Traveling during a pandemic always has risks. We had a small covid scare in Aruba April 2022 where one woman who tested earlier, had a test come back positive. Amazingly, another woman is a surgeon and brought 20 rapid tests with her on the trip. I guess she thought this was likely. Drunk in our festival outfits below we tested for covid, luckily everyone else was negative. The memory I have of us running around swabbing our noses and setting timers while looking like this is one of my favorite from the trip.
Hungover nursing a coffee, I sat down the next morning. We had to leave in 2 days. I needed to buy a flight. Of the 15 girls, only Heather could travel on with me. After looking at different countries, flights, and costs, Panama seemed like the best decision. We could fly direct from Aruba and there was no test requirement if you were vaccinated. Flights were $400 one way but I flew out of Mexico and into Aruba at my company’s expense and I had no home to return to so onwards. The benefits of having meetings in NYC, the exit flights can take you anywhere.
On the departure date everyone rushed through customs texting about crazy lines. Heather and I happily went to the Non USA Departures terminal, yes it is literally called that. After fighting through the bad wifi on the house the wifi at the airport was a dream. We worked for a couple hours before boarding. I didn’t know much about Panama besides the canal and Bocas del Torres. On this trip I’d skip both of them but found other incredible places to explore.
Neighborhoods | Historic District, El Cangrejo, Via Argentina
I hate when people ask me if a place is dangerous. Babe, you live in America, it’s dangerous here. But I will say that Panama City had me on defense. There was a lot of cat calling while we explored and walked along the waterfront right in the main downtown. The historic district, the oldest part of the city, has a strong police presence at all times. El Cangrejo, where both my airbnbs were, felt the safest. Little Argentina was the community there. With a gorgeous park and restaurants to explore at night this was the best neighborhood to stay in. After 2 days with me Heather had to fly home for personal reasons. So I found myself thinking, how would I take on this city considering the reality. I am a single, female, traveling alone, I travel adventurously but not unsafely. Also what was I going to do in this country.
I moved myself to my favorite hostel, Selina, in the historic district. Here I knew I could walk around day or night. It was in the tourist center filled with bars, restaurants, and a beautiful outdoor market along the waterside. I spent most of the week working as I brought in this huge account I was running. Selina Panama City has a whole floor open with space to read and work. Each day I sat there, took meetings, and worked. In the afternoon I’d escape for food and coffee. The historic district had street art down all the narrow roads. I’d climb up and down the streets finding them. Discovering street art is my favorite activity when exploring a city alone.
Coffee is Panama. They grow it, they know it. Every shop has different beans and baristas that have perfected the craft. I couldn’t be stopped from ordering. I’d leave restaurants jittering. To balance the caffeine, I had Panamanian food. Tamale, tostados, empanadas, fish cooked in banana leaves, rice, meat, beans, endless. Not as many street food options as Mexico but every restaurant had incredible options.
What people really come to Panama for, lies outside of the city. The beaches, the islands, the canal. My advice is to fly in, enjoy the food, tour the downtown, and then continue on to explore the rest of the country. Specifically… San Blas.