Remembering Pre-Lockdown Staycations in Panama

“A month of Sundays.” Such a funny phrase. Often used to describe long, dreary periods, for me it’s what comes to mind whenever I think of my favorite time of year.

Here in Panama City, I invariably feel like the summer is made up entirely of Sundays. And by that I mean a succession of slow, serene, drink-it-all-in days.

I wake up and draw back my bedroom curtains, knowing what I’ll find. Cheerful sunshine. A cornflower-blue morning with no threat of rain. Just a few great white puffs of cloud. A child’s rendering of a sky.

Any other time of year I’d make breakfast and eat while enjoying the view. But in summer, that just isn’t enough. I need to be out and enjoying the day. Not cooking. Not dealing with dishes. Not wasting a single moment of glorious summer weather. So, nearly every day of the season, I’ll grab my laptop and head to a café on Via Argentina.

Schools are out. The city’s quiet and traffic is light. I could drive, but on perfect summer days I prefer the metro. It’s a short walk to my station—the first part of it up a steep hill lined with pretty houses, trees, and flowering shrubs. I can’t think of a better way to start my day. On these walks I’ve seen yellow tanagers, beetle-green hummingbirds, and quick little lizards (they like the wall at the bottom of the hill).

Next it’s a spot of people-watching on the train, and then another short walk in the sun from the Via Argentina station to Café Unido, which has big windows overlooking the avenue. The coffee is rich, made only from local beans. My usual breakfast wrap is huge and comes with crispy homemade plantain chips.

I eat slowly, taking my time and tapping away at my laptop. I write an article or edit some photos or video, surrounded by sunlight and the chatter of other customers. It’s a sort of working staycation…one I can treat myself to without worry or guilt. After all, what’s cheaper or more enjoyable than staying home, especially when home is so perfect?

Once I’m ready to stretch my legs, I walk to the Cinta Costera. It’s one of the best parts of the city—a bayside promenade lined with a variety of trees and plants, basketball courts, fruit stalls, and more. Here I can sit and contemplate the ocean, rent a bike for a couple hours, or walk to the historic quarter known as Casco Viejo.

This is the place where I most feel like a part of this modern, bustling city. It’s hard to walk along the water on the Cinta and not feel connected to everyone who’s out enjoying this phenomenal space. People coming home from work…joggers and dog-walkers…gardeners and trash collectors. You can see how the scenery and salt air makes everyone’s day better.

That’s especially true in February, our “midsummer” month. We get a bit of rain and muggy days at the start of our summer season and again toward the end. But on this stretch of Pacific coast, February is always sunny and dry, with cool breezes coming to us courtesy of the north trade winds. The city shows off its colors. Faces turn toward the perfect sky and smile.

I usually find I’m enjoying myself too much to go home early. Instead, I’ll walk into Casco Viejo, taking in the vibrant blues and greens of the ocean and foliage. As I near the historic quarter, I leave behind the city center’s gleaming towers. In front of me, French and Spanish colonial houses curve along the waterfront.

I pass the “4.0 kilómetros” sign—feeling rather virtuous at having walked more than two miles—then wind through a pretty park and up the wide steps that lead to Casco’s red brick roads.

There’s so much to do, it can be hard to choose.

There’s so much to do here it can be hard to choose. I can have a bit of a wander around the stately plazas or go for ice cream made by a French glacier at Grandclément. But I tend to end up at Cascomar.

I did a fair amount of tramping about the city before finding this little gem. I felt certain that I could find a place that met my every want and need. Somewhere with shaded outdoor seating, outlets where I could plug in my laptop, pretty views, friendly service, good (really good) wine, and wholesome food.

On a little-visited back street I found it. A restaurant in a restored mansión with a small patio overlooking the mangroves. My favorite table here sits under a hanging swath of bougainvillea. In the late afternoon, the blossoms glow a hot pink and the sky turns an even deeper shade of blue. Sometimes, after I send a few gloating texts and photos, friends come and join me for a drink or a light dinner.

I almost always order shrimp in puddles of olive oil infused with garlic and dried red peppers, with a side of crusty bread. It’s the kind of dish I can linger over, savoring each glorious bite. As the sun sets, the street is soaked in sepia-toned light spilling out from windows and lanterns overhead. Sometimes there’s a bit of live music…a lone man on a guitar. When that happens I order another glass of wine, sit back, and relax. Like it’s a lazy summer Sunday, and there’s nowhere I need to be but here.

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