Panama City: Canal time

Friday 13 March to Tuesday 17 March 2015

travellingross rating = 10/10

I really enjoyed Panama. I never realised how big the city is with Dubai like sky scrapers, major shipping malls, variety of restaurants and fast food, awesome running and walking paths along the foreshore. The shipping canal brings obvious wealth to the country and u can see why they fought hard to win operating rights from the USA that they finally received NYE 1999.  Many ships sit offshore waiting to take the short cut thru the thinnest part of central America.

Flying from Paramaribo to Panama City, via Aruba, I landed mid afternoon and it took far too long to clear immigration. Longest line I’ve seen in an airport. It was first time I have flown Copa Airlines (national airline of Panama) and I liked them. I am impressed that I can take 2 flights and be in such a big city that afternoon. I am inclined to do this again for a future break. Taxi system at airport is semi organised but expect a tip to walk you to the cab.  I hate that. And u share with someone. I shared with an older man who met a woman on an internet dating site and had an internet relationship for 16 months and now time to meet face to face. That’s pretty damn brave. And a better story than the usual “I’m here for work” etc. The hotel taxi actually uses an app to calculate the fare. That’s a first for me. But it is handy that USD is taken everywhere and the Panama currency is paired with USD. Another reason for me to come back and spend my USD (I’m paid in US dollars).

Highlights of this trip are pretty simple. Sleep and the canal. After a long rotation (for me) I was keen to do not much other than relax and catch up on personal life that you don’t get much time for when working all the time. My hotel was adjacent to a cathedral where bells rang out to announce mass times. Starting at 6am. Hmmm. Only down-side of the hotel.

The only touristy thing I wanted to do in Panama was the canal. Construction started in the 1800’s by the French and finally finished by the USA in 1914. 100 years ago last year. Good timing to come as they have refurbished their tourist facilities for the centenary. I like the idea that humans had the audacity, ingenuity, power and capability to cut through a land mass to create a shipping channel that shaved off days of time in sea trade transport around the southern tip of South America. I didn’t know much about the engineering prior to visiting, other than it was a huge feat and technique that has stood for a century. Now after visiting I am a full bottle. A 14 hr tour will do that to you! Arriving at the ferry port at 630am, I didn’t get back to hotel until 830pm. I could’ve done a partial transit. But you know me…if I am here, I will do the full thing. YOLO. So I went from ocean to ocean and transited the full length of the Panama Canal. Long and at times a bit same same, but very interesting to an engineering mind and impressive to rise up tens of metres in a series of locks to reach a man-made lake and then be dropped down to ocean level again at the other end. It takes 8 minutes to fill and drain a lock so it is not a quick process (you go through 3 locks at either end) but fascinating. The boat was totally full (150 people would be my guess) and includes all your meals. I will let the photos tell the rest of the story.

Websites and Tips to Make this Trip

Stayed at DoubleTree Hilton hotel for bargain price of USD $69/night booking through www.worldmate.com

Panama Canal Tour was expensive at USD $250 and you might find something cheaper if you shop around. I think people book through multiple agents for the same boat www.panamacanaltrips.com