PANAMA - Tips and Reviews - UPDATED January 2012

NEW stuff

Metro bus transport; You must now have a Metro Card to ride the bus, drivers no longer take money to ride.  This policy took effect on 16 February 2012 and while it caused a lot of confusion at first, it did not affect the service.
Metro cards are available at various locations around the city, as well as the main terminal at Albrook Mall.  The initial purchase of the card is $3 which includes a $2 service charge, so you’ll only have $1 worth of rides.
Cards are rechargeable and I recommend adding at least a few dollars at the same time you buy the initial card.

Challenges

Traffic; with the construction on the new Metro system around the city, traffic has become more of a challenge than in the past.  It is particularly bad on Via Espana and the area of the Mercado de Abastos which is located on Avenida de Los Martires.

Good stuff

Prices; the cost of lodging and food were less than I had expected.  During my touristy shopping I noticed the prices of most of the souvenirs were quite similar to other countries, but when it came to food, the cost was less in Panama.  Here are a couple standard cost comparisons
Hotel;                   Costa Rica = $80 per night          Panama = $40 per night
Food (2 meals);    Costa Rica = $25 per day            Panama = $20 per day
Beer;                    Costa Rica = $1.25                      Panama = $1.00

People; I found the people to be more helpful in Panama than I have in many other Latin American countries.  Yes, they still don’t like to wait their turn in line, but they didn’t force their way to the front and just went with the flow.

 Places to see

Panama Canal / MiraFlores Locks; Well worth the trip.  The tourist part of the locks opens at 09.00 and that is the best time to get there (best chance to see ships pass through the locks). There is a viewing area with narrator to watch ships pass through, a movie about the making and operations of the canal, and a museum.  The entrance fee is around $10 and it will take about 2 hours to leisurely see the whole process.

Cerro ANCON; this is not on many tourist guides “to see list”, but it is a beautiful place and well worth your attention.  It has wildlife, plant life, and some excellent views of the Panama City skyline, Bridge of the Americas, the Panama Canal, Casco Viejo, and Balboa.  If you decide to walk up the hill, take water, because they do not sell it on top.  Entrance is free.  

Casco Viejo; Great historic area with views and plenty to see

Albrook Mall; Larger than large and is well worth at least a little visit.  Also, if you’re catching a bus, the main terminal is adjacent to the mall.

Places NOT to see (at least in my opinion)

Metropolitan Park; this park was advertised to have plenty of wildlife, none of which was seen when I went there.  They say the best time is early in the morning and I was there when the park opened so even early wasn’t that good. Now there are lots of plants so it wasn’t a total bust, and with an entry fee of $2 it won’t break the bank. 

Places to stay

Casa Congrejo; I spent a week at this apart-hotel which is located in the Via Argentina area.  It’s within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and bars

Spanish at Locations; I also spent some time here.  It’s real nice hostel which is owned and operated by a school that teachers Spanish as a second language.  The school has four locations, three of which are in Panama and one in Costa Rica.

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