You can’t help being a little awed by Panama City (photos). The skyline is a seemingly endless array of skyscrapers – and the building continues. Wikipedia lists the population at 880,000 with a metropolitan total of over 1.2 million. It is spread along a long stretch of Pacific coastline. The old colonial nucleus of the city, Casco Viejo occupies a point of land at the western extreme of the city across Balboa Bay from the entrance to the Panama Canal. The city becomes more modern as you move to the east with the recently expanded and renovated Tocumen International Airport on the eastern fringe of the city. Panama assumed complete control of the Panama Canal from the United States on January 1, 2000, and freely touts its operational accomplishments since and has begun a $5.25 billion expansion project expected to be completed in time for the canal’s 100th anniversary in August 2014. Panama seems very confident in its future.
This vessel, the Maersk Danbury, belongs in a category known as “Panamax”, the designation for the maximum size allowed to transit the canal. Container ship builders design their ships to this specification in order to get the most cargo possible through the canal. This vessel paid $350,000 for this trip from the Pacific side to the Caribbean side of Panama. We arrived at the Miraflores Locks at 9:00am just as the visitor’s center was opening for the day when this ship was ready to make its way from the first chamber to the second chamber of the locks. During the morning, the traffic flows from the Pacific to the Caribbean, then switches to the opposite direction in the afternoon. (Likewise, during the night they alternate directions.)
From Bocas del Toro, we took a morning boat back to the mainland to the town of Almirante. At the dock in Almirante, a young guy asked if we wanted the bus to David, we did. I thought the bus station was a short distance from the boat dock. I asked how much. He said $1. I thought he would take us to the bus. Instead, he helped us carry our luggage out to the highway and flagged down a taxi. The taxi ride would be another $2. The first bus arrived and was pretty much full already. There were enterprising entrepreneurs about that were trying to sell us on the idea of taking a taxi instead. They ensured us that the next bus would also arrive full (how do they know these things). We finally settled on sharing a taxi with a gentleman, originally from NYC currently residing in Bocas, for the ride to the town of David where we would transfer to a bus for Boquete.
Boquete is a town of about 5,000 people in the highlands of the Chiriqui province of Panama. It is a mountain town referred to as the Napa Valley of coffee and is known throughout Panama for its cool climate and pristine natural setting. The mountains surrounding the town are very green and rich with blooming tropical plants. Near Boquete is Panama’s only volcano, Volcan Baru, whose summit tops out at 3475 meters (11,500 feet) making it the highest point in the country. Boquete is popular with retirees from the US and Canada. Ten years ago, AARP’s “Modern Maturity” magazine named it as one of the four top places in the world to retire. We observed several of them spending their Social Security money in the local bars.
With all of the beautiful flowering plants, there are several beautiful gardens in and around Boquete. We visited one such garden, Mi Jardin es Su Jardin. The garden which surrounds a lovely home is open daily to the public free of charge. You’re free to wander the grounds or linger with a picnic, just don’t disturb the owners. We also visited “La Jungla de Panama”, a wildlife rescue operated by a US ex-pat. It is small but they have a few nice monkeys, birds and reptiles that you can interact with.
Here’s some of our favorite pictures. From here we’ll be heading across Panama to Panama City.
Archipelago de Bocas del Toro consists of six heavily forested islands and scores of uninhabited islets in the Caribbean 32km south from the border with Costa Rica. The largest of the islands, Isla Colon, is home to the town of Bocas del Toro, capital city for the province by the same name, a colorful town of wooden houses built by the United Fruit Company early in the 20th century.