookies and you get to see a beautiful view of the country as you fly over the mountains and houses.  If you have extra money in your budget I suggest you fly to and from Bocas Del Toro. If you are on a budget, the bus is a good idea as well because it leaves twice a day from Bocas Del Toro and Allbrook mall in Panama City.

Flying from Bocas Del Toro
Flying from Bocas Del Toro
Flying from Bocas Del Toro
Flying from Bocas Del Toro

The People of Panama City

The People of Panama City

Part of the experience of visiting a foreign country is the interaction with the locals. It determines how you your trip will be imprinted in your memory. I love trying to speak Spanish with the locals, especially when they don’t speak any English and I have to try my best to make them understand what I am trying to say. For some its frustrating but for me its a challenge. I feel like a Two year old trying learning to construct logical sentences. As frustrating as it is,  makes me want to continue to learn Spanish.

The Panamanians for the most part are friendly. Minus a few cab drivers that are a looking to hustle the tourists. I enjoy my time with the locals. They try to understand where I am from and I try to understand life in Panama. The best part is going to places like Av. Central where it’s mostly thrift shops and street vendors, you can get a real feel of the hustle and bustle of the city. Sometimes I speak English on purpose just to what kind of reaction I would get from the locals. But for the most part if you are willing to try to communicate, you are treated fairly. I remember my friends and I were on-line to buy a fruit smoothie on Av. Central, I had $2 in my hand and a nice gentlemen who was also waiting for his smoothie told me to keep my money in my pocket because of thieves. Now this gentlemen could have kept quiet but he took his time to explain to me the potential dangers of the area. This is something I appreciate about the people of Panama City or anywhere else that I visit. The ability to lookout for your common man.

As frustrating as it is, I appreciate the people who took the time to correct my Spanish.  The best part is trying to practice your Spanish with someone whose looking to perfect their English.  When we were at Multi-plaza mall, we met a young woman working at one of the stores, she overheard us speaking English and we ended up talking to her for the next hour going back and forth between Spanish and English.  If you are willing to approach the locals, you can learn a lot about the country that travel books can’t tell you. You won’t know if someone speaks your language until you ask. The experience that I had with the people of Panama City makes me want to revisit or even live here for a few years.

Avenue Balboa

The best time to travel!

The best time to travel is now! Like right now! Read my article on the international checklist and drive to the nearest airport and get on the next international flight. Be spontaneous! Well at least once you are done reading this article you can go on your merry way.

There are many reasons why people don’t get out of their comfort zone and see the world or even the next state. But the worse excuse is “I’m Busy.” The last time I checked, we only had one life to live, so why waste that time being busy and not taking the time to explore this beautiful world? Now, I’m not saying you use every bit of your time traveling the world (but if you have the money for it, do it) but for the rest of us who are working a 9am-5pm or longer, ask yourself this question? When was the last time you took the time to go visit an aunt, uncle, cousin, sister, or best friend in the next town or the next country? When was the last time you and your spouse went somewhere together and just enjoyed where you are? No work deadlines, no annoying family members, insert any distraction in that sentence. The point is, when was the last time you took a break?

Some of us go through life thinking that we have an abundance of time and tomorrow is promised. When in actuality, it’s not promised. From the time you were born, your time on Earth started ticking till the day you meet your maker. I am not trying to be dramatic. Just putting things in perspective.

As a society, we need to learn to take mini vacations. You don’t have to wait till you’re retired to enjoy the good life. Enjoy it as you go. You don’t need to go around the board once to collect $200. Traveling gives you a different perspective on life that you can’t get behind a cash register or working in a cubicle. I’ve made it a personal goal to visit at least one new country every year. So far I’ve traveled to many parts of South East Asia and China and that in it’s self is a life changing experience.