Clarion Victoria Hotel and Suites Panama
Calle D, El Cangrejo
Panama City, 0
Phone: (507) 395 9000
Fax: (507) 395 9001
Jutting off the commercial strip of Vía Argentina in El Cangrejo is a grassy little haven known as the Parque Andrés Bello, a gift from Venezuela to Panamá from 1965. Quintessential park scenes of fun and romance are encouraged by the colorful play structures and the attractive wrought-iron benches scattered around the walking paths. A small monument to Andrés Bello, a Venezuelan-born poet, philosopher, legal scholar, and educator who wrote the Civil Code for Chile, stands at the center of the park.
The spectacular, neogothic towers of Carmen Church seem miraculously constructed of lace amongst the glass-and-steel, traffic-laden downtown of Panama City. Sharply pointed towers flank each side of the impressive façade, entirely painted in white and cream colors. The interior is a harmony of pointed Gothic arches with stained glass windows shining in the walls to either side of the pews, leading up to the altar. A total of 18 large windows depict scenes from the bible, while 18 smaller windows below at eye-level show different types of flowers. Astonishing mosaics of a holy host behind the altars bloom with beautiful colors, and some of the tiles even sparkle with iridescence. Built in 1947, Nuestra Señora del Carmen is truly a spectacular place to have faith.
In Panama City's ultra-urban downtown, a few parks provide a brief respite of grass and play areas—or maybe they just provide a convenient place for the neck-craning activity of trying to see up to the top of a skyscraper. Parque Urraca borders the busy Avenida Balboa—and therefore provides an easy-to-spot location to get off the bus if you're planning to walk around downtown—and is often filled with Panamanians enjoying a game of basketball or relaxing around the gazebo or on the benches. It's located just a couple blocks from both Calle Uruguay and the Area Bancaire, key destinations for visitors to the city.
Magnificently defining the northern border of Panama City, the Parque Natural Metropolitano sprawls over 265 hectares (655 acres) of thick forest and incredible biodiversity. It is a valued research site for Smithsonian Institute and other organizations, and is unique in the Americas as a protected tropical forest within the city limits of a major urban area. Over 40 species of mammals, 200 species of plants, hundreds of birds, and special treats like blue Morpho butterflies are supported by this nature reserve, and much of this vibrant life is visible from the cleared paths. A total of five trails wind through the trees, where most visitors embark on hikes taking between 30 minutes and two-hours, round-trip. The city maintains a Visitor Center with maps, exhibits, and a small bookstore, which opens Monday-Friday 8a-4p and Saturday 8a-1p. With a 24-hour advance reservation and at least three people, guided tours conducted in English are available.
The definitive Bay that gives Panama City its boating, its breezes, its views and its birds in one fell swoop of coastline is incontestably crucial to the culture and atmosphere; it takes little more than waking up one morning and looking out over the water to be convinced. Although part of the Gulf of Panama and the Pacific Ocean, it is specifically the Bay which is targeted as a critically important conservation area for water birds in the Americas. Because of the isthmian structure of the land here, a very small stretch of estuary supports high densities of water birds, and migration systems make protection of this area crucial to bird life throughout the hemisphere. Segments are designated as special conservation areas, and literally thousands of birds sometimes pack into the mudflats east of the city and mangrove swamps nearby.
The National Legislature of the Panamanian government has its seat amongst the controlled chaos of daily city life around the Plaza Cinco de Mayo. Buses pull past the gates from the busy transfer point, constant foot traffic populates the surrounding businesses, and the Panamanian legislative branch gets to business in the flag-topped, squarish building each day. Inside, deputees of the Assembly set to work at the business of law, with particular attention to assuring transparency and participatory equality.
A cacophony of traffic and activity surrounds the Plaza Cinco de Mayo, where buses heading for the Terminal de Bus, Panamá Viejo, downtown, and many more urban destinations are waiting, filling up, and honking their way onwards. In addition to serving as a central bus stop, this busy cluster of Plaza zigzagged by major roads is surrounded by discount-style shops, the 1912 terminus building of the Panama Railroad and the seat of the Panamanian legislature, the Asamblea building. The Plaza Cinco de Mayo crowns the eastern end of the pedestrian strip along the Avenida Central in Santa Ana.
The path that wraps up around the Cerro Ancón from the direction of the Plaza Cinco de Mayo passes the quiet Catedral de San Lucas, an Episcopal church which, in addition to the usual services, offers a bilingual service on the first Sunday every month. The congregation enjoys the natural beauty that surrounds this easily accessible location; the drive that passes in front of the church slips from the asphalt and noise that runs just past the Cerro Ancón to a sudden oasis of quiet that envelops the Catedral de San Lucas. The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo is just steps away, making this a neighborhood of both religious and artistic culture.
Climb Roosevelt Avenue—the road that winds up Cerro Ancón from the Santa Ana neighborhood—to have a look at the attractive Palacio de Justicia Gil Ponce. Inaugurated in 1993 by President Guillermo Endara Galimany with participation of the Supreme Court Justices of Central America, this neoclassical building is frequently the site of presidential meetings, educational visits, official tribunals on matters such as transparency and integrity in the justice system, and a miscellany of Supreme Court business. A wonderful architectural landmark on the climb up to Cerro Ancón's lookout point for those who won't be settling in for hours of judicial wrangling.
This tidy, grass-lawned strip beside Avenida Eloy Alfaro, just next to the stretch of guarded road in front of the Palacio Presidencial, has a surprisingly big history and an even bigger vista of the city skyline past the sparkling Bay of Panama. It was originally a terrace atop the city wall that protected the city from sea-borne dangers, such as the pirates who destroyed Panamá Viejo in 1671 and inspired the inhabitants to build the new, better-protected settlement of Casco Viejo. The spot was named for the former Puerta del Mar, or Sea Gate, that was situated nearby and gave access to the city. A row of houses was built over the terrace during the 19th century, but these were demolished between 1994 and 1997 to open the historic spot back up.
The Casa de los Monogramas, one of the oldest houses in Panamá, was built in 1743 at the latest estimate; this was the year it first housed a monastery. Subsequent inhabitants include the Viceroy Juan de Sámano in 1820-1821 and, following a restoration project in the 1990s, it now houses the headquarters of the Fondo de Inversión Social or Social Investment Fund (FIS). The story of its purpose might be as dull as the story behind its name—the edifice is called the Monogram House because of the monograms sculpted around the entrance—but the place has seen moments of excitement, such as the 1998 inauguration for FIS with the president attending. Across from the Plazuela de la Puerta del Mar and just down the street from the Palacio Presidential, the pumpkin orange building with beautiful wooden balconies and doors is certainly worth checking out on a historical walking tour through Casco Viejo.
The presidential palace in the oldest existing neighborhood of Panama City, with its neoclassical architecture and unsurpassed views directly over the Bay of Panama, is popularly known for its pets. In the early 20th century, President Belisario started the tradition of keeping pet herons and egrets in the Moorish interior courtyard of the Spanish colonial mansion. The same president commissioned the 1922 renovation of the 1673 building, originally built for the Spanish crown, to its current appearance. It was put to good use in the interim as the Royal Customs House in the 18th century and a government house in the 19th century, and the President now resides upstairs with the executive offices on the ground floor. Expect to show identification at either end of the guarded street if you'd like to walk past the front of the building because the beautiful birds in their Palacio require very tight security.