We arrived in Panama City around noon and reached what will be our home base for the next two days at approximately one o’clock. The Marriott hotel is located in downtown, which is labeled the financial district of the City. It is overcast with strong hints of rains soon to come. October and November are very active months for downpours. Our trip to the big city happened to be in mid-November. Business seems to cruise right along rain or shine.
We checked into our hotel, dropped off our luggage and immediately scoped out the area. We were looking for a place to have a late lunch before exploring downtown. The Beirut Restaurant was just at the end of the block and occupied the full corner. Our first experience with a Panama City restaurant was nothing to write home about. The service was subpar, the food was average and the pricing was pretty comparable to any big city restaurant in America. We nursed our beverages until the unexpected downpour recedes enough for us to move on.
Traffic in the city is horrendous. Every corner has a stop sign that bears no power to any motorist, coming from any direction. The inner city’s side streets are pretty narrow. Combine this with parked cars on both sides of the street, taxis stopping at will to pick up their fares, and traffic trying to get by is a perfect formula for chaos. However, the real traffic jams begin when the side streets start to pour out onto the main thoroughfares.
All the streets downtown are one ways, with the exception of Balboa Avenue which runs along Bahia de Panama (Bay of Panama). The main arterial roadways that separate blocks of towering skyscrapers do have stoplights. However, it seems to be a rule of thumb here that if you can squeeze any part of your vehicle into the intersection, you have the right to block oncoming traffic. The stoplights might as well be on a Christmas tree flashing their pretty colors for your enjoyment. There are designated turn lanes, but again they have no bearing and are used for maneuvering around your fellow motorist. Traffic is at and standstill most of the time. The constant horn honking sounds like Time Square during New Years Eve. I am sure you get the jest of it.
We were on foot and moving faster than traffic. The misty rain didn’t bother us as much as having to cross streets. Panama City’s sky line is an architectural marvel. There are buildings that reach high into the sky twisting and turning and switching directions mid-way up. This provides quite a site. Even with the snarled traffic at our feet, my attention was looking 180 degrees upwards.
The spiral turquoise color building pictured right was designed to be a Radisson Hotel on the lower floors, offices on the mid section and condos at the top. But like every other country experienced, the real estate bubble popped and now its mostly office space with a smaller, privately owned hotel that provides accommodations for visiting business people.
The “V” shape tower with blue glass and silver stripes on each end (shown left) is one of many skyscrapers that have frameless colored glass windows. The gold building shown below which stands proudly beside its counter parts can never be missed in any type of weather.
The Hotel Rui Plaza Panama shows off its stunning physique amongst its neighboring peers. Everywhere we look in the city is a unique design that includes an abstract façade to these towering giants. My head starts to spin as I stand with feet on the ground looking up at these monstrous pillars who share their peaks with the cloud covered sky.
The city holds more attributes than just bank buildings, corporate headquarters and mega hotels. As we walk around the city, we found some humor in this traffic snarled concrete jungle. If your appetite starts to knock at you and Mexican cuisine and their national beverage comes to mind, a ground level restaurant by the name of Orale (pictured, below) has just what you need.
After enjoying your dining experience at Orale, you can step outside and move over one door to the left and sing till your heart’s content. Who knew you could have an authentic Mexican meal and drink, then karaoke till the wee-hours of the night in a large foreign metropolitan city in Central American. As the afternoon progresses, the rain starts to increase from a drizzle to more of a constant downpour. We headed back to our comfy hotel and enjoyed a happy hour of our own.
The next morning we took at taxi to Casco Viejo, which will be an article all itself. That same evening we visited the city’s Hard Rock mega-size hotel. It was quite the place. The iconic hotel that houses rock-n-roll memorabilia was hopping with live music, comfort beverages and celebrating adults at tables that provide stunning views from the floor to ceiling windows.
Our three day, two night stay in Panama City was a enjoyable experience. The downtown district is filled with various activities. The city’s architectural flare makes it a desirable destination. It is obvious that Panama’s financial and economic survival in a world that is exploding with exploration from developing countries is heading in the right direction. However, some repairs and/or enhancements need to be made to the streets and pedestrian thoroughfares, traffic management and redirecting the above utility infrastructure to below ground.