When a girlfriend of mine suggested going out-of-town for a long weekend in December, I was all for it. Escape the cold? Explore a new city? Let’s do it! I quickly found inexpensive tickets and decided for a long weekend in Panama City, Panama. Although Panama had never been somewhere I had thought much about going, the more I read about, the more I discovered that it is an up-and-coming Central American travel destination. So, we packed our bags and were off! We had a great adventure, which I would recommend to anyone. Panama is close to the U.S., inexpensive, warm, and has plenty of fun things to do. Here are some helpful tips if you are thinking about going:
Where to Stay: Panama City is divided into two parts, the old town, call Casco Viejo, and the new town. While the new town is shiny and sleek, full of casinos and skyscrapers, the old town is where you really want to be, especially with just a long weekend in Panama City. The small streets are lined with shops, restaurants and bars, and there are interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
The American Trade Hotel: This stunning hotel is located right in the center of Casco Viejo. It has huge, stunning rooms, a sprawling restaurant, a bar, a coffee bar, gym, and friendly staff to help you with all of your needs.
What to do:
Casco Viejo Walking Tour: The old town is an easily walkable area, where you can peruse art stores, churches, coffee shops, and the occasional ruin. It is truly an up-and-coming district with a growing art scene and a thriving fine dining culture. Be sure to check out the Galeria de Arte Indigena to see and purchase indigenous art.
Panama Canal: This is a must-see during a long weekend in Panama City. The canal museum is especially interesting, with a detail history of the building and expansion of the canal and the canal’s significance in international trade. There is a short film you can view, as well as a gift shop and coffee shop.
Biodiversity Museum: Famed architect Frank Gehry was married to a Panamanian, and as result the first building he designed in Latin America was in Panama. The museum is stunning, and hosts incredibly interesting information about the unique biodiversity of Panama. For example, in one hectare of land in Panama nearly 300 species of trees can be found, compared to North America where there are only 25.
Where to Eat and Drink: Well, as the dining traveler you know we take the dining options very seriously in every city we go! Panama actually has a wonderful, diverse cuisine highlight by fresh fruits, queso, yucca, corn, rice, and coconut. Casco Viejo also has a plethora of fun places for cocktails. Honestly, no matter where you go in the old town, you can’t go wrong.
American Trade Hotel’s Café Unido: Stop by for a hot latte and croissant, or yogurt and granola before you head out for a day of sightseeing!
American Trade Hotel’s The Dining Room: This bright, airy restaurant in the lobby of the American Trade Hotel has a fantastic jazz brunch which is the perfect way to kick off your weekend. Mimosas, maiz pancakes with fruit compote, eggs benedict, and empanadas are just a few of the treats on the menu.
Beirut: As we all know, I like to sample different cuisines in the countries I visit. After visiting the Panama Canal or the Biodiversity museum, this is a great place to stop for a delicious meal. Try one of the combination plates, which comes piled high with pita bread, hummus, fried croquettes, rice, salad, fried onions, eggplant, and lebneh.
Veggie Moon: This restaurant is not actually vegetarian but does have a number of vegetarian options. The cozy interior is perfect for enjoying dishes like creamy risotto, rice with a coconut curry, tomato and mozzarella salad, and pasta.
Capital Bistro: Located on the waterfront in Casco Viejo, this restaurant is teeny tiny but has stunning views of the water and the skyscrapers over in the new town. The food is also pretty good, with fresh salads and lots of wine.
Maito: Listed on San Pellegrino’s 50 best Latin American Restaurants, Maito really did live up to its name. The minimalist, modern restaurant is not in Casco Viejo, but in a small neighborhood in the new town. Service is impeccable, the wine list features the best of Latin American wines. I had a fantastic “chow mein” with noodles, veggies, and a ginger, sesame, soy sauce infused sauce. For dessert, we had a churro ice cream sandwich with caramel popcorn. If you have a long weekend in Panama City, this is a must dine!
Jeronimo: No vacation is complete with drinks. This spot is a speakeasy/art gallery, where you can order innovative cocktails and then wander around the art shop.
Lazotea: This fabulous rooftop bar is located inside Hotel Casa Panama. Take the elevator up to the roof, where you can take in stunning views of the water. Enjoy a pre or post dinner snack and cocktail.
The Verdict: A weekend in Panama City is a fantastic getaway for friends or a couple. The combination of biodiversity, culture, food and wine make for a great getaway.