This wasn’t necessarily a trip. It was a very long stopover from one of my trips to Argentina. The airline Copa had created this new route to Argentina that avoided a stopover in the USA and it was cheaper than any other airline (for this trip). The catch? Either on the way there or on the way back you have a stopover in Panama City for about 9-12 hours. They do this so that you have no choice but to leave the airport and invest in their economy. Very smart.
They provide the tours you can do, specifically catering to the number of hours you have in your layover. The main trip they offer (or at least the one we chose to do) took you through town to the Panama canal. It is quite a unique place. So many countries/cultures travel through the canal that Panama looks like a mixture of all types of cultures (architecture wise).
Our tour guide told us a lot about the history of the city and pointed out unique modern buildings and areas. When we got to a guarded compound, which turned out to be the building for the canal, it was like herding sheep trying to get tickets to get inside the building. There was no guidance or lines, it was a free for all and no one knew what was going on.
Once you are in you don’t really know where to go. There are crowds of people everywhere. To actually see the canal you need to go to the top of the building where there is an observation balcony. We were lucky that a few boats where actually passing through when we got there.
The man-made canal took an extremely long time to build. 10 years to be exact (as of when the US took over building it in 1904). There were several attempts at trying to build it and many people died in the process. Not just work injuries but due to deceases as well.
Everyone saw the profit and need for this canal. Before it was built the only way from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean was to travel all the way south or north to get across by boat.
The canal is actually built on top of a mountain. There is one section of the canal, a lake in the middle for boats to wait and then the other section to get to the other side. 2 canals run side by side. Both send ships in the same direction. So X amount of hours a day they all go from the Pacific to the Atlantic and for the remaining hours of the day the ships travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is a long process to get ships across. But they can move more than one boat at a time depending on the size. Since it’s built on a mountain it takes time for the chambers to fill with water to elevate the ship to the next section.
It is one of the seven wonders of the industrial world. It was cool to see it but also very boring…
After seeing this landmark the tour continue through town. They took us to a small flea market. It was completely tailored to tourist, some of the vendors were wearing traditional outfits while others were in jeans and shirts.
From there we went to a marina that was beautiful. You can see the whole skyline of Panama and it is pretty spectacular.
After the marina, the bus took you to the mall or back to the airport depending when your flight out was. We still had plenty of hours to waste so we went to the mall. It was like any mall you would see here in North America. They had a dollar store, Victoria’s Secret and other well known stores.
There are actually some malls that are duty free and very cheap (if you know where they are let me know). A lot of merchandise goes through the canal, so they have top of the line goods for sale.
It was a good 9 hours spent.
Next time i’m in Panama I hope it’s at an all inclusive which I hear are beautiful.