by Mary Luz Mejia
Once you tire of the pool and the beach, the question most frazzled parents have is: What to do/see now? In Panama, the answer lies in strapping on some comfortable walking shoes and either hitting the old town or the rain forest.
• Have a budding historian or architectural buff on your hands? Head to this UNESCO World Heritage Site to see beautiful Spanish Colonial buildings- many of which date back to the 1600s, that are being restored as I type. In fact, the entire area is getting a huge sprucing up, which means new galleries, cafes, shops and eateries are opening up faster than you can say “Que Bonito!”
• Not to be missed sights include: The Iglesia De San Jose- you’ll find this lovely church on Avenida A and Calle 8 where every weekend, a wedding is held within its walls. It’s most famous for the ornate and unique baroque golden altar or Altar de Oro which legend has it was saved from marauding pirates when a savvy priest painted it black! Yes, the altar is made of gold, not gold coloured paint!
• The National Theatre- This cultural gem which opened in 1908 has had its interior completely restored which means you get top notch acoustics and an intimate setting in which to see music, dance and theatre. You’ll notice Roberto Lewis original paintings- he was one of Panama’s finest artists- in murals, on ceilings and an impressive crystal chandelier setting the whole scene aglow.
• Plaza Bolivar-Need a break? Tired feet? Head to this tree-shaded and lined plaza with little car traffic to enjoy the resplendent 19th century buildings that surround this little plaza. Sit at one of the many cafe terraces, enjoy a raspado (shaved ice) on a hot day and salute the “Liberator of Latin America,” Simón Bolívar, after which this plaza is named.
• When it’s a good cup of Panamanian coffee you need, head to Bajareque – a newly opened coffee shop that offers some of the finest, single estate beans grown in the country.
• Family Friendly Tip: Wear sun hats and sun screen because even though it’s often overcast, the sun here is strong and painful sunburns can happen to the unprepared!
• A mere hour away from Panama City and you’re in another world! There’s a lovely resort to stay or dine at called the Gamboa Rainforest Resort situated near the Soberania National Park Rainforest on the banks of the Chagres River and the Panama Canal. You drive past part of the Panama Canal in getting to the resort, so have your cameras at the ready!
• Take the resort’s Aerial Tram and watch the lush greenery of the rainforest unfold beneath you as you spot tropical flora and fauna. Kids will be enchanted by the butterflies, orchids, and tropical insects- many of which are on display post tour at various educational/museum-like facilities.
• Family friendly tip: Bring portable rain ponchos with you because the down pours in the aptly named Rain Forest are of note and you don’t want to get drenched and cold in the air conditioned hotel or cafes you might hit later on.