David [pronounced Dah-veed], Panama’s second-largest city, is roughly an hour east of Boca Chica. A simple boat ride from Isla Palenque and a paved road takes you right there. Before venturing into town for the day, we heard two things about David: 1) Numerous sources say it has zero outlets for tourism and 2) It is one of the most Americanized towns in Central America. While we confirmed an element of truth to these statements on arrival, we happily report that David puts the positive spin on each one.
For those looking for a true Panamanian city experience, David allows you to truly immerse yourself in the culture. This city doesn’t reach out to tourists with historic sights or natural wonders, but because of that you know everything they do have is genuine. We browsed through bargain shops and dollar stores through the main city, realizing the people all around us were Panamanian. No way would they be here if this were some tourist trap flea market.
We went to lunch at a billiard bar in the San Jose neighborhood, where 5-6 tables take up the entire room. The general question with restaurants always goes something like, “Is this place for real, or just another touristy show?” Well, the answer is pretty default on this one. A standout seafood soup, hot fried plantains, and succulent shrimp bursting with natural flavor and zesty seasonings made sure of that.
Now, those looking to visit or perhaps live in Isla Palenque, know this: nearly everything you could ever need on this island can be acquired in David. That whole “Americanized city” thing, well it basically means that David has a slew of American-style department stores and markets. Price Market and Conway, direct equivalents to Costco and Target, offer the same layout, imported American items, and often substantially lower prices. Coches and the Do It Center supply you with hardware needs, and Rey Supermarket is one of many grocery stores similar to your local provider.
It’s funny to think that Americanized and non-touristy come together in such ironic fashion. Rest assured that if you forgot it at home or want to shop from budget to elegant, David’s got it.
We passed by Pedregal, a marina where boats can cruise the river all the way to Boca Chica, and then Las Lomas, a quaint suburb on our way out. A number of small towns between David and Isla Palenque each have their own appealing quirks we hope to see. In the meantime, we cruised through the ocean just as the sun was setting over Isla Palenque. Home sweet home.
Images by Luke Hansen.