Photo Tour: Panama City and Canal

Copa Airlines' hub is in Panama City. I've wanted to see the Panama Canal since I was a kid, and I'd never been to Panama, so I decided to spend a few days here.

I hear that Panama City is to Panama as New York City is to the US: it's plenty different than the rest of the country. It also doesn't have that much to see or do. Still, it's an interesting mixture of some glitz and wealth (thanks to the Canal, I think) with a feeling of being deep in Latin America, far from the US. So Panama City was a great way to start my trip.

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On my first day, I headed for what my guidebook said was one of the highlights of Panama City: Casco Antiguo, the colonial part of the city, on a little peninsula that juts out into the Pacific.

Most of the buildings here didn't tickle my eye enough to take pictures of them, but a fishing pier near the entrance to the district did. The pier (reasonably enough) extends into the harbor, with great views of the old city on one side and the new city on the other. So, although it looked a little dangerous, there actually was lots of room for me to stand, see and be seen -- and eventually the workers there ignored me. I spent an hour or so watching the goings-on around and out to sea.

Here's the view from a road crossing near the harbor -- and from near the start of the pier, before I decided to try walking out to the end:
Crossing road along waterfront
Fishing boat pier

To one side, Punta Paitilla with its high-rise buildings -- and, in the foreground, bits of boats covered with bunches of birds.
View toward Punta Paitilla
Birds on shipwreck

The views off the end of the pier, and off the other side, were very different -- and always-changing:
View straight out from pier
View toward Casco Antiguo

There was also a lot happening on the pier itself. This man was mending a fishing net. Along the "old city" side, boats were docking, loading and unloading:
man mending fishing net
boat docking at pier

This worker spent a long time gazing out toward the tall towers of Punta Paitilla. I wondered what he could be thinking... maybe dreaming of working or living in glitz-ville? Speaking of glitz, the name of this shop probably summed up its clientele... who, I think, wouldn't include any of the guys down at the dock. The Snob Shop is in El Cangrejo, a well-to-do part of the city:
worker looking at Punta Paitilla
Snob Shop

Along one end of the Casco Antiguo opens the Pacific end of the Panama Canal. Here, and at several viewpoints at locks along the canal, you can see the ships passing through. (By the way, the Canal is so important to world commerce that ships are built to the exact dimensions needed to fit through its locks.) You can take an expensive boat tour through part or all of the canal. But -- other than an airplane ride or a slog up the hills alongside the canal -- you can't see much of the canal itself unless you cross it on the Puente de Las Americas, a bridge that climbs far above the waterway.

Most people ride over the bridge in a car, a bus, or a truck. But there's a walkway along one side, and I decided to take it. After asking directions from a few locals, I found a way onto the bridge. I guess almost no one does this: people honked their horns and stared at me. But the view from the top was worth the climb (and the stares): off one side, nearby, the Pacific Ocean; from the other side, the Canal made its way into Panama's interior; behind me, Panama City stretched to the horizon.
going up Puente de las Americas
view east (near Pacific entrance)

Until the United States gave control of the Canal to Panama at the end of the last century, U.S. personnel lived on U.S. territory along the canal: the Panama Canal Zone. On my way to and from the bridge, I walked through a neighborhood (La Boca, I think) that's now part of Panama.

Walking in here is like coming from Latin America into North America -- well, almost, anyway. The place has taken on a bit of a "Latin look": some trash lying on the streets, formerly-neatly-painted homes needing some touch-up here and there, and an easy-going neighborly feel to the streets that you wouldn't find some places in the North. The streets have some fairly un-Panamanian names:
not your typical Panama street
not your typical Panama street /sign/

[Next page: The Sacred Valley: Around Urubamba]
[Tour start: Panama, Peru and Bolivia] [Tours]

(These photographs are Copyright © 2004 by Jerry Peek. Much higher-resolution versions of most images, and many other images too, are available at Jerry Peek Photography. Photos are available at reduced prices, or free, for non-commercial use.)

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