“No tengo Instagram. Mi memoria fotographica. / I don’t have Instagram. My memory is photographic.”
I had one request: To try some great, authentic food in Panama City. That simple request turned into an expansive walking tour of Panama City, complete with views, history, photo ops, rooftop bars and street art.
To be fair, we did hop a $3 cab because a restaurant I wanted to try was closing. And we also took a 3-stop, 35-cent subway ride. Yes, the subways of Panama, which are only about a year old and cleaner than most streets, were only 35 cents per person. Score.
But before my Sunday afternoon stroll, a big group of us had dinner and drinks at El Caribe on Saturday night. This restaurant on Via Argentina was serving up some great fish. I had a two lightly fried white fish fillets with a salsa/sauce on top. It was heavenly. So good that I kept eating way past being full. And all for about $7 for the meal. Perfection.
I should stop here and say the food in Panama is amazing… and dirt cheap! Even the drinks are cheap to very reasonable. For example, at the beginning of the tour we stopped a very local, non-air conditioned market and had breakfast of a whole fish and flatbread for about $6. And on the way back from our full-day tour, we stopped at a chicken joint on the side of the road heading back to Panama City. A quarter rotisserie chicken, fries, chimichurri and hot sauce for $3.25. I wish I had taken a picture before digging in because it was blindingly delicious.
But since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will do more showing and less telling.
We started the afternoon at the mercado de mariscos, the seafood market. It was a huge outdoor, family atmosphere with tables and cerviche. At one of the many stalls I ordered a shrimp cerviche and crackers for $2.25. The flavors were fresh and limey and it was actually perfect for a light, outdoor snack.
Next we zipped over to Los Venezolanos. My one foodie request for Panama: A dope empanada. And this Venezuelan spot, actually right across the street from El Caribe was a personal recommendation. In fact, it is known in Panama city for amazing empanadas, and has many positive reviews on Panama’s version of Yelp, degusta (noting that El Caribe also has great reviews).
We got there right before closing but managed to get a fish empanada. For $1.85!!! A super filling, handmade meal for $1.85…Even the dollar menu can’t beat that. And it was heaven! Add the hot sauce, and I had to order a second one to go.
Next we hopped the subway from Via Argentina to Cinco de Mayo. The rest of the day was a trek.
We went to see Javier’s friend Maria. Maria is from Colombia and makes Cocadas. These are coconut treats in various flavors. Maria shreds 50 coconuts BY HAND every day, and creates delectable treats, that are a base of coconut, sugar, and various different fruit and other ingredients depending on the flavor. I tried the pineapple one and one that tasted like pralines. The flavors were so intense, it was hard to believe it was shredded coconut (especially since I don’t like coconut). I cannot believe that this woman shreds coconut by hand every day, but her customers are faithful and love her treats.
We spent the afternoon walking through Casco Viejo, or Old Town. The architecture was stunning and the vistas were amazing.
As with many American inner cities, Casco is going through a gentrification. Old, abandoned building are next to quaint homes and restaurants, which are next to totally rebuilt hotels. The contrast is interesting to see.
In the little research I had time to do before leaving, I heard about this rooftop bar called Tantalo. So as we strolled Casco, we stopped in.
And good thing we did. As is typical in rainy season, a major storm rolled in. Before we were forced inside from the rooftop bar, it made for some amazing shots.
But the inside of Tantalo was actually almost as big a treat as the rooftop (okay, not too much beats a great rooftop bar, but you get it). The wall art/graffiti was amazing. And when I realized that there was a 3D wall over the bar, I was captivated.
While on the roof, Javier showed me this famous church just two blocks up. As if the rooftop shots were beautiful enough, the front of The Church of San Jose was breathtaking. The church also features a gold altar and it is exquisite. We walked in taking in the scene between masses. Stunning.
All of the churches I saw in Panama were beautiful. So ornate and full of color.
The Art of the Streets
I must say that I am seriously starting to love and appreciate street art. Everywhere I go where there is a street art presence, I find something new and vibrant and unique. Be it bright colors or a profound message, it is something I seek out everywhere I go now.
You guys know I love a Tiger! M…I…Z…
While walking through Casco, we saw a bunch of street art sprinkled throughout. Some pieces were more like graffiti, while some were more portrait-like.
This collection immediately made me think of the diverse cultures of Panama. Perfectly apt reflection of culture in the country.
But I absolutely loved the simplistic pieces. The social commentary. When I saw the Instagram commentary, I immediately stopped (shoot a pic, of course) and then ponder the thought. It is so true. Especially as a writer, I have had to delve into social media in a way that isn’t necessarily natural to me. But I remember a time when we didn’t have Instagram (for me that was 6 months ago, LOL) and we had photo albums and memories.
The Final View
We finished off the stroll with an amazing vista of the city. It was kind of a perfect end to an explorative day. It’s amazing what you experience in when you take the time to walk a city, like a local, and just take it all in. That’s going to be my mantra going forward on future trips… Take it all in.
All photographs are copyright of Tyra Hughley Smith. However, the murals and underlying works belong to their respective copyright owners and Tyra Hughley Smith makes no assertion as to their ownership.
I love this post! I’m an avid traveler, but being based in Europe, Panama City hasn’t been on my radar. You can’t beat a $.35 subway ride, the food looks delicious (and cheap!), and I love the architectural style of the city. Maybe it’s time for me to head West 🙂
Erin @ Traveling Thru History says
You don’t like coconut???? That makes my heart sad. Coconut is my favorite flavor. *sigh*
I love that you tried so much food in Panama City. We don’t try much street food when we travel because my boyfriend is allergic to flour and we have to find places where they either don’t serve anything at all with flour or are a restaurant that understands gluten allergies. It’s tough. But I’m loving looking at all the food you got to try and all the wonderful things you saw there. It looks like such a beautiful city.
Erin, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I don’t know if you follow Legal Nomads Travel Blog, but I love Jodi and she has gluten allergies. She has created gluten free cards in various languages for travelers. If you reach out, tell her Tyra at BarrisTourista.com sent you!
I have always wanted to visit Panana City. It has so much culture and heritage and the colors are truly beautiful in your photos. I love fresh seafood – those shrimp look tasty. That is my favorite food.
desirae young says
Wow – looks like you had a great time in Panama City! I love all your pictures and the architecture is amazing. What that lady does too is amazing. I would love to try out her coconut treats. I could not imagine shredding that many coconuts, heck I complain when I have to do one.
Love this blog! Going to be following it! I love insider travel tips to potential travel spots
Tammilee Tips says
I need to add Panama city to our travel destination wish list. I can’t believe how cheap their transportation is, or how she does 50 coconuts herself every day! The food all looks amazing, this is a beautiful city!
What a great tour of the city! I’ve always wanted to visit. And that ceviche!! It looks absolutely delicious. Street food is such a great way to get a taste of culture.
Sandy KS says
What a great tour of Panama. Makes me feel like I was right there. I would love to travel there one day. It sounds like a beautiful city to be a part of.
All the food looks delicious, especially the coconut treats. I suppose she used the young coconut here as the shreds are quite big. The meat of a young coconut is very soft and you can shred them by hand using a special tool.
Reginia Cordell says
I’ve fancied going to Panama for quite some time. Now that I’m in the Middle East, the trek would be a bit far. As soon as I’m stateside again, Panama is on the travel horizon.
When I travel, absorbing the colors and textures of the city is something I like to do as well as trying all of the local cuisine.
Those ominous clouds are something special, we rarely get rain over here.
Joanne T Ferguson says
What a great post that I enjoyed reading all about! I feel like I was walking with you every step of the way! The food looks delicious and I have always been intrigued about Panama City!
Panama is absolutely beautiful. The coconut treats remind me of something similar that we make in Grenada. The women also grate the coconuts by hand to make them.
Christine @MomsNCharge says
One of my dearest friends is from Panama and for the 20 plus years I’ve known her, their family has always thrown down in the kitchen. I always look forward to going to their gatherings. I definitely want to one day visit Panama.
Julian (@BoldFearless1) says
This looks like my kind of place to visit: food, culture and history! I’m sold–it’s on my list of places to visit in the next year. Thanks for such a fantastic recap!
Beautiful! Everything is so colorful and vibrant. Thanks for sharing your experience, I hope to visit one day. I love how you ate their native foods. That’s what I love to do when I travel is try everything that isn’t available to me in my city.
Michellette "MimiCuteLips" Green says
The pictures look beautiful, I’ve never been to Panama. I love to eat what the locals are eating.
I am a HUGE fan of great photos and beautiful architecture! This post captures both well! 🙂
Nicole Brewer says
Wow! You had me at the food but you sold me at the graffiti art. That’s it, Panama is getting added to the list.
The coconut treats look nice I love the smell of coconut too. I am loving the arts too of course my favorite thing would be the food. I have never been to Panama City but I know I want to go its a place a lot of my college buddies use to go often
This looks amazing! I love your photos! I’m adding Panama City on my “places to visit” list!
What an interesting place to visit! Your pictures really captured the city’s character. Thanks for giving us a glimpse!
Okay I LOVE latin food and I happen to work with Venezuelans so YES to this! The places you got to see were so beautiful, I’d love to take a trip there some day 🙂
Wow you got some great visuals. I am glad I just ate some food because that food looks like it tasted so good. Nice and inexpensive too! The street art is great. I love that. It adds to the cities character. Shredding coconuts..wow, she is the real deal. Her hands have a story.
So much character to this city! I love the architecture. I love walking tours. Such a great way to see the city and to eat! Lol. I can’t believe you don’t like coconut! I loved eating fresh coconut in Jamaica growing up and we make coconut treats there as well. The graffiti artwork is beautiful and I love the Instagram quote!