I am sorry for the extreme delay in posting! I started writing the below text several weeks ago, but then things got very hectic. I just got back from a Thanksgiving trip to Israel and I will try and post highlights from that trip in a more timely manner. I hope everyone had a relaxing holiday!
Now, back to the end of Panama. By my fifth day, I had already visited every site I wanted to see, so I decided to go to the spa at Le Meridien Hotel for an express facial. I enjoyed using the spa’s facilities more than the treatment itself.
In the afternoon I was planning on meeting up with a fellow traveler from TravBuddy.com, which is a website that helps you, “[m]eet travelers and locals who are going to the same place at the same time as you.” I signed up on a whim and paid the one time $9.99 registration fee before my trip, but I was disappointed when I saw that only two members were going to be in Panama City at the same time as me. One of the two members messaged me and asked if I wanted to go sightseeing or meet for coffee. I had already seen all of the major attractions, but I was curious to visit the Coca Cola Cafe and I had read that it borders a sketchy neighborhood, so it seemed like the perfect activity to do with a partner. The funny thing is that I actually recognized my travel buddy, Isreal, on the street about an hour before we were supposed to meet, but this was less serendipitous than it sounds, since most of the city’s hotels are in one area (El Congrejo). We walked on the Cinta Costera walkway to get to the cafe. Along the way we passed the entrance of Chinatown, but I read it was a little dicey, so we did not enter.
We then passed through the historic district of Casco Viejo to reach the Coca Cola Cafe, which is located on the border of Casco Viejo and the rougher neighborhood of Santa Ana. The Coca Cola is oldest cafe in Panama City (c. 1875) and is known for its hearty fare and local clientele. The Coca Cola is also historically significant, since it was frequented by Che Guevara and was supposedly the first place in Panama to serve the eponymous beverage.
I ordered chicken milanesa and pineapple juice. The prices were very reasonable and the chicken itself was good, but the sides (salad and lentils) were nothing special. Several other diners seemed more drunk than is optimal for lunchtime.
Before leaving we ordered the famous coffee, which was excellent!
After lunch we walked back to Casco Viejo and passed some interesting 1930’s/1940’s architecture in the more run-down area bordering the cafe.
Back in Casco Viejo, we visited the Iglesia San Jose, which is known for its gorgeous gold alter.
We took a taxi back to El Congrejo and rested before meeting up for drinks. I had read about the sushi and martini bar at the Radisson DeCapolis Hotel, which was supposed to be the hipest places in Panama City. However, when we arrived around 8PM, it was almost completely empty. We thought maybe we were too early, so we visited the Multiplaza Mall across the street and then the Hard Rock Cafe and Casino next door. The stores at Multiplaza were similar to Albrook and not particularly interesting. The Hard Rock had a ton of famous musician’s memorabilia, which was fun to view.
We went back to the bar at the Radisson and it was still pretty empty, but we decided to stay and order drinks. I asked the waiter why it was empty and he said it’s more popular on Fridays. I don’t know if that is the case or if it just peaked in coolness.
After drinks I suggested we go to Cafeteria Manolo’s because I liked the people watching and wanted to have a traditional Panamanian dish for my last dinner in P.C. I ordered Sancocho, which is Panamanian chicken soup. It was more flavorful than American chicken soup, but it was a bit too salty.
Post-dinner we walked across the street to the Veneto Casino because I wanted to try gambling for the first time. I bet a dollar in a slot machine and after repeatedly pressing the very confusing, though all English buttons, I won $3. I decided to call it quits while I was ahead. We also left the casino quickly because it was pretty depressing. The Via Veneto Hotel strip is known for prostitution (which is legal in Panama) and there were dozens of prostitutes walking around the casino floor. The scene was very sad and it was already rather late, so we headed back to our respective hotels on the other side of El Congrejo.