Panama is not only a canal. Many people think so, but the truth is far from it. There is a "Canal Zone". Yes. And there is Panama, the country, with Panama City as it's capital. Mind you, both are worth visiting. First: Panama City. It's a network of narrow, cobblestone streets and plazas with ornate balconies and historic buildings, dating back to the 16th century! Panama Viejo (Old Panama) was founded in 1519, but destroyed by the English pirate Henry Morgan in 1671. Panama's governor put the torch to the city, thus making sure Morgan couldn't find any of the Inca treasure stored within the gates of Panama city! It was the place, from where the treasure was ferried to Panama's Pacific coast.
The Panama Canal is something quite different. It is an immense achievement, mostly dug and built manually and finished in 1914, at the cost of many deaths of the workers, due to disease, undernourishment and plain old murder. The total length of the Canal, which incorporates several lakes, is from coast to coast 50 miles (80 kilometers). Ships pass through three sets of locks, raising the vessels 85 feet to the manmade lake Gatun and Gaillard Cut, after which they are again lowered to sea level through another set of three locks. I was lucky enough to pass the Canal by ship, which was, I believe, the best way to experience this Canal. But it can be visited too on foot.
Visa and passports: In all cases, a valid passport is needed. On top of that a "Tourist Card" is sometimes necessary, which can be purchased at the airport for US$ 5,- from the airline bringing you in. It allows a stay of up to 30 days. Check with the airline or the local Panamanian Consulate for specifics and other requirements, such as a visa.
Health Although not required, it is advisable to be protected against Dengue fever, Yellow Fever and Cholera. Please check with your own health center. Malaria exists in rural areas in Darien and San Blas, in Baca del Toro and Veragues, Lake Boyana area and Lake Gatun. There is no risk of Malaria contraction in the Canal Zone, nor in Panama City and its vicinity.
- Voltage: 120 V, 60 Hz. Bring your universal adapter.
- Money: US Dollar will get you far! All credit cards are exceptable.
- Language: Spanish. English is also spoken.
- Time compared to GMT: -5
- Calls to Holland: 0031 -
Activities and tips: Panama City, with its 610,000 inhabitants is, to say the least, an interesting city in a beautiful and fascinating country. But lets start with the Canal. You must go and see the Miraflores Locks. See how they pull ships through the locks with their huge Locomotives, as if they are rowing boats. See how fast the ships rise and lower in the locks. But check the transit times of ships by calling the Miraflores Guide Service at 252-5463. At the locks, there are spectator stands with bilingual commentators. If you so desire, you can make a transit through the Canal, which takes you several hours and costs about US $100.
Panama City is for the main part reasonably safe. But don't go strolling around at night if you can avoid it, especially in the district of Chorrillo. By the way: walking about in the City of Colon, on the Atlantic side of the Canal, day or night, is definitely not done. It might be your last stroll on this Earth. The old district of San Felipe of Panama City sticks out into the sea on the South-Western side of town, with its colonial grandeur, architecture, pealing paint and decrepit balconies. Visit the Metropolitan Church in the City, the Interoceanic Canal Museum, the History Museum of Panama, the Museum of the Panamanian Man, devoted to the development of the Panamanian culture from its pre-colombian origins to the present, the Plaza Bolivar and the Presidential palace of the Herons, in the Casco Viejo (Colonial Panama). Panama City has theaters, casinos, nightclubs and high quality restaurants. For local cuisine, try El Trapiche on Via Argentina, the restaurant in El Pueblito and Niko's Cafe near Hotel El Panama behind the El Dorado shopping Mall. Seafood is best at La Cascada on Avenida Balboa. Try the open bus trip with the Party Bus (La Chiva Parrandera). It leaves at 08.30 hours for a three-hour tour of the city. There's a small band on board to keep you occupied. It stops at several locations, also at the Causeway, with its magnificent view of the Bridge of the Americas over the entrance of the Canal. If you like, you can rent a bike for about $2,50 a day!
Weather in Panama City!
Info from Lonely Planet
Info from traveldocs
General info on Panama Canal and links to webcams
Webcams along the Panama Canal
Copyright © 1998-2010 Luuk Francken
Created: April 14, 1998. Updated: september 2 2010