Monthly Archives: March 2017

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Panama Canal Kayaking

Panama Canal Kayaking – Jungle Land Experience

The Panama Canal is arguably one of most important structural achievements ever built. Apart from cutting a slice through a mountain, construction of the canal also involved flooding a river to form a gigantic lake. When planning our trip to Panama, it had never occurred to us that Panama Canal kayaking was just one of the activities available on the canal.

How could we resist?

The easiest way to arrange this is with one of the companies that organizes daily trips out onto the canal. The Jungle Land Experience is one such company which offers 1-day tours that take you through the canal onto lake Gatun.

But the trip involves a lot more than just a boat ride.

Picking us up from our Occidental Hotel in Panama City at 8am, our guide Lewis started the tour. We were driven by minibus out of the city and past the Miraflores locks to the Gamboa jetty.

Panama Canal Kayaking

The Panama Canal – Close to Miraflores locks

After waiting a while at the jetty, we joined Captain Carl and around 50 other guests. We were all loaded comfortably into 3 boats and set off down the canal.

Panama Canal Kayaking

Panama Canal Kayaking

Captain Carl is a wealth of information and humerous anecdotes about the history of the canal, as well as the local fauna and flora.

His dry humour is pretty much guaranteed to keep you entertained as he simultaneously navigates the boat from the Gamboa public dock through the canal and finally to a floating lodge hidden deep in the tropical forest.

Panama Canal Kayaking

A rather large lizard dries out in the sun

On several occasions we stopped to get a closer glimpse at some of the wildlife.

Along our route we encountered a variety of birds, reptiles and monkeys. We stopped a few times to feed the more audacious monkeys with nuts and bananas.

Panama Canal Kayaking

A diminuitive Tamarin monkey scours the sky for predators

Our destination was a floating boathouse set in a secluded area of the lake.

Panama Canal Kayaking

Panama Canal Kayaking

The location of the floating boathouse looks very similar to the one used for the shooting of the movie Anaconda, which starred John Voight and Jennifer Lopez (before she developed her ‘booty’).

Panama Canal Kayaking

Panama Canal Kayaking

Here we ate a tasty Panamanian lunch, while we decided which activities tickled our fancy.

Panama Canal Kayaking

Panama Canal Kayaking

Fishing on the lake or kayaking 2km up a narrow channel to a waterfall?

For us it was a no-brainer.

Kayaking along a narrow channel through the undergrowth, sometimes less than 2 meters wide, makes for a real Panamanian jungle experience.

Panama Canal Kayaking

Panama Canal Kayaking

It took around half an hour to reach a small rocky clearing and the promised waterfall. We spent half an hour there swimming under the waterfall.

The more adventurous souls climbed the surrounding rocks from where they could jump back in.

Panama Canal Kayaking

Panama Canal Kayaking

After this we headed back to the boathouse. Foolowing a few more drinks there, we all returned by boat to the Gamboa jetty.

The total cost for this day out was $115 per person, including hotel transfers, lunch and soft drinks. Alcohol is also available at reasonable prices.

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Top 14 Panama City Activities (or maybe not…)

You can see a lot of what Panama City has to offer by simply walking around. The distances between most of the popular attractions are not that great. Here then is the list of our top 14 Panama City activities and attractions, most of which are reachable on foot.

Amador Causeway

If you’re taking a boat to Taboga, the Amador Causeway is where you will embark from. Avoid the weekends. Otherwise, like us, you’ll likely find all boat tickets sold out. The Causeway itself is very popular with cyclists and runners.

It also provides great views of Panama City.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Top 14 Panama City Activities – View from the Amador Causeway

Don’t try and walk there from the city, though. The route is long and complicated, and takes you through some areas you might be better avoiding on foot.

Casco Viejo

The old town of Panama is full of character and photo opportunities. Again you need to be careful not to wander too far into the run-down areas surrounding the centre. We noticed a very heavy police presence around the streets during the daytime, which should be sufficient warning.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Top 14 Panama City Activities – Cathedral Square, Casco Viejo

Don’t miss Rene’s Cafe, just off the main Cathedral square. This is a Bolivian/Panimanian restaurant open for lunch (12-15pm) and dinner (18-21pm). There are just 2 choices on the menu: Lunch ($10) and Dinner ($25).

In both cases, you are treated to a succession of small, varied and tasty dishes (there are just more of them if you order dinner).

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Top 14 Panama City Activities – Rene’s Cafe

A nice touch is that you can order ‘Lunch’ at dinner time, and vise-versa. Service is good, wine is reasonably-priced and there are some interesting paintings to admire.

Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower

Apparently, if you’re a bit brassy you can pretend you’re staying at this hotel and con your way up to the top floor to admire their eternity pool and bar.

We actually couldn’t be bothered. In any case, most afternoons the Panama City skyline clouds up, so what’s to see?

Top 14 Panama City Activities

The Donald’s Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in the background

Taboga Daytrip

We’re not really convinced that this should be in the top 14 – or any list for that matter. However some people, especially Panamanians, seem to rate it.

You’ll need to be up early to catch the 8:30am ferry from the Amador Causeway. This slow boat will get you to Tabogo in an hour or so. Let’s hope  you enjoy your stay, because it will be another 6 hours before you can take the first ferry back.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Top 14 Panama City Activities – Get in line for the slow boat to Taboga

There are 2 beaches to visit, one slightly less cluttered with filth and rubbish than the other. Forget snorkeling; You can’t even see your hand in the murky water. If you’re short on time, there are far better ways to waste your money in Panama City.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Check the return times carefully – You really don’t want to miss your boat back

Top 14 Panama City Activities – Jungle Land Experience

…And this is one of them.

The Jungle Land Experience is pretty much a ‘must do’ activity if you visit Panama City. You’ll get to spend the whole day visiting the canal and enjoying a variety of Jungle land and water experiences, hosted by Captain Carl.

Note however that you’ll have to book and pay in advance online if you want to join in the fun.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Join Captain Carl for some fun and japes around Panama Canal

Albrook Mall

The biggest shopping mall in Latin America is also the location of the central bus station. Albrook’s is the last stop on the metro line. It’s worth a visit if you need some retail therapy and don’t mind the crowds.

It’s also unavoidable if you need to catch a bus out of town.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Albrooks Mall: This was as close as I wanted to get

Walk or Run the Promenade

The Panama City promenade offers you an unbroken 2 km stretch of beautifully maintained walkways and recreational areas. Best go early before it gets too hot. If you go in the early morning after a Friday or Saturday night, you’ll get to see how the locals wantonly abuse and litter this beautiful area.

Fortunately, each morning the city council sends out its green elves to clean up the mess.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Jogging the Promenade – One of the more relaxing activities in Panama City

The Seafood Market

Yet another tourist trap mentioned in all self-indulgent Panama City travel articles. Yes, go and eat your overly-sour ceviche with a balboa beer, and pay the ‘gringo’ rate for the privilege.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Opposite the Seafood Market – This is where they get your fish…

Ignore the hawkers trying to drag you into their bars with blatantly false promises. Instead walk around the back and into the large fish market hall. There (if you really do want to eat it) you can buy twice the amount of ceviche at half the price.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Top 14 Panama City Activities – Inside the Seafood Market

Trapiche Restaurant

We liked this restaurant so much we visited it three times. You’ll find it on Via Argentina. Here, we enjoyed a taste of authentic Panamanian food with their Fiesta Panamaña and Mixed Grill surf-n-turf style.

All for $38 for two, including a bottle of their own red house wine.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Top 14 Panama City Activities – Visit the Trapiche Restaurant

You’ll find quite a few other places to eat on this street, including an Indian restaurant. However, none of the other restaurants appear to be as popular with both locals and foreigners as the Trapiche.

The closest metro stop is Via Argentina.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Top 14 Panama City Activities – Mixed Grill at the Trapiche Restaurant

La Pappa Restaurant

Close to metro Iglesia Del Carmen, La Pappa is not as good value as Trapiche, but still not too bad, and it generally gets good reviews.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Top 14 Panama City Activities – La Pappa Restaurant

Rey’s 24/7 Supermarket

We can’t rate this place too highly. Easily one of our favourite haunts in Panama City. If you’re after some serious food shopping, or just a takeaway meal, Reys is the place – it never closes.

Unbeatable selection, prices and quality. Not far from Iglesia Del Carmen.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Top 14 Panama City Activities – Rey’s Supermarket

One-Dollar Shop (not far from Rey’s)

Hey, don’t knock it! If you want some souvenirs without breaking your budget, this is the place to go. Don’t wait till you get to the airport to spend your last few dollars: They’ll go a lot further here.

Panama Viejo

OK, so we didn’t make it to Panama Viejo… Sorry.

It’s a good few kms detour east of the city. The metro line doesn’t go anywhere near there, and we just didn’t have the time to work out the bus schedules.

Take the Metro

Although taxis aren’t that expensive ($4 to $5 to go almost anywhere in the city), the single-line metro costs just 35 cents per trip. You can buy a metro card from a machine in any metro station for just $2.

Top 14 Panama City Activities

Save some money by using the Panama City Metro

And how long should you plan to stay in Panama City?

In our opinion, 4 full days max should do it. Unless, of course you also want to look at property for when you retire (there’s a large foreign retirement community in Panama).

In this case, you also need to check out Boquete and some of the small islands for sale around Bocas Del Toro.

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