Panama City: Your Ticket to a Great Escape

Heat things up with a trip to Panama City, Panama. Experience the food, culture and sights, including Isla Taboga, Monkey Island, the Panama Canal and Nispero Zoo.

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Photo By: Thickstock

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Photo By: Thinkstock

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Isla Taboga, aka Island of Flowers, is a volcanic island in the Gulf of Panama that has become a bustling tourist destination. Local companies provide hiking, nature walk, snorkeling, sightseeing, whale watching and fishing tours. The island has beautiful beaches, but Isla Contadora, Playa Bonita and Play Veracruz are a couple alternative spots to go.

Located in Panama City’s suburb of Casco Viejo, the Metropolitan Cathedral -- built between 1688 and 1796 -- is an example of the country’s religious colonial architecture. After a $4 million dollar renovation in 2004, the cathedral will be remodeled to house a museum that will follow the construction, function and future of the Panama Canal.

Completed in 1914, the 48-mile long Panama Canal is a major international trade route, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. So it’s no surprise that the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

Take a stroll around Plaza de Francia while chomping on a raspado or Sno-cone. Toursists should head down Calle 1a. It turns into the lovely Paseo Esteban Huertas, a walkway on top of las bovedas (the vaults), which originally functioned as a Spanish dungeon and later as a jail, storehouse and offices.

Hop on a bus in Panama City to visit La Piedra Pintada, a 15-foot boulder with ancient petroglyphs carved underneath it. It’s a simple remnant of El Valle’s pre-Columbian culture, and a great spot for history buffs.

Panama City is the capital and the largest city in Panama. A political, administrative, international and commerce hub for the country, Panama City is also the largest city in Panama. The city has a dense skyline of mostly high-rise buildings, surrounded by a large belt of tropical rainforest.

Take an eco-friendly journey along the Panama Canal with stops in Sounds of Silence and Monkey Island (pictured), where tourists can see 4 different species of monkeys and other wildlife, all within 40 minutes of Panama City.

Surrounded by 19th-century architecture, Plaza Bolivar is a great spot for locals and tourists to congregate for drinks and dinner at various cafes located around this popular social spot. Street musicians perform tips near a monument built to honor Venezuelan general Simon Bolivar -- located in the center of the plaza.

Albrook Mall is the largest amusement mall in Panama. The magical atmosphere -- filled with balloons, bright decorations, music, an Italian carousel and more than 400 stores -- is perfect for the whole family. Artesanias Panama Bahia, Flory Saltzman Molas, Avenida Central Mall, Galeria Arte Indigena and La Ronda are a few other spots to shop in Panama City.

La Marea, Segundo Muelle, Ego, Machu Pichu and Mercado de Marisco are all restaurants to sample delicious ceviche. Panamanian ceviche is usually made with Squid, shrimp, octopus, lemon juice, chopped onion, celery, habanero pepper and sea salt. Most local restaurants serve ceviche de corvine (white sea bass) as an appetizer.

Part of Panama’s rich culture and folklore, the Diablicos Sucios is a religious-themed celebration that often includes a lively devil dance that portrays the age-old battle between good and evil. Dancers, donned in devil masks and multi-colored clothing, usually perform the devil dance as a method religious conversion.

El Nispero is not your typical zoo. Most of the animals found here are former pets that were donated or confiscated from their owners by government authorities. Tapirs, collared peccaries (wild pigs), jaguars, white-face capuchin monkeys, macaws, Asian golden pheasants and white peacocks are just a few animals tourists will spot while taking a leisurely stroll through this zoo.

Take a canopy tour over 85-foot tall Chorro El Macho, the most famous waterfall in El Valle. If a zip-line tour isn’t your thing, then we recommend a hike along the trails in the surrounding forest near the falls or taking a dip in the swimming pool located at the base of the towering waterfall.

Sancocho de gallina is Panama’s national dish. It’s made with chicken, cilantro, yuca, mazorca and otoe. Yellow squash is added to create a regional version of the dish called Sancocho chiricano. Rumor has it that this delicious dish is not only used as a metaphor for the country’s racial diversity, but it’s also a great remedy for a hangover.

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