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Views of Panama

The Outdoor City

These days, the best place for an outing is outdoors. Breathing fresh air, getting away from the crowds, and soaking up some rays can clear your mind and help you reconcile yourself to the new normal. We check out five locations in Panama City that let you enjoy the city safely, while respecting social distancing. Don’t forget your mask.

Text and photos: Javier A. Pinzón

 

Coastal Beltway

This 4.7 mile strip of land that skirts Panama Bay encompasses pedestrian zones and cycle ways that wind past gardens, children’s parks, more than twelve sports fields and courts, two amphitheaters, and ten sculptures by famous artists.

If you start from the elite neighborhood of Paitilla, you will pass several exercise stations on the way to the Pacific Overlook (at kilometer 2.6). A trellis of tropical flowers shades ping-pong tables and places to relax; many cultural activities are held here throughout the year.

This path also runs past the Seafood Market, where small-scale fishing operations, restaurants, and diners converge. Next up is the Breakwater, which provides an excellent view of Panama City’s Old Quarter, boats tootling around the bay, and in the distance, the flag fluttering atop Mt. Ancón. The Monument to the Flag of Panama (kilometer 3.8) is an ideal place to catch the sunset.

Leaving the Breakwater, we also leave terra firma behind. The Beltway exits the city via the 1.6-mile sea viaduct, which offers an unusual view: the city seen from the sea rather than the other way around. Delight in the urban landscape of tall modern towers interspersed with old Colonial mansions, and a novel view of the wall built in the 17th century to protect the city from pirates. Kilometer 4.5 features three circular terraces with vantage points where you can rest a while. The ocean portion ends with more sport fields, a fabulous skate park, and children’s playgrounds. At the end of the walk, you can reward yourself with a delicious meal at Sabores del Chorrillo, designed specifically to give the famous cooks of the working-class El Chorrillo neighborhood a place to showcase their exquisite cuisine.

Fun Fact

The Coastal Beltway is 188 acres of landfill (divided into three phases) along Panama Bay, stretching from Avenida Balboa to Avenida de los Poetas. The magnitude of the project becomes clear when we remember that the Old Quarter covers only about 124 acres.

 

Amador Causeway

This recently renovated sea road links Panama City to four islands: Naos, Perico, Culebra, and Flamenco. It offers magnificent views of the Panama skyline, looking toward the Panama Canal entrance and the Bridge of the Americas. This strip of land has become a favorite recreation destination for both visitors and residents. It boasts nearly four miles of bike lanes, children’s playgrounds, and much more.

The first thing visitors see is the colorful building that houses the Biomuseum, which was designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry. This could be just the place to rent a bicycle and start exploring. If you have something more relaxing in mind, head for the fishing area. Just before you reach the Canal Pilot pier on Isla Naos, there is a fishing platform where young and old gather to cast their lines. Further along, the Naos and Culebra islands are home to several facilities belonging to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), including the Punta Culebra Nature Center. The other islands have restaurants, ice cream shops, fast food, and a handicrafts center.

Fun Fact

The Amador Causeway, which links four islands and serves as a breakwater for the Panama Canal, was built in 1913 with stone excavated from Corte Culebra during construction of the Panama Canal. It is estimated that around 58 million cubic feet of earth and rock were used to build this road.

 

Metropolitan Park

Panama City is a city of contrasts. It may be plagued by traffic jams, but it also boasts natural wonders like the Metropolitan Park, the only wildlife refuge in the city.

With five paths of varying difficulty (measuring some 3 miles), a butterfly house, and a lake, the park is a wonder for both children and adults. Crocodiles, tamarins, sloths, and tropical birds are just some of the unusual animals that can be spotted during a stroll through the extensive vegetation that covers this park, considered Panama City’s green lung.

There are two vantage points in the park. The first, Los Caobos (459 feet above sea level), overlooks the El Dorado business district and two national parks connected to the Metropolitan: Soberanía National Park and Camino de Cruces. The other vantage point, Cerro Cedro (492 feet above sea level), is the highest spot in the park and the second highest in Panama City; you can see the Amador Causeway, Taboga Island, the Panama Canal, and the Bridge of the Americas from here.

Fun Fact

The National Metropolitan Park, a forest in Panama City that covers about 573 acres, is the only protected tropical forest area in Central America located inside of city limits.

Mt. Ancón

Capping this icon of Panamanian history, the country’s flag flutters in the ocean breeze that quickly ascends the 650 feet to the summit. This hill is the eroded core of an ancient volcano that served as a quarry during the construction of the Canal. Now covered by dense forest, the mount is home to rainbow-hued toucans, green iguanas, tamarins, Central American agoutis, sloths, deer, and even coyotes. Enjoy a stroll of slightly over a mile (per section) as you climb the slopes and admire the city’s contrasting landscapes: the modern city of skyscrapers on one side and the old Colonial district on the other, both part of multi-faceted Panama City, a meeting place for boats, trains, planes, and buses.

Fun Fact

The name “Ancón” appears again and again: it was the name of the first ship to navigate the Panama Canal in 1914; it is the name of the new district, which was once the Canal Zone, in the province of Panama; and it is also the acronym for the Spanish name of the National Nature Conservation Association (ANCON).

Omar Recreational and Cultural Park

This 14-acre park in San Francisco is the site of many recreational and cultural activities, such as aerobics, dance, zumba, yoga, and boxing classes, and much more. It has facilities for soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, swimming, and other sports. Walkers and joggers can strike out on more than two miles of paths.

Several species of ornamental and fruit trees, including oak, Guayacan trumpet tree, Spanish cherry, elephant ear, cashew apple, nance, tulip tree, mango, West Indian locust, and astromelia grow inside the park. There are also various species of birds, such as caracaras, parrots, and owls.

Fun Fact

Before 1973, what is now known as the Omar Recreational and Cultural Park was the exclusive Panama Golf Club. The park was named for General Omar Torrijos, who initiated talks with the club to acquire the land.