January 20, 2017

How NOT to Visit Panama City

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Six months ago, if you had asked me what I thought the first Central American country I would visit would be, I probably would have said Costa Rica. After all, it does seem to be the most popular tourist destination of the area. And it was the only country that I actually knew anything about. But then, my dad started dating a woman from Panama, and all of that changed.

As it turns out, I had a pretty miserable time my first three days in Panama City. From tension headaches to crying on the Panama City Causeway to every travelers worst nightmare: not exploring a place in depth, this trip had it all. That’s right, here’s how NOT to visit Panama City.

Day One

After touching down in Panama City, we were immediately whisked off in the cab of one of her relatives to another of her relative’s house for a visit.

It was eleven o’clock at night. All of the non-Panamanians in our party spoke very basic to absolutely no Spanish. To say that we experienced some culture shock would be an understatement. We were shocked, confused, and drinking it all in, because you can’t get more immersed in the culture than this.

[clickToTweet tweet=”You can’t get more immersed in the culture of a new country than having no idea what’s going on” quote=”You can’t get more immersed in the culture of a new country than having no idea what’s going on”]

Day Two

The Panama Canal

The next morning, we left the hotel and climbed into the relative’s cab once more to visit the Panama Canal.

If there was one thing I would have happily missed during my time in Panama, it would have been the canal. But then again visiting the Panama Canal is just what you do when you’re in Panama.

It wasn’t until a giant of a boat started rising that I realized how cool this all actually was. The two eleven year olds in our party were long bored with the process. But I was still standing starry-eyed, gazing at the boat and demanding that we stay until it got through the next lock.

Miraflores Locks Panama Canal Panama City

A boat passing through Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal in Panama City

From there, it was on to find some food. Mostly because the eleven year olds were becoming unbearable and that could only mean one thing: they were starving. And to be honest, so was I. Somehow, we ended up at a small fish restaurant on the water. I couldn’t tell you the name of it, but I can tell you that you could see fishermen bringing up the daily catch from your table. Oh, and that the food was mindblowingly delicious.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Hangriness is the true travel enemy” quote=”Hangriness is the true travel enemy”]

At the time, I had no idea that the rest of the trip would involve somehow ending up somewhere and having no idea how any of it happened. That’s Panama for you, I suppose. But I’m not going to lie and say that this was something that I enjoyed.

Panama City Causeway

Even with food in my stomach, a tension headache was growing in my temples as we were told we were going to Casco Viejo. Somehow I just knew we weren’t going to end up where we planned. Just like clockwork, we drove across a bridge to a strange Chinese monument. And then past what I recognized from my guidebook as the Biodiversity Museum to the causeway.

Running on a combination of barely any sleep and anxiety, I cried because I did NOT like not knowing what was going on.

Boats on the Panama City Causeway

Visit Panama Sign on the Panama City Causeway

I guess that’s just what you get when you get too used to planning your own trips and then end up on a family vacation with someone who knows the country better than you. I adjusted, and it got easier, but I still like being able to plan my own life. That’s probably not ever going to change. No matter how much time I spend in a country where going with the flow and being four hours late is the norm.

Casco Viejo

Eventually, we did make it to Casco Viejo. But by the time we did the eleven year olds were once again pretty miserable and could only really focus on going back to the hotel to swim. So we spent maybe half an hour walking down two or three streets before heading back.

From what I did see of Casco Viejo, it is an absolutely beautiful section of the city. I made a mental note to make sure to get some more time to properly explore it in the second half of my trip, when the family left and I was joined by the boyfriend.

A car park and the french embassy in Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama

French Revolution Monument Casco Viejo Panama City Panama

Day Three

The next morning my dad’s girlfriend’s cousin-in-law was supposed to pick us up and take us to her home city at 9am. Stuck in New Year’s Eve Eve traffic, though, that wasn’t happening. Somehow, we ended up at Panama Viejo instead.

Panama Viejo

With everyone working on a slightly fuller night of sleep, we were able to properly enjoy ourselves for once. And so we explored the ruins of the old site of Panama City. Filled with tales of treasure-looting pirates and slave-owning nuns, you couldn’t ask for a better morning.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Did you know? The nuns in Panama Viejo owned slaves. #travel #funfact” quote=”Did you know? The nuns in Panama Viejo owned slaves. “]

A chapel ruin in Panama Viejo, Panama City, Panama

Our last stop was just across the street from Panama Viejo, in a slightly sketchy neighborhood to visit my dad’s girlfriend’s aunt. They greeted us with hugs and sent us away with cheek kisses and fried fish for the road. This time, I had slightly more of an idea of what was going on. And for once, was actually able to enjoy the experience. I drank in the craziness as best I could – talking parrot, shirtless old man, and all.

In keeping with stereotypes, it wasn’t until around two o’clock that we were actually in the road and out of Panama City – a proper four hours late, with no one seeming to care.

Oregon Girl Around the World

Pin this post to remind yourself:

Panama City, Panama will likely be your first stop on any trip to Panama. Do your best to have a great time by reading my story of how NOT to visit Panama City.

The comments +

  1. Lori Sedwick

    January 20th, 2017 at 11:38 am

    How fascinating it must have been to watch the boats come through! Panama looks way more beautiful than I would have imagined! Pinned! 🙂 #FarawayFiles

  2. Clare Thomson

    January 22nd, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Great to read about your experiences of visiting Panama, Addie. It’s always good to travel with a local when you’re seeing somewhere new. Sailing through the Panama Canal has always been a dream of mine. Thanks for joining us on #FarawayFiles

  3. Trish @ Mum's Gone To

    January 23rd, 2017 at 10:45 am

    I love the honesty in this post – travelling is stressful and with kids there is always tiredness, hunger and boredom to take into account!
    We went on Rhine cruise recently and I loved it when our ship went through the locks on the canals. But to see a massive ship do the same thing in the Panama Canal must be amazing.

  4. oregongirlaroundtheworld

    January 25th, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Welcome to FarawayFiles community – we are happy to have you along and appreciate your fresh perspective on a part of the world that we don’t get a lot of sharing about! Can’t wait to see where you take us this week! Cheers from Oregon, Erin #FarawayFiles

  5. WanderMum

    January 25th, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    Really interesting to read about Panama City, not somewhere I know much about. It can be frustrating when you are on someone else’s schedule when abroad (and with kids) but sounds like you got used to going with the flow…even if it did involve being four hours late! #farawayfiles

  6. Captivated by Casco Viejo // Exploring Panama City’s Colonial Center – wandertraum

    January 26th, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    […] My first trip to Casco Viejo wasn’t exactly what you’d call successful. My family and I spent perhaps half an hour there, mostly at various souvenir stands, before heading back to our hotel, overwhelmed by heat and hunger. From what I saw of the neighbourhood, though, I knew that I wanted to see more. So when my boyfriend and I returned to Panama City at the end of our trip, it was the first destination on our list. […]

  7. Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate

    November 23rd, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Central America is on its own clock, isn’t it? Also, this quote “You can’t get more immersed in the culture of a new country than having no idea what’s going on” really resonated with me, as it’s SO true! I haven’t explored PC, though I’ve docked there by boat and gone into the jungle. I’ve also sailed the Panama Canal twice, which was fun!

  8. Addie

    February 25th, 2018 at 8:10 am

    Sailing the Panama Canal must have been so cool! That’s definitely on my bucket list 🙂

  9. Julie

    November 23rd, 2017 at 8:52 am

    As a planner, it is totally hard not to be in control of a vacation, especially when there are many things you would like to do. Hopefully when you visit the next time, you can do it on your own terms and get to see everything you would like to!

  10. Addie

    February 25th, 2018 at 8:11 am

    I hope so too! I definitely like being in charge of what I do when on vacation.

  11. Maike

    November 23rd, 2017 at 9:11 am

    I am totally with you. I also hate not knowing what is going on and I get really frustrated. I am glad you enjoyed some parts anyway.

  12. Addie

    February 25th, 2018 at 8:11 am

    Haha, thanks for the solidarity. It’s so hard not being in charge!

  13. katherinefenech2017

    November 23rd, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Ouch that doesn’t sound like the best visit, and I can empathise with you not liking not knowing what’s going on. I hate not having that kind of control over vacations and sightseeing. It can make you a little anxious,, especially if there are other things taht you really wanted to see.

  14. Addie

    February 25th, 2018 at 8:14 am

    Anxiety while travelling is honestly the worst!

  15. Gearoid McSweeney

    November 23rd, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    It certainly sounds like quite an interesting destination. However, I think I’d probably be more interested in the Casco Viejo than than the canal. Sharing all these experiences with tired and bored eleven-year-olds undoubtedly made it all the more interesting…

  16. Addie

    February 25th, 2018 at 8:13 am

    Casco Viejo is absolutely beautiful! When I went back without the kids it was so amazing I wrote a whole blog post about it 🙂

  17. Amanda

    November 23rd, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    I feel like so many places are hit or miss, and Panama is DEFINITELY one of them. Especially with kids? I can only imagine the frustration you felt. I like being in control for sure. On the bright side, you got some great photos!

  18. Addie

    February 25th, 2018 at 8:14 am

    That’s SO true! I loved Panama after I split up from the kids though 🙂

  19. Elaisha Green

    November 24th, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Woah! The nuns owned slaves? What an interesting fact.

  20. Addie

    February 25th, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Right? It’s crazy!

  21. Julia Guerra

    November 24th, 2017 at 10:02 am

    In countries where time moves slower, I find it’s best to take a deep breath and let the anxiety go. Eventually you learn to move at the new rhythm.

  22. Brianna

    November 24th, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Panama is one of the two Central American countries that I have not visited yet. I’ve heard it’s one of the more expensive ones though!

  23. Addie

    February 25th, 2018 at 8:09 am

    I’ve only been to Panama and Costa Rica so far and it’s definitely less expensive than Costa Rica!

  24. Visiting the Vitra Museum • Addie Abroad

    May 18th, 2018 at 10:16 am

    […] the same, for having come in with absolutely no idea of what was going on (something I really don’t like to do when I’m traveling), I’m glad to say that I had fun at the Vitra Museum. I don’t know if it’s the kind of place […]

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