Published for I-Fashion Magazine November 2018
“The diversity of the people, the richness of our culture with all the different influences from the Caribbean and Europe. That’s what makes the Panamanians one of a kind”, says designer Jean Gould who proudly remembers her childhood in Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Coming home after school and seeing her mom actively sewing and teaching her the skills that made her a designer today. “She is my true inspiration”, she adds. Ms. Jean Gould developed a true love for making and designing Polleras, the Panama National Costume. “Designing is my passion, this is the gift God gave me”. She dedicates her time and her craft, serving the Panamanian community in the United States, from her workshop in Brooklyn, NY. She also collaborates with DICPNY, a non-profit organization whose mission is to disseminate Panamanian culture and folklore through the Annual Independence Parade and other activities, as explained by his Vice President Enrique Small.
There is no doubt Panama is a very special country, not only for Panamanians who just recently celebrated their Independence Day on November 3rd but also for everybody that have had the pleasure to visit.
Major airlines fly to Panama from the United States; Copa, Delta, United, American, and Spirits have direct flights to Tocumen International Airport, the largest and most important airport in Panama and Central America. Located about 30 minutes from Panama City, car rentals, taxi, and hotels shuttle are available at the airport. Travelers can also use Uber, or take a bus for $0.25 to Panama Downtown.
WHEN TO GO
Tourism is a year-round activity in Panama with temperatures between 70 F and 90 F all year, the sun shines every day, however, there are two seasons: Dry Season from December to April and Rain (green) Season from May to November. Advantages of traveling during the Rain Season are less crowded attractions and cheaper flights and hotel stays.
Holy Week is full of colorful religious processions and festivities. In January, Panama Jazz Festival is pretty fun. February-March Carnival is celebrated nationwide. Also in February Kuna People celebrate their independence with cultural activities in Kuna Yala.
- Currency: US Dollar and Balboa (equal to the US Dollar), ATM machines are available all over the country. Stick to small bills, $50 and $100 are not widely accepted and you will have to provide your Passport.
- Language: Spanish and some English.
- Travel requirements: A passport with an expiration date not less than 3 months before your departure date. A $5 tourist card you can buy at the departure counter or on arrival, for 180 days stay.
- Panama owns the second largest Duty-Free Trade Zone in the world: The Colon Free Zone.
- It is the only place in the world where you can see the sunrise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic from the same spot.
- It is considered to be a retiree paradise.
- Panama is home to one of the Seven Modern World Wonders: The Panama Canal.
WHERE TO STAY
The modern, the old and the historic all contribute to the essence of Panama City. You will find so many options to stay for different budgets.
Los Mostros Hostel: It is located in the center city closed to Multicentro Mall, all reservation includes breakfast and it has an outdoor pool, prices start at $15/person.
Zebulo Hostel: Located in the Obarrio neighborhood, it is a great option for Solo Travelers. Free breakfast and outdoor terrace. They offer a private room and dorms with price starting $14/person.
American Trade Hotel: A beautiful colonial building, located in the Historic District, Casco Viejo. This hotel offers airy rooms with dark hardwood floors, a beautiful rooftop pool, fine dining, and live entertainment. Prices start at $267/night.
And for the beach lovers – JW Marriot Panama Golf and Beach Resort: Located in Rio Hato about 80 minutes from Panama city in the Pacific side. Every room features a balcony or private garden, a very luxurious experience. El Faro Beach is on site, it also offers access to a 72 holes golf course, a relaxing Spa, and 5 restaurants. Prices start at $180/night.
WHERE TO EAT/NIGHTLIFE
A mix of Spanish, Caribbean and Native techniques makes Panama a top culinary destination in Central America. The gastronomy, it is influenced by its diverse population with cooking traditions and different styles.
Donde Jose: a polished 16-sitter restaurant located in Casco Viejo, presents the fascinating indulgences of the Native Panamanian cuisine with a twist. Menu changes every few months, make sure to reserve at least 2 weeks in advance.
Mercado de Mariscos-Fish Market: A great affordable option to eat fresh and delicious seafood. Latin tunes welcome you to waterfront counters and plastic outdoor seating. The local specialty is Ceviche, raw fish cooked in citrus juices and Panamanian condiments.
Café Unido: 3 convenient locations: Coco del Mar, Casco Viejo y Marbella. You can enjoy the famous Panamanian coffee from the best farms in Chiriquí. It is the perfect spot for breakfast, snacks, and salads.
Teatro Amador: Popular nightclub located in Casco Viejo, a restored old theater that acts as a platform for cultural entertainment offering live music, jazz concerts, and dancing with DJ’s. It is the perfect spot to discover nightlife Panama style.
La Rana Dorada: A favorite spot! A microbrewery in Casco Viejo with upscale furnishing and décor with an English Pub style. It is the perfect stop to hang out with friends while sampling delicious artisan beer.
WHAT TO DO
The Amador Causeway
Calzada Amador how locals call it- is one of the city’s best-known roads. A 6 km long road stretch, that connects Panama City with 4 islands; Naos, Perico, Culebra, and Flamenco. It is ideal to watch the sunset, the ships waiting to enter the canal and to see the fishermen in action.
Start with a Panamanian breakfast at Mi Ranchito and rent a bike to ride along the Causeway. Make sure to explore the Biomuseo. It was designed by world-renowned Architect Frank Gehry, it celebrates Panama biodiversity with 8 permanent exhibitions halls showcasing the unique Geology, Natural History and diverse cultures of Panama. Also, it tells the story of how the rise of the isthmus has changed the world. The colorful building is a must instagramable op.
Take a break at The Beach House Hotel: a small hotel between Naos and Perico Islands, for only $10 you can use of the pool and bar area, it also gives you access to the beach when the tide is out.
Shop along the promenade and visit the Center Artesanal: One of the largest artisan markets in the city. The entrance is located 400 meters before the Biomuseo.
Henry Morgan was a pirate who left the city in ruins trying to steal the country’s treasures. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Walking around you will find a viewing tower that was the City Cathedral’s and the most prominent building in the area, a visitor center and a 2-story museum. It is the most funded archeological site due to its cultural value and preservation. Open daily from 8:30 am -6 pm.
The Panama Canal
It is one of the most strategic artificial waterways in the world, 48 miles long connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the main attractions in Panama. The best views are from the four-story Miraflores Lock Visitor Center, located at 20 minutes ride from Panama City. The Visitor Center has 3 observation decks with a front view of the ships transiting the Canal, and a museum with 4 exhibition halls. Open Monday to Sunday 9am-5pm, $8.
It is the Historic District of Panama City, the most charismatic neighborhood. Just 4 avenues wide, it is a collection of Colonial buildings, French and Republican architecture styles. Here you will find the best of boutique hotels, trendy restaurants, and bars. Simply walking through the Casco Viejo streets and alleys is a great way to spend a day and party at night.
Enjoy shopping at the Colon Free Trade Zone with more than 2,500+ companies in operation selling products at very discounted prices. Also home to several shopping centers: Allbrook Mall the biggest in Panama and Central America, Multiplaza, Multicentro, Alta Plaza, and Soho to buy luxury options.
I highly recommend when visiting Panama to schedule a Pollera photo shoot. Dressed in a traditional Panamanian costume worn during celebrations. Very expensive attire, made mostly white and embroidered by hand with unique designs. The hairpiece is my favorite- known as Tembleques and gold Jewelry to complement the look. Every region in Panama has its own Pollera and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful National Costumes in the world. I am wearing a Coquito Pollera (Coco Holan fabric) made by Panamanian Designer Jean Gould. Photo shoots prices vary from 115-300 per session, all included.
For more information about Panama itineraries and travel tips, send your inquiries to [email protected]
Photographer: Sandra Cristina | Designer: Jean Gould | Tour Company: Excursiones Leda Peraza | Special Thanks to Enrique Small, Vice President of DICPNY.