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Many times, when people speak of Panama City, they are talking about the city in Florida. When most people speak of vacationing in Central America, they are usually speaking of going to Costa Rica or Belize. This always surprises me because Panama City (the city in the country of Panama) is a center for history, culture, fun and feasting with white sandy beaches and turquoise waters close by. While it is located smack in the middle of Central America, where countries tend to be more in the “developing” category, Panama City is a modern and advanced cosmopolitan city. It’s a perfect vacation destination with a little bit of everything for everyone.
HOW TO GET THERE
Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City is the largest and busiest airport in Central America with every major airline having several flights in from every major city in the world. Unfortunately, getting from the airport to downtown isn’t that easy. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes in no traffic (unusual) to 1 hour in traffic (usual).
Taxis can be picked up outside baggage claim for about $30 to the city. If you grab one upstairs at departures, you can sometimes get them for half that. Uber is available now and is around $25 flat fare to any hotel downtown. There is an air-conditioned bus to city central and although if costs only around $2, they only accept fare cards which unfortunately are not available for purchase at the airport.
WHERE TO STAY
You can find every major hotel chain in Panama City from Marriotts to Wyndhams to Holiday Inn Express. You can even stay at the Trump International Hotel. If you want to mix a little fun with your hotel, stay at one of the Hotel & Casino Resorts, such as the Sortis Hotel, Spa & Casino or the Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis.
You can save a lot of money and meet some interesting people if you stay at one of the city’s more popular hostels, such as the Hostel Loco Coco Loco, which offers private and shared rooms, great breakfasts and is right in the center of the city.
WHAT TO DO FOR FUN
This city feels like it was built around fun. The city starts the year off right with one of the most amazing house dance festivals you will ever attend, The Day After. In 2016, they celebrated their third festival January 15-17, with headliners like Zed and Jack U. It’s like Burning Man in the center of a city near the ocean instead of the middle of the Nevada desert.. Thousands gather for three days of music, dancing and partying.
In March, the PokerStars Championship comes to sexy Panama City for ten days of high rolling excitement. After Chris Harder, a young 29 year-old from Maryland, took a surprise win at the Championship in the Bahamas in January, this competition is shaping up to have some tense matches. Gambling at the luxurious Sortis Casino and Resort can be super fun for a couple as the high rolling events raise excitement levels to peak and celebrating a win can be pretty romantic.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of excitement, it’s time to set out and explore the historic city.. Of course, a visit to Panama City would not be complete without going to see the Panama Canal. Take an overview from the Bridge of the Americas and check out the Miraflores locks nearby to really experience this amazing structural wonder. Visit the Panama Viejo ruins, where Panama City was first located and then head over to view the Casca Viejo, where settler rebuild after Captain Morgan attacked and destroyed old Panama City in 1671. Both are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Finally, if you want to take in some nature, visit the only Smithsonian outside the United States, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Amador Causeway, dedicated to studying and understanding biological diversity. You can see sloths up close and there are hands on freshwater and marine aquariums. You can also view ships moving through the canal from the center. Pretty cool.
WHAT TO DO FOR RELAXATION
Can you say white sand and warm water? Can you say amazing spas with couple’s treatments? Of yes, Panama City has it all. Coronado and Gorgona Beaches are called “City Beaches” by the locals because of their easy access and proximity to the city. Many Panamanians and tourists head out to these long stretches of beach for the weekends, making traffic a little hectic. If you are on your own schedule and can head out on a weekday, you can almost have the coastline to yourself, or at least find yourself a private little romantic spot for two.
If you want a little relaxation in town, the Waldorf Astoria Spa has won the award of Panama’s best spa for several years. Also popular is The Spa at Bristol on the 25th floor of The Bristol Towers. Enjoy a couples massage, exfoliation and body wrap and a soak in the tub together. This could either revive you for another night out on the town or send you back to your hotel for room service.
Whatever your pleasure, Panama City has everything and it’s totally affordable no matter where you go. So pack your sundress, bikini and dancing shows and head south. Panama awaits!