Panama City: The Manhattan/Miami of Central America

In some respects Panama City feels very familiar — skyscrapers and traffic like Manhattan (but no pastrami); skyscrapers and humidity like Miami (but no pastrami).P1000730

Katherine and I are in Panama City for two days before going on a week long adventure “cruise” through the Panama Canal, with stops in Guna Yala, formerly the San Blas Islands, and the Darien Jungle. “Cruise” in quotation marks because the company running the cruise is UnCruise Adventures, which specializes in active, small boat cruises in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Central America, Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands. No gambling, midnight buffets and Las Vegas style shows, but plenty of kayaking, hiking and close encounters with indigenous people.

We arrived in Panama City in late afternoon after flying all night from Los Angeles, with a connection in Houston. We were wiped out, but the Bristol Hotel where we were staying made it easy to recover. The Bristol is modern and comfortable, and our room was spacious and attractive with a good shower.

Maybe best of all the tap water is potable which means that I didn’t have to keep my jaw tightly clenched while taking a shower. The hotel is in the heart of the financial district so it is very quiet at night and several good restaurants are close by, important considerations for the first night or two after a long day of flying (as we discovered the second night we were there, the restaurant at the hotel was also excellent).

After chilling for an hour (shower, no nap) we went for a walk in the neighborhood around the hotel. It was warm and humid and we were pretty wiped, so it was a short walk but long enough to form a first impression of the city.

Panama City is very built up with lots of very tall, very narrow skyscrapers densely packing the central city, several of which are architecturally distinct.P1000746IMG_0780P1000744 My first impression is that Panama City looks and feels like Manhattan, including streets packed with cars barely moving in traffic accompanied by a cacophony of blaring horns.

After stopping in the classic looking bar in the hotel just long enough to drink a very generous pour of wine, we walked a couple of blocks to the Beirut restaurant for an excellent and generous Middle Eastern dinner. We left a lot of food on the table. I was very tired.

We were soon back in our room. The air conditioning was efficient, the room quiet and the mattress firm. I slept very well.

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