There’s more to the city than just the magnificent Panama Canal.

Mention the destination Panama City and most people will think Panama Canal and not much else. But the capital of Panama (the country) is truly a world city … a global centre for banking and trade.

The architecture 

There is enough high-rise development to rival the landscape of New York, almost all of it constructed this century. Even Donald Trump has a hotel complex in the city—at 284 metres, and shaped like a gigantic sail, it was the largest structure in Central America until recently.

There’s the Yacht Club Tower — a 57-floor structure based on a yacht, of course, and you can’t miss the swirling 243 metre F& F tower (previously known as the revolution tower). It was named one of the world’s top 10 skyscrapers for architectural excellence in 2012.

But for sheer joyful use of colour and design, you can’t go past the Frank Gehry designed Museum of Biodiversity at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. Gehry donated his work as a tribute to his Panamanian-born wife. It’s already over budget ($60 million) and two years past the completion date, but definitely worth a visit when it opens.

Diverse rainforest life

Aside from the architecture, Panama — an isthmus connecting the southern and northern hemispheres — has some of the world’s most diverse rainforest life. So get out of the city and experience the rainforest and beach environments up close.

Panama is also listed among the top five places for retirement in the world, which would account for the constant advertising we saw for ‘over-50’ developments.

Make sure you take the drive up to Panama City’s highest point, Ancon Hill. You will be rewarded with breathtaking views over the Canal, the CBD and the 17th century Casco
Viejo (Old Quarter), currently under restoration.

A few travel tips

• Be prepared for constant hot, humid and showery conditions.
• Work on ‘manana’ time and be patient.
Nothing goes to schedule, but it all works out in the end.
• Be prepared for aggressive taxi drivers and ordinary cabs. NEVER relinquish control of your luggage and DON’T get in any car until you check their license and confirm the cost of the trip. Fares are set by authorities, but if you don’t ask, you will pay more.
• Walk in the early morning and eat late at night. It’s a very easy city to get around, but between 9am and 9pm, the heat is quite oppressive if you’re not used to it.
• The local supermarkets have everything.
• You can come across some amazing street performers at random intersections.
• Get ready to shop. As a global financial centre, there is great brand name shopping.
• And no trip is complete without a boat trip on the Panama Canal. It’s around $150, but for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, mind-blowing engineering statistics and scenery, it’s hard to beat.

Have you been to Panama? Share your experiences in the comments below!