Delta Airlines recently began flying nonstop from JFK to Panama City, Panama, four times a week. Since the flights were new and an easy non-revenue standby, we decided to visit this city. Truthfully, we were so disappointed with our previous visit to Panama’s other canal city, Colon, that we were compelled to visit what is called “The Dubai of Central America”, Panama City.
Panama City is a very worthwhile destination and is very different. Colon is devastated and under major construction, whereas downtown Panama City has many modern tall buildings with unique architecture.
We stayed at the Westin Playa Bonita Beach Hotel, a 20-minute drive from downtown Panama City and 17 miles southwest of the Tocumen International Airport. Even though this hotel’s location is considered in Panama City, it is not a city-type hotel. It is located on the beach with beautiful tropical foliage and is in a remote area outside of the city. There are six pools overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, this part of the beach is not enticing for swimming. There are significant tide swings, and at low tide, the water seems to disappear from many parts of the ocean close to shore. You can see this problem all over Panama City during extensive low tides.
We arrived in the afternoon on our first day, so we decided to relax at the pool. A Delta co-worker from Panama has a close friend who lives in Panama City. This friend became our tour guide as we explored downtown Panama City. We were first driven around the entire city to view the vast number of buildings. We then proceeded to the Casco Viejo (Old City), a World Heritage site by UNESCO. This part of the city is great for walking, with its narrow streets and influences of Spain.
We viewed historic cathedrals, plazas, quaint restaurants, bars, and shops. We then proceeded to an area named Amador, a short drive from the downtown via a causeway over the Pacific Ocean. Amador consists of mostly marinas, with walkways that have beautiful views, restaurants, bars, and a major duty-free store that we shopped in.
The COVID protocols still prevail in Panama. Masks are required everywhere inside. However, we noticed that a lot of people wore masks outside. Also, COVID Tests for international travel back to the United States were hard to come by. The airport offered the test for $50.00 a person, and the Westin hotel offered the same test for $75.00 a person, administered at the hotel. Luckily, we packed 2 Abbott Diagnostics Binax Now COVID Ag Card Home (Zoom) tests which are approved for travel. We used them for the first time, and they worked very efficiently and at the cost of $64.00 for two tests. Negative COVID tests are not required for entry into this country, but vaccinations are.
The Tocumen International Airport has built a beautiful new addition to the old terminal, and very soon, the airport will offer a modern train directly to downtown at the cost of $1.00 each way.
Two additional facts about Panama are to be noted. The sun rises in the Pacific and sets in the Atlantic. The capital is only 9 degrees north of the equator, and therefore, the average temperature is 75 to 90 degrees all year round.