Maybe it's because I'm in the swing of traveling now, but I'm fonder of Panama than Costa Rica. Panama City in particular is captivating. I'm a city slicker at heart and Ciudad de Panamá is the most cosmopolitan city in Central America. I've been wandering through it for a few days now and I've only scratched the surface.
However, my first stop in Panama was the Chiriqui highlands...
Panama tends to be a hot place, but Boquete is a cool little town in the mountains. About a decade ago AARP named it one of the best places in the world to retire and it's been a snowbird destination ever since. With views like this, it's clear why people want to move here.
Just outside of town, there's a family that keeps a great garden and lets people walk through whenever they feel like it.
This is one of the only regions in Panama good for growing coffee. I toured a nearby plantation. Here's what the beans look like while they grow.
This is an old processing plant.
And the finished product!
My Dad asked for food pictures. Here's a pretty typical Panamanian dinner: rice mixed with chicken or beans, some meat, vegetables or salad, and a bit of fried banana. Anywhere I go, there are usually some fancy restaurants serving Peruvian-Thai fusion or whatever. But I don't have that kind of budget. A meal like this might run $3 or $4 and you run into more locals. As one fellow traveler said, "If you're the only gringo in the place, you know you're doing something right."
As pleasant as Boquete was, it was a little too touristy for my tastes, especially after having spent so much time in touristy bits of Costa Rica. So I shipped off to...
I'm staying in Casco Viejo, which was the second attempt by the Spanish at building a city here after Captain Morgan ransacked the first. It's gorgeous: cobblestones, cathedrals, sidewalk cafés. Unsurprisingly, it's a UNESCO heritage site.
The Casco only started being hip recently though. It can go from microbreweries and boutique hotels to slums in the span of a block or two. But who wants to think about gentrification and inequality when you can see this view of downtown!
Here's what my hostel looks like. This is easily the swankiest one I've stayed at. They get all the details right: the cubbies where you lock up your valuables have outlets inside so you can charge your computer overnight and you get your own drawer in the bedroom. Also, beer at the bar downstairs costs 50 cents at happy hour.
Conveniently, there is also a nice craft brewery around the corner.
Being right on the ocean, there's lots of good seafood here. These stuffed plantains were unreal. Side note: there are many more ways to eat bananas than I had imagined.
The city is a pleasure to wander through. There's a great bike path along the Pacific that reminds me of Chicago's lakefront trail.
Just north of the Casco is Avenida Central. It's a big pedestrian throughfare loaded with produce stands, little shops, and food stands. It starts off with Parque Santa Ana.
This afternoon, there was a big street art fair on the Avenida. There were bands, magicians, slam poets, acrobats, and lots more mimes than I would have guessed. In one area, a team of graffiti artists were decorating dumpsters.
Their new metro system is really nice. They don't have the capacity to meet demand at rush hour though. I managed to get in this train after I was bounced back by a wall of flesh on the first train.
Speaking of transportation, did you hear there was a canal here?