We knew only two things about Panama when we decided to stop there for a week between South America and Hawaii: 1.) It was nearly the same price to stop in Central America as it was to go straight to Honolulu from Colombia; 2.) Our college friend, Mike, and his wife, Maylin, lived there. Going with the mantra that you should always travel to where you have friends, picking Panama over touristy Costa Rica or rugged Guatemala — the two popular backpacker options — was an easy choice.
Little did we know this week with our friends would turn out to be one of the most fun of the last five months.
First of all, to say Mike and Maylin were awesme hosts would be a huge understatement. Not only did they give us a room — a whole room with a bathroom to ourselves! — in their beautiful high-rise apartment, they also took us out to the best restaurants and bars, and introduced us to their super fun friends.
Check out their stunning pad:
Night one, part one at Beirut, a phenomenal Lebanese restaurant. Our wonderful hosts, Maylin and Mike:
Night one, part two at Havana in Panama City’s old town. Cigars (for the boys) and the best mojitos I’ve ever had:
Night two, part one at a delicious, very authentic, hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, where we had shrimp wonton soup:
Night two, part two at the new Trump building for drinks:
Night three, part one at Mexican restaurant Los Cebollines, where they make fresh salsa tableside:
And there was more, including another amazing dinner at one of Panama City’s best restaurants, Market. (The burgers ranged from $6-8, which, at an equivalent restaurant in New York City, would go for $15. And it’s not just restaurants; the grocery stores are wildly cheap as well. Very economical place to live by U.S. standards.)
Oh, and Mike played the piano for us! If only I had video capabilties on this blog…
The four of us also prepared a home-cooked Valentine’s Day dinner after Eaman and I got back from three nights at the San Blas Islands (a separate post!). Maylin is an amazing chef, and she whipped up the most flavorful meal we had had in who knows how long. Shrimp salad, grilled beef, chicken wings and noodles, oh my!
Cupcakes Mike bought for Maylin that we gobbled up, too:
And did I mention the snack stash Maylin picked up for us?
It was the perfect example of how hospitable these two were. There’s a reason I’m gushing so much about our stay with them: After five months of constant movement, hostel living and meeting new people every day, it was so refreshing to see familiar faces. It was that slice of home we needed at just the right time. And we had so much fun with Mike and Maylin that it was hard to say goodbye.
But of course they have jobs in Panama City, so during the day, Eaman and I were left to our own devices. When we weren’t luxuriating in their apartment, we hit the town.
In the last five years, Panama City has experienced a serious boom. Look at all the new skyscrapers:
One day is enough to see Panama City’s old town, Casco Viejo. There’s constantly construction, but it’s illegal to change the facade, as Casco Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site:
Fifty-cent snow cone:
I wasn’t so keen to see the Panama Canal, but Eaman’s inner engineer kicked in and off we went. It was actually pretty fascinating, especially because we got to see two huge ships pass through. But word to the wise: Save $3 and skip the museum; not worth it.
This kid and I had the same sentiments about watching the boats go through the Canal:
We also went to the mall for some comfort food…
…and to the movies, where $8.50 gets you leather reclining seats:
I can’t imagine we would’ve spent as much time in the city — five days in total — if it weren’t for our gracious hosts. But beyond the city, you may be surprised to hear that there’s a whole lot to explore in Panama. Most importantly: the San Blas Islands. We’ll take you through the whole glorious island-hopping journey… in the next post!