Most tourists seem to gravitate around Casco Viejo, the Old Town, where there are charming Spanish Colonial buildings in varying degrees of disrepair a few museums and plenty of bars and restaurants. The whole Old Town is currently undergoing a massive restoration project under the directive of UNESCO and the Government. Casco Viejo has a lot of potential and might one day, after the very lengthy task underway is complete, be just as beautiful as the old town of Cartagena. With it’s striking location on a peninsula overlooking the modern Panama City. The future is looking good.
Across the bay from Casco Viejo is the skyscraper-city of modern day Panama City. Impossibly tall monoliths of glass, steel and concrete are packed tightly together intersected by Scalextric style motorways crisscrossing their way around and through the city. One would presume there is a fair bit of wealth in this town, judging by the penthouse apartments overlooking the Pacific, the oversized American shopping malls and flashy buildings going up left right and centre. The reality is this is Latin America. The stark divide between rich and poor is evident the moment you escape from the confines of the city centre. What we will give to the Panamanians is their passion. We were lucky enough to meet a lovely local taxi driver who was the most enthusiastic and passionate person we have met. He lives and hopes for a bright future for his handful of kids, and for his hometown of Panama City.
And then it all became too hard. So the French gave up.
Then the Americans stepped in! Probably with more devious intentions than constructing a canal, so they finished building this engineering beast at the staggering cost of US$375,000,000.
Taking 34 years to complete the Panama Canal saw it’s first customer in 1914. Of course traversing this epic man-made marvel isn’t free, not even looking at it is! Thousands of ships pass through the canal every year at the average cost of $50,000 per cargo ship and up to $500,000 for a passenger cruise ship. Don’t worry that fancy yacht you own can travel through here too, it will only set you back a few thousand dollars. If you are feeling really brave or feel like saving a few pennies you could swim it, like Richard Halliburton, who in 1928 was the first person to do so and paid the cheapest toll on record to date of only 36cents. It would have been very interesting too see him swim through the locks.
Next stop we grab our cigars, rum and a 1957 Chevy to explore the streets of Havana, Cuba...
Check out our photo gallery of Panama City and the Canal here.