Panama City is famous for a lot of wonderful things, like engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal, the beauty that is the city skyline, and the historical gem that is the UNESCO-recognized old town. It’s also famous for some not-so-wonderful things, like unscrupulous taxi drivers and mind-numbing traffic.
The Panama City Hop-On Hop-Off Tour can help you avoid both those hassles. With an itinerary that hits every major site in town, there will be no need to hail a cab. And while there’s no avoiding tangles of traffic, lounging on the second story of an open-air bus is certainly more pleasant than sweating it out at street-level.
We started our journey on the Canal Tour, which we referred to affectionately as “The Red Line.” Out of the ten different stops on this route the standouts are The Miraflores Locks, the Causeway, and the Casco Antiguo. Recorded commentary in six languages guided us along the pleasant route until we reached the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal. Here, we enjoyed every aspect of the impressive visitor’s center; from the 3D movie to the interactive museum to the viewing platforms, where we waved to a ship passing into the famous canal.
Back on the bus, we relished the ride down the Causeway, which boasts the city’s best view of the downtown skyline. Attractions include the soon-to-open Frank Gehry designed Biomuseum, a biking path, and a trio of islands filled with iguanas, sloths, and tropical plants. Finally, we marveled at the Casco Antiguo, Panama’s charm-filled UNESCO old town – a suggested walking tour in the Hop On Hop Off map guided us through.
We also made time for the Panama La Vieja Tour, also known as “The Blue Line,” which features live, rather than recorded commentary. The unrivaled highlight of this route is a stop at Panama Viejo, the ruins of the first European city along the Pacific. While it takes a little bit of imagination to picture the largely decrepit rubble as a great citadel, the history of the site is still rich with gold, pirates, and mystery. We learned the hard way to avoid visiting on a Monday, when the on-site museum is closed.
Our final hop-off was at Multiplaza Mall, Panama City’s premier shopping destination. While those on a short trip might not wish to spend precious travel time at a mall, long-term travelers making their way through Central America will find refuge in the comforts of home. After catching a subtitled-new release movie, stuffing ourselves silly with comfort food and treating ourselves to a few new purchases, we headed outside to the cab line. As we haggled with drivers over the fair price for a cab ride, I couldn’t help but think how much less pleasant our time in Panama City would have been had we spent it stuffed into in the back of a taxi.
Bonus Tip: Bring your own headphones to avoid the $1 charge for new ones. Buses run once per hour and tickets are available in 24, 28, and 72 hour intervals.
Photos courtesy of Alex Baackes.
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– Alex Baackes