Daydream of the week: Panama City

Panama CityWe just had a little (two-day) cold front in Las Vegas, and I happen to run across this gloomy cityscape shot of Panama City. I found it a weird little Central American town, a fairly big city with plenty of import, thanks to the Canal, and a Singapore-esque way of building distinct skyscrapers like the corkscrew one you can see here, a little left of center. It also had a strange expat culture I hadn’t seen before. (Think tons of solo business travelers — and the people they choose to hang out with while on the road.) There was tons of culture and fun  things to do, and an emerging food scene that offered an impressive array of Spanish, seafood and Latin American specialties. My friend and I stayed at the stunning Panama City Trump Ocean Club, which we couldn’t have enjoyed more, from the infinity pool and over-the-top brunch scene, to the incredible service. (One tip: Walk across the street for a normal cab. The cars they have waiting in the driveway are not only overpriced; the drivers for the most part were just plain rude. In fact, we met the most amazing driver who ended up taking us around town until our departure — he literally drove us to the airport at 3:30 am when we left!) Panama City is usually used as a gateway to the country’s stunning islands. And please, still head to the islands!

I know I’m as much of a city girl as I am a lover of the tropics, always feeling the push/pull between the fast life and the slow lane. But there really are such amazing parts to both!

Locals’ gem: Contadora Island, Panama

Our time was limited in Panama City, so we didn’t have time to make it out to Bocas del Toro or any of the other islands that Panama is famous for. But we still wanted to see some beach! We were planning on a day trip to Taboga, but after chatting up a local businessman at the bar of our hotel, the stunning Trump Ocean Club, we changed our plans to Contadora Island. There were very few tourists on the early-morning ferry, which proved to be quite an experience! Supplies are very expensive on the island, so families walked out onto the docks with carts of groceries, toilet paper and rum. We wished we had a few days to relax in paradise!

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Fun things to do in Panama City

Leora Hasas and Abby TegneliaThere are so many fun things to do in Panama City, so we knew we shouldn’t go it alone. We asked the drivers outside of Trump Panama, the gorgeous hotel we were staying in. At first, we got excited — they said they’d be happy to take us around for $30! Luckily, Leora clarified. They meant $30… an hour. We walked down the street and asked the bored yellow cab driver who was parked on the corner. He got stressed out when we said $30 for three hours, but he easily agreed to $40. Deal! We were so excited to tour the town — first stop — the Canal of course!

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Bliss in the city: Panama City Trump Ocean Club

Trump Ocean ClubMy first venture to Panama City was nothing but surprises for me, right down to the emerging food scene that was so much fun to explore. I say everything was a surprise, but really it wasn’t… As I had no idea to expect in the first place! But if I did, I would have never in a million years imagined something as luxe as the Panama City Trump Ocean Club, which opened at the end of 2011. It came highly recommended from friends in Costa Rica, so I jumped at the opportunity to stay there. I’m so glad I did! My mini-vacation before my “good life” stay in my former homeland of Costa Rica was a blast.

I mean, look at this POOL!

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On the Cusp: Panama City’s Emerging Food Scene

Abby Tegnelia Vitelio ReyesHaving spent a year in Costa Rica that included many trips to Nicaragua, I was excited to spend some time in Panama, just one country south. Panama City was very different from the parts of Central America I know so well. For me, living in the tropics was about the simple life: rice and beans, beer, maybe a coconut. But being in a big city was different. I loved having three days to eat my way through Panama City’s emerging food scene, and the fun started almost the second I got there. Just an hour after arriving at the Trump Panama, I made it downstairs to its Tejas restaurant for a private cooking class with Chef Vitelio Reyes. His impressive pedigree told me right away that we were no longer in the land of rice and beans! I hadn’t thought about the fact that with the Canal, Panama City didn’t have the same importing difficulties that its neighbors to the north had. It was a whole new world!

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Mangos and yachts in Panama

Panama City ferryI’m not the most technical photographer — I can’t be, with my little point-and-shoot. But I couldn’t resist this simple shot as I was waiting for the ferry from Panama City to Contadora, to relax on its nearby deserted beach islands. What says “tropical” more than mangos hanging heavy on a tree in front of turquoise water filled with boats? In the city, we had had some stormy weather, which never stopped us from boating in Costa Rica, my favorite tropical paradise, even in the rain. But on Contadora, it was sunny and hot. We had the best time baking in the sun!