I recently discovered a new travel hack = long layovers. I’m aware that I’m not reinventing the wheel, but my first time testing out this method was a huge success.
If you travel to the Caribbean or Central/South America, you’ve probably seen Copa Airlines which is a budget-friendly carrier. Their headquarters are based in Panama City, Panama meaning most of their layovers are in Panama. I was very skeptical about booking a winter trip with a 24 hour layover in Panama, but the ticket price was too good to pass up.
Panama City can be quite overwhelming because there is so much to do and see inside of the city and the surrounding areas. I decided to stay in Casco Viejo (Casco Antigua) which is the historic district of Panama. Within a small stretch of four avenues you can find a plethora of coffee shops, fish markets, restaurants, museums, bars, clubs, hotels and shopping. It was the perfect neighborhood to relax and experience some of the culture and excitement that Panama has to offer.
8:00 p.m. Landed in Panama and called an Uber to the hotel.
Getting through customs in Panama took over an hour and trying to get an Uber was exhausting. Thankfully a driver gave us a tip, you have to request an Uber Black otherwise you’ll be wasting your time.
10:00 p.m. Arrived at the Tantalo Hotel/Kitchen/Bar
The ride from the airport to my hotel was approximately 30 minutes. I selected the Tantalo Hotel because it has a beautiful rooftop bar that is a must-see in Casco Viejo. The boutique-hotel also offered free breakfast, two complimentary drink tickets, and 20% off at their restaurant. After checking into my room, I went downstairs to grab a quick dinner, took a nap and then met friends upstairs at the bar.
*Note* Because this was a party hotel the noise carried into the room. Thankfully I met up with friends that night, but I would not recommend staying here if you want to rest before 2:00 a.m.
1:00 a.m. Bar hopped through Casco Viejo
If you like dancing and Latin music, Casco Viejo is the place to be. At the corner of every brick road was a bar or discoteca with awesome djs and a super-lit crowd. My friends and I visited a couple spots and enjoyed fresh mojitos and Panamanian beer.
9:30 a.m. Drank a cup of Geisha Coffee
If you go to Panama and are a coffee fanatic you have to try the Geisha coffee. Geisha coffee is known as the champagne of coffee and one cup averages about $7, but it. is. worth. it!!!! If you ever wanted to taste a coffee that was so smooth and perfectly mixed with sparkling flavors such as citrus, mango and papaya, the Geisha coffee is it!
10:00 a.m. Visited the Interoceanic Canal Museum
While many say the Canal is a must-see destination in Panama, I was too exhausted from my previous trip to make the trek to view it (plus I heard it isn’t as spectacular as people make it seem). Instead, I visited the canal museum located in the middle of Casco Viejo. The museum had a small entry fee and provided pictures and videos on the history of the Canal. I hope to one day see the Canal in person when I return to Panama, but for a short trip the museum was sufficient.
11:00 Shopped in the market
In the middle of Casco Viejo is a market full of vendors selling everything from jewelry to shoes to spices. The shopping in Panama was great and I walked away with some beautifully crafted and unique pieces. Because Panama is an international city, everyone takes U.S. cash and credit cards, even the vendors.
*Note* Panama is a great place to test out your bargaining skills
11:45 Visited a cathedral
Casco Viejo is also home to some of the cities largest cathedrals. As typical with any catholic church, mas was being held on Saturday when I visited and it was great being able to hear the hymns being sung in Spanish.
12:30 Ate Ceviche at the Fish Market
On the edge of Casco Viejo is a large fish market with amazing views of the city. Here you can get fresh and inexpensive ceviche aka the BEST ceviche I’ve ever had. Be aware that the portion sizes are HUGE, you only need a small of each to be completely satisfied, especially if you are eating alone.
1:30 Took a stroll along the shoreline
2:30 Cooled down with some amazing Gelato from Granclement
3:30 Had a Popsicle drink at the Gatto Blanco Rooftop Club
Casco Viejo is home to the best rooftop in Panama City, Gatto Blanco, which offers a 360 degree view of the city. The Panamanian sun was HOT and after hours of exploring this rooftop was the perfect place to take a break and have a refreshing drink. Their popsicle, champagne cocktails and mojitos are amazing and the views are perfect for taking pictures.
4:30 Had Sangria at the Capital Bistro Panama
5:30 Headed to the Airport
Important things to know:
*Very few people in Panama speak English including the police officers and restaurant staff. Additionally, I found that the few who did speak English only knew select phrases. Freshen up on your spanish or walk with a translation-app.
*The conversion rate is 1:1 so be careful when ordering food and drinks, it’s easy to overspend.
*Panama is HOT. Sunscreen and weather appropriate clothing are a must.
*The Panama airport is extremely busy, give yourself time to get through security and be prepared for two check points: one when you first enter the airport and one before you board the plane.
*Casco Viejo was previously one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Panama, but the tourist area has been designated as a crime-free zone. However, the rule I was told was not to venture outside of the bricked-streets. Of course I accidentally did this and I immediately felt a difference. If you’re not familiar with the area, I would advise staying within the parameters of the district.