The Many, and Often Surprising, Faces of Panama City - IL

Those gleaming towers by the Panama Bay…how they sparkle at night. They are the reason visitors are often astonished to see such a modern looking city in Central America.

But the city I moved to in 2005 is so much more than its skyscrapers, and I think that’s what I like most about it. There are plenty of world capitals with equally scintillating skylines. But no other world capital can boast a rainforest, a colonial city, and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

My favorite place to walk is in the heart of downtown Panama City. Known as the Cinta Costera, it is a new network of roads, walkways, and recreation areas on the bay. I can’t imagine a better contribution to this city and the thousands of locals and foreigners who come here every day.


Walk the Cinta from east to west and you'll find yourself leaving the modern banking district and entering colonial Casco Viejo. Ruins and restored manors in Casco Viejo showcase Panama City’s long history. Founded in 1519, this capital is much older than it looks.


Today this historic sector offers the city's best nightlife, attracting locals and tourists with its romantic architecture and ever-changing offerings. Restaurants run the gamut. At expat-run Mahalo, you can get a healthy, vegetarian dinner—appetizer, main course, and drink—for about $16. There are also pricey gourmet nooks like Madrigal (a favorite of mine for birthdays and other special days), coffee and sweet shops, hole-in-the-wall name it.

But Casco is so much more than its food. The jewel-box National Theater is currently closed for a refurb, but other venues offer live jazz, dance performances, art exhibits, and more. Historic churches and monuments grace stately plazas. At sidewalk cafés, well-heeled locals and expats sip Malbecs alongside the backpackers, artists, and other bohemian types that flock here.


Members of Panama’s Guna tribes sell colorful textile panels known as molas along the waterfront. You needn’t spend a penny to enjoy scenic Casco with its brick roads, Spanish balconies, and waterfront promenade.

Although it may not look like Central America, this city is where local traditions meet the best in modern technology and infrastructure. The result is utterly, uniquely Panamanian.

Panama City

These days we truly have it all in Panama City and it’s an exciting time to be here. The economy is strong, the government is stable and business-friendly, and the cultural landscape is impressive.

There are so many sides to this dynamic city…it’s a rainforest enclave…an international world capital…a historical gem…a land of opportunity…a bustling Latin city filled with music and tooting horns…and many other things besides.

Most of all, it’s a city worth exploring, to plumb its secrets and craft the perfect lifestyle for you.