My US passport is set to expire in a few months. Even though I have residency and a work permit, the only way I can leave to visit my family in the states again is to renew my documents at the US Embassy in Panama City. I live in Boquete, and I love it here because it is a relatively small mountain town with loads of outdoor activities and a cooler climate. Many people I encounter who live in Boquete complain about having to make a trip to Panama City for any reason, but, as my girlfriend and I discovered, there’s no reason such a trip has to be a headache.
We drove 40 minutes from my house in Boquete to the airport in David. The $260 round-trip flight departed at 8:15 a.m. and arrived in Panama City 45 minutes later. We had our checked bags in hand within 10 minutes and took our first taxi to the hotel. From there, we dropped off our bags and walked to a drugstore to have my passport photo taken, then took another taxi to the US Embassy (it took us one hour to get to the embassy after leaving the airport). I had made an appointment online with the embassy prior to arrival and arrived with all my documents filled out to speed up the process. After 45 minutes and $110, we were on our way.
Shirley, Ryan’s girlfriend, in Panama City
It was time for lunch, so we went to a restaurant called Fire of Brazil. We chose it because we had purchased a voucher through a company based in Panama City called Oferta Simple. If you plan on staying at hotels, going to concerts, getting your hair done, having a massage, enjoying local tours, and eating at restaurants while in Panama, do yourself a favor and sign up online with this company to get great deals. We thoroughly enjoyed our salad bar and eight courses of grilled meat, all perfectly cooked and sliced right off of the skewer onto our plates by an attentive server.
After a quick nap, we stocked up on supplies, and went to the rooftop pool overlooking the city and Pacific Ocean. The skyline of Panama City is quite impressive and must be seen to be appreciated. After soaking up some sun on the breezy rooftop, it was time to go shopping at the Multicentro Mall on Avenida Balboa. The mall is four levels with a movie theatre, two floors of casinos, an excellent food court with a few upscale dining options, a Hard Rock Café, a supermarket, and a sky bridge leading to the new Hard Rock Megapolis Hotel.
Outdoor electronic music concert in the city
Shopping complete (for the moment), it was time for dinner, so we used another of our vouchers to try an Indian restaurant called Sabor de la India. I think it was the best Indian food I have ever eaten, and the giant bottle of Fuller’s IPA was a nice treat. We changed into our dancing clothes and took a taxi to the Figali Convention Center for an outdoor electronic music concert with some of the world’s top DJs. We arrived back at the hotel and collapsed at 3:00 in the morning.
We awoke around 8:00 and walked to Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast. Donuts are something of a novelty in Panama. When I arrived in this country three years ago, I laughed at the sight of locals taking the six-hour bus from Panama City to David with a box of them, but I am not laughing anymore. After this rare treat, we worked off the calories by walking a couple of miles in the HOT sun along the coastline to the fish market. We both love ceviche, and the fish market is like heaven on earth because the shrimp, lobster, sea bass, octopus, and mussels are fresh, super inexpensive, and plentiful. In addition to ceviche mixto, we enjoyed a fried fish and a local beer. The walk back was even hotter, so we immediately went to the rooftop pool to cool off.
Later, we took a taxi to a different Brazilian restaurant called Os Segredos da Carne. The salad bar included 12 types of amazing cheese, sushi rolls, and an incredible spread of soups and salads.
My girlfriend had never been to a 3D movie, so we walked to the mall to see the Cirque du Soleil film in 3D. It was quite an amazing experience. Tickets were $7 each (because of the 3D premium; normal movies are $2.50), the seats reclined, the theatre was state-of-the-art, and the movie was in English with Spanish subtitles.
We awoke early and took a taxi to the bowling lanes. We were told over the phone that they opened at 10:00 a.m., but found out when we arrived that they were not ready for bowlers until 11:00 a.m. To kill time, we found a casino, which was actually pretty lively given the early hour. We played a couple of penny slots, and then bowled for an hour (unlimited bowling including shoes for $23). I won all four games with a high score of around 130! I took my lovely girlfriend to eat her favorite food, tacos, at none other than Taco Bell.
Our original flight was scheduled to leave at 5:00 p.m. that day, but we were having so much fun we decided to call the airline to change our flights to the following morning. For a $20 ticket-change fee, we had another half of a day to explore Panama City!
Bowling in Panama City
After Happy Hour at Hard Rock Café, we made our way to the food court for some seriously amazing Colombian BBQ. We checked out the nightlife at the mall casino (the one with two floors of gaming tables and machines): If I didn’t know I was in Panama City, I would have guessed I was in Vegas. We had a blast playing penny slots, chatting with locals and foreigners from all over the world, and listening to live salsa music.
We had another Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast, and I became “that guy” when I bought a box to take back to Boquete. Getting from the airport to my front door took less than two hours.
That’s how the “hassle” of a trip to the city on official business can turn into fantastic fun. My girlfriend and I are busy making our list of things to do when we go to back to the embassy in a month to pick up my renewed passport!
Note: All city travel was by taxi: $54 for 13 rides, and much less of a headache than trying to navigate by car or bus on your own.
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