I had done a similar trip with a one day layover on my own back in 2014, so when the option came up to have a one day layover from San Jose on Copa Airlines, we took it. To start, we had a rough departure from San Jose – upon arrival they advised we missed our flight as our flight had changed from a 737-MAX to a much smaller plane and they have rebooked us on the flight earlier in the day at 8am. They said they would try to get us on the flight but were pretty sure that they had called us to tell us (they didn’t) and we were selected because we didn’t have a connecting flight that night. Luckily we made it. Once we arrived in Panama City, Uber had no cars available so found a reasonably non-sketching guy to give us a ride to the hotel late at night. He ended up being a good connection as my available time for touring the following day had been reduced (work thing) and we agreed on him giving us the city tour the next day and taking us back to the airport (much faster than hop on / hop off bus). At the hotel, they didn’t have my reservation locally but it was on the corporate system and after awhile they checked us in – we got the largest hotel room I have ever seen – the “Royale Suite”. So ended up OK by the end of a long day. Quite the diversity of rooms for a short trip.
The Royale Suite
The “work thing” lasted longer than expected so having the personal driver was key as we were crunched on time. Based on my 2014 trip, I was thinking to go to 4 places, but with the time crunch we did limit ourselves to 2 visits; the Panama Canal and Old Panama City ( Panamá Viejo).
The Panama Canal
Truly amazing what was done over 100 years ago – still in use even with the new Panama Canal. Didn’t have time for the full tour, but the museum explains the history well. Took two tries before they achieved enough momentum to complete construction – French started in late 1800’s but quit because too many workers were dying. The USA started again in 1904 and finished in 1914. Most of the “canal” is actually through a manmade lake and after it was transitioned from the USA to Panama, the toll changed from breakeven to market pricing and was a huge impact to the Panama economy. The new canal was finished in 2016 – I noted in my 2014 blog that my old company (which is my current company) lost the bid and the winner was rumored to be losing $1 billion…..reality was closer to $3 billion. Link to a good article below. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/06/22/world/americas/panama-canal.html
On my prior trip, when I went to the old city center we got 45 minutes to walk around and the bus wasn’t allowed to the truly historic part of town. So this time with a better starting point, a guide, and more time, saw a lot more. Very interesting combination of Spanish colonial influence (Independence in 1821), Colombian Influence (Separation 1903), and French influence from when they tried to build the canal. Restoration of the buildings has continued from my last trip and now enough buildings are restored with hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops that it appears it would be a nice place to stay over.
Between the Spanish and the French, the primary sites are Catholic churches – a lot for such a small area as well as views of downtown and the Pacific Ocean.
In addition to the churches, several other historic buildings and squares. We had to supplement our guide a bit using the local maps – point and say take us there. By accident we walked by the Presidential residence.