STOP & STAY
By Dustin O’Regan
By Dustin O’Regan
Panama City has location, location, location in its favor. As the connecting point between the Americas, Panama City’s airport sees flights daily from more than 80 destinations. Why not treat your layover like a vacation by breaking up the trip and visiting one of Central America’s most metropolitan cities?
With historic architecture, ultramarine seas, and dense tropical forests, there is plenty to experience. If you are a history buff, I recommend booking a guided city tour with Ancon Expeditions of Panama. Our knowledgeable and fun guide helped us discover a city that is a study in contrasts—towering downtown skyscrapers pay homage to the modern age while two interior sections are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Casco Viejo (“old quarter”) is a gorgeous, walled, colonial city full of history and flavor, and Panama Viejo is an archaeological site that preserves the ruins of Old Panama City, which was founded in 1519 but later destroyed by pirates. Be sure to ascend the Cathedral Tower for outstanding views and visit the beautifully curated museum, which outlines the country’s history in an easy manner.
An absolute must on your itinerary is the Panama Canal, recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. It draws tourists from around the globe, making it the most visited attraction in the country. An admission ticket includes a fascinating documentary, A Land Divided, A World United, about the building of the canal—the only one of its kind to connect the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, dramatically shortening transit routes.
Perhaps history lessons leave you yawning while nature quickens your pulse? No worries, the city has several natural parks for hiking and wildlife observation. The city views from the Metropolitan Park, a tropical forest sanctuary, are breath-stealing. Don’t be surprised if you glimpse a sloth or two. A favorite place for Panamanians to walk, skate, and bike is the Amador Causeway, which consists of four islands joined by rocks excavated during the Panama Canal’s construction. You’ll find several coastal services here offering fishing charters or ferries to the Pearl Islands, an archipelago consisting of more than 200 islands and islets.
A great place to stay is The Santa Maria. Located within the city’s coveted Santa Maria Golf & Country Club, the resort not only immerses its guests in luxurious amenities but is just minutes from the airport, Casco Viejo, Panama Viejo, and the Panama Canal. While Santa Maria is home to several eateries, my favorite was the Mestizo Restaurant serving Panamanian-Mediterranean fusion cuisine and the city’s best Sunday brunch. The tantalizing dining concepts are complemented by an expansive pool, a locally inspired spa, a workout facility, and plenty of space to play—from the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course to tennis and basketball courts. The rooms boast Luxury Collection beds, Le Chemin products, and beautiful views.
If you are passing through Panama City en route to your final destination—stop and stay. Copa Airlines has a Panama Stopover program that enables travelers to make the most of their stopover in Panama City for up to seven days without paying any additional airfare. There is so much more to see than just the airport. Viajes felices!