Monday, April 6, 2015

Renting a Car in Panama City and Visiting the Panama Canal

Simulation Room at Panama Canal
March 2015 - Renting a car in Panama City was an unusual experience.  We reserved with Hertz and the check-in at the airport was normal, but the nice touch was they brought the car to the curb for us to climb in. No need to get on a rental car bus. The downside was that when we returned the car to the airport, there are no signs about where to return it, and we had to circle 3 times. Eventually, after asking several police officers, we were told that we should bring the car to the departure level and park it at the curb – but still no signs. Rather anxiety producing.  If you rent a car, be prepared for this, and definitely be able to speak Spanish.

The nice aspect of a rental car was that we were able to drive all over without many problems. We had GPS on our phones and this worked most of the time. The freeways are fine in Panama City, but the signage is lacking at times. People drive a bit haphazardly – more like being in Italy. I read there are good taxis and tours, but they are not cheap. The taxi from our hotel to town was $25 each way, and tours were all over $100 per person.

Observation Deck of Panama Canal
So we drove to the Panama Canal Visitor’s Center quite easily and parked close by in their free parking lot. It was about a 30-minute drive from the Intercontinental Playa Bonita Resort. Entrance is $15, and this includes a 20-minute 3D movie about how the canal was built, as well as the opportunity to view the canal and walk through the 4-story museum. I felt it was worth it. We also went to the Pacific –Atlantic Restaurant and had a Panamanian beer with lime while we watched the ships come through the locks.  It was an enjoyable 3 hours.
Wynton Marsalis in Panama City

That afternoon, we rested at the hotel near the pool and took a walk on the beach.  That evening we drove the 15 minutes into the old city to have dinner at the Jazz Club in the American Trade Hotel and listen to Wynton Marsalis play a mean horn (see post on Wine & Food of Panama). A truly great day!

I should mention that driving in the old part (Casco Antiguo) of Panama City could be a bit daunting. The roads are one way; there are many slums; and parking is challenging. Driving from Playa Bonita over the bridge and into the old town requires that you pass through the slums. The poverty and garbage are a bit scary.  Though reports say Panama only has 25% of its citizens living in poverty, driving through this part of town makes you believe it is much higher.

Short Video on Panama Canal Simulation

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