After spending the first couple of days exploring Casco Viejo, I ventured out into the city to see what else it had to offer, and to meet the scientific teams who were starting to arrive. For the 2nd part of the week, I stayed at Hotel Sortis in the downtown business district, which is a completely different (but also great) experience than staying in Casco Viejo. One of the most important attractions in Panama is the Panama Canal, which I would have liked to been able to be at while our vessel passed through, but the timing did not work. Some of my favorite parts of Panama City outside of Casco Viejo are listed here.
Miraflores Locks – Panama Canal Visitor Center
The visitor center has viewing decks at multiple levels so you can watch the whole process of ships passing through. They also have a movie, and time lapse video. I went straight to the viewing deck and watched as 3 ships passed through. The photos show the basic process; the ships are guided toward the gates by a small trolley car, the water is pumped from one side to the other until it is level, and the gate opens, and the ships pass. It is truly something to see.
This site is all the way across the city but is more than worth the visit. It is the site of the first European Settlement on the American Pacific coast. The city was established in 1519, and destroyed in 1671. Today the site is a beautiful monument and park area where you could easily spend hours.
Bonus – the Guayacan tree was in bloom! These trees are only in bloom for one or two days before the leaves fall and make a blanket of color on the ground below. I had very good luck to see this red flowering Guayacan in bloom.
Amador Causeway – this is a land bridge that connects 4 islands to the city, located close to the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. The best way to visit is by walking or biking as the views are spectacular and there are many places to stop along the way. I rented a bike just at the beginning of the causeway at Bicicletas Moses and rode all the way across, stopping for a juice at the end of the road and then biking back on the opposite side to take in the views there. You can also rent little 2 or 4 seat peddler carts if you have kids with you, or backpacks. Along the way you can see boats, city views, shops and restaurants, the marina, statues, and a cool spot where some containers and buildings have been covered in graffiti.
Biomuseo architecture by Frank Gehry
Outside the BioMuseo is their diversity park – but no bikes inside the park, so I suggest you go to the Museo before renting your bike. The building is closed on Mondays. The architecture itself is impressive, but the galleries and park are well worth taking the time to stop.
Downtown and the skyscrapers
The downtown areas are impressive with so much going on, lots of traffic, and huge skyscrapers. Unfortunately I did not have much time to explore but I have read there are some great rooftop restaurants to visit. One of my favorites while I stayed in the downtown area was Moma Restaurant and Lounge – the outside seating is spectacular with a huge painted graffiti wall, big screen and projector, and quiet ambiance in the heart of the city – and the food was wonderful!