Didem Doğan

Panama City: a place identified with a canal

When you think of Panama what comes to mind is of course the Panama Canal. During your visit you will hear it, see it, visit it, every where, it will almost seem to you that the country is identified with the Canal. Actually until 1903 Panama was a part of Colombia. French started the project in late 19th century and worked on it from 1880 to 1901, however they had to quit the project due to high mortality rates (more than thirty thousand workers died due to yellow fever) and costs. In 1903 the Americans started over again and finished it in eleven years. Panama gained its independence in …When you arrive in Panama City by air the first place you will step on is the Tucumen International Airport which will somehow seem to you a little chaotic, people with and without baggages passing your right and left; this is because both the arrival and the departure terminals are the same place. You passed the customs and you are outside now: the first thing you should consider is the taxis: In Panama taking a taxi is not understood as you are hiring a private car for yourself until your destination; it is considered by the taxi driver as a public car where he can take as many customers as possible during the journey (although you pay the full price!). You can however oppose to this as it is not legal. Or you may see it is so widely accepted and so prefer to use the private car of the hotels (though they are more expensive) or call an Uber.As you move towards downtown you start seeing skyscrapers ahed and the sea on your left; it will give you an air, a bit of Miami, a bit of Dubai. Panama is developed in commerce and finance, its position is like Switzerland of Europe. The US dollar has the same rate as the local currency and it is accepted every where, so you don’t need to change your US dollars and can easily use them wherever you go. Indeed, you will feel this ‘Americanised’ atmosphere all along the city during your stay.As for sightseeing, the old town which is called ‘Casco Viejo’, smaller than Cartagena of Colombia much more smaller than Havana it still has this charm of Caribbean colonial towns with coloured and renovated buildings, gentle breeze from the ocean, touristic cafés, bars and restaurants, design shops, more to that the famous Panama hat shops. You may spend hours walking over and over again its streets.To see the Canal you will need to go to the Miraflores Locks (recommended to be there before 9 a.m. or after 2 p.m. as the big boats pass from the Canal these hours). There’s a four floor building where you climb to the terrace and watch the boats slowly passing by, as well as a museum regarding the history of the Canal, a restaurant. If you buy a combined ticket with the Biomuseum (you pay USD 25 for two) you may then continue to Biomuseum in the Amador district by the ocean and visit the famous building signed by Frank Gehry. This museum well explains you the millions of history of the Panama isthmus, how it was formed and how it has changed the Earth’s geography. Highly recommended!If you have more time in Panama, you can do hiking in its national parks, also great places for birding; diving in its Caribbean waters. Anyway you will not believe even in the city the sound of the birds reach your hotel room covered with noise cancelling glasses. Hello Panama!