Meg Chappell, a New York City grad student pursuing a Master’s in international public health, recently returned from a two-week tour of Panama brimming with vivid memories from her travels. Since she used our off-the-beaten-path advice and informative travel articles to help her plan the trip of a lifetime, Meg agreed to return the favor on The Ambler, sharing stories of her adventures in Panama with other hopeful Panama travelers. Her first guest blog takes you through the streets of Panama City and into a hidden salsa hotspot. Enjoy!
Meg Chappell’s Panama Travel Journal
Having no expectations before venturing to the less-traveled Panama, I was looking forward to escaping the unsympathetic New York City cold that makes us all a little cranky. The moment your feet touch the ground on unfamiliar soil, your senses respond. Gorgeous caramel-skinned women line the city streets and old men, hands worn and tan from the sun, sit comfortably in the blazing heat selling Panama hats. Though Panama City’s traffic is almost unbearable, the salsa and reggaeton blasting from cars and taxis with barely-functioning speakers make the experience more pleasurable. The tantalizing aroma of fried yucca, fresh fish and green rice wafts through the sizzling air of Panama City. The only thing missing: an ice-cold Balboa beer.
Strolling through the streets of Casco Viejo makes for a leisurely afternoon. The pinks, greens, blues, and yellows that paint the winding streets are reminiscent of a European town. Abandoned structures, old churches, outdoor cafes, and buried apartments typify the area known as Casco Viejo. It doesn’t take long to lose yourself in this quaint, romantic neighborhood.
Venturing slightly away from Casco Viejo to Santa Ana will give you a real taste of local Panamanian culture. Poke your head in Café Coca Cola for a cup of coffee and a snack – you’ll also get an authentic dining experience steeped in history.
The café, one of the oldest in Panama City, is the old stomping ground of famous revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Though they’re not as recognizable as Che and Fidel, it’s still easy to spot the regulars at this classic diner.
A Friday evening in Panama City would not be complete without experiencing a live salsa band. Platea, hidden on a side street of Casco Viejo, hosts a different salsa jazz band every week. As the trumpets blare and the temperature rises, bodies on the dance floor begin to melt together. The hips of the women electrify the room and the fluid footsteps of the men captivate onlookers. The wide-mouthed smile of the lead singer and the jazzy sounds of the saxophone encourage your feet to tap. A few Balboas later, you succumb to the music and let the salsa take you over. The only cure after a night of passionate salsa dancing and Balboa consumption is a hearty Panamanian breakfast. Eggs, meat, deep-fried tortillas, hojaldres (fried deliciousness) and of course a cup of Panamanian Joe help you forget about your headache and start the next day’s worth of adventures in sunny Panama.