So, you've won yourself a seat to the inaugural PokerStars Championship Panama Main Event, you've read Part 1 of our Panama guide and your flights and hotel are all booked. Sweet. What's next? Well we've outlined a few great days in Panama to make sure your trip is truly unforgettable whether you win the title or not.
The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a 48-mile man-made waterway connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. It's a shortcut for sea vessels helping them avoid the much longer and more dangerous route around South America and it is used by as many as 15,000 boats every year. Construction of the canal began in 1881, but was taken over by the U.S. in 1904 and opened up 10 years later. The American Society of Civil Engineers has named the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world and no trip to Panama would be complete without seeing it.
The best place to experience the Panama Canal from Panama City is the Miraflores Visitors Center at the Miraflores Locks. It's just 20 minutes from the center of the city and features a museum with interactive exhibits and an outside terrace giving visitors a front row seat to watch ships traveling through the locks. It only costs $10 to enter the visitor center and is a stop included on most major tours of Panama City.
No matter what your plans are in Panama City, you can enjoy a great cup of coffee to start it off or to sustain you throughout your adventures. Look hard enough and you'll find one of a few coffee chains in Panama City, but when you're in a country famous for growing some of the world's best coffee, why not try something local? Café Unido brews entirely local coffee using the best beans from a number of Panama's top producers based in the country's famous Boquete and Volcán, coffee growing regions. The coffee is from sustainable coffee farms and 10 percent of all Unido's income goes to support local social projects.
Other can't-miss coffee shops include Bajareque Coffee House in Casco Viejo, which features an amazing pour over; the Nina Café in Obarrio, which also serves a great lunch; Athanasiou, which has some of the best pastries in Panama in its various locations in Costa del Este, Via Porras and Paitilla; and finally the rather oddly named New York Bagel Café, known for its bottomless cup of coffee and groovy vibe.
Panamanians love to party, and whether you're celebrating a big score or just taking a night off the felt to unwind, you're always welcome to join in on Panama City's vibrant nightlife scene. There are great bars, clubs and casinos all over the city serving alcohol until 3 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends, but the nightlife scene truly revolves around three Panama City neighborhoods, including the Amador Causeway, Casco Viejo and the Business District.
The Amador Causeway
The Amador Causeway is more than just a bridge connecting a number of small islands in the Panama Bay with great views of the city and the sea. It's also home to one of Panama City's best nightlife scenes.
Salsa and Meringue music is sure to keep you on your feet at Traffic Island at the Isla Flamenco Shopping Plaza. It's also an open-air venue with great views and a solid selection of cocktails.
Chill Out is another great outdoor disco off The Amador Causeway. It is a popular Reggaeton spot with no dress code, but the best part of Chill Out may be that it's inside Zona de la Rumba, the Amador Causeway's Party Zone, filled with a number of other clubs and bars. Zona de la Rumba is perhaps the best place in Panama City to try a local pub or club crawl.
Panamanian history and culture collide inside Panama City's Casco Viejo. The more than 340-year old Spanish colonial neighborhood was originally built in 1671 and now features a number of restored hotels, restaurants, churches, plazas and shops standing next to the historic ruins of the old city on the Panama City bay. Visitors can stay at any number of quaint boutique hotels inside Casco Viejo and the neighborhood is also home to some of the city's best dining and nightlife.
Casco Viejo was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and several operators offer tours of some of the historic center's major sites.
Where To Eat
Mercado de Mariscos
There are any number of great restaurants where you can get fresh seafood in Panama City, but the more resourceful traveler will go straight to the source at the Mercado de Mariscos.
Tucked in at the bottom of the city's historic Casco Viejo neighborhood, Mercado de Mariscos is Panama City's seafood market. Of course, you can buy all kinds of fresh fish and seafood that comes right off the boat, but you might not have the kitchen facilities required to cook it. Instead, you can take advantage of the many makeshift restaurants in the second half of the market. Most of these places don't amount to much more than busy counters with plastic stools in front of them, but they serve up some of the best and freshest ceviche around.
Ceviche is essentially raw fish or seafood cooked in citrus juices. Most counters charge a dollar or two for a cup, making the Mercado de Mariscos the perfect place to get an affordable taste of a fresh local specialty.
Casco Viejo Nightlife
A link to the past by day, Casco Viejo comes alive at night and is truly the center of Panama City's nightlife scene. A number of the city's best restaurants can be found in the historic district, but it's the many bars and night clubs that make Casco Viejo one of Panama City's best places to party and there are dozens of options.
The Tantalo Rooftop Bar on top of the Tantalo Boutique Hotel is one of the most popular places in Casco Viejo to grab a drink and enjoy an incredible view of the city skyline and bay. Thursday nights are when the party really goes off at Tantalo and there is no cover.
Those who want to dance the night away are always welcome to get their groove on at Teatro Amador. It's a restored theater-turned-dance-club and event venue that features a number of both local and international DJs. You can also grab a beer at La Rana Dorada, a Mojito at the aptly named Mojitos Sin Mojitos or enjoy some jazz at Danilo's Jazz Club.
Metropolitan Natural Park
Nature comes alive inside the Panama City limits at the Metropolitan Natural Park, a 232-hectare, protected tropical dry forest with as many as 284 species of trees, 45 species of mammals, 254 species of birds, amphibians and reptiles.
The perfect place to enjoy a little outdoor recreation, jogging or hiking, Metropolitan Natural Park features four different trails and three major lookout points where one can get a glimpse of all the nature and wildlife, the Panama Canal, the Bridge of the Americas and panoramic views of Panama City.
Where To Eat
If you want to stick with traditional Panamanian cuisine and culture, you'll want to check out Las Tinajas restaurant in Panama City's El Cangrejo neighborhood. Not only is Las Tinajas one of the best places to dine out on classic Panamanian comfort it's also in the middle of one of the city's busiest, most cosmopolitan and eclectic districts. Visitors to El Cangrejo can find anything from Argentinian microbrews to self-rolling sushi bars.
Some great spots in El Cangrejo include Istmo Brew Pub which features casual food and some bar games, Beirut for Lebanese cuisine, or Azahar Panama, a favourite amongst the locals.
The Business District
When the sun goes down, Panama City's business district transforms into one of the city's best places to party. In fact, there a number of great bars, clubs and restaurants where the party goes off almost until it's time to get up and go to work again.
Two of the city's hottest nightclubs sit right on top of one another in the business district. S6IS is a standing-room-only club that plays electronic music. One floor down you'll find Prive, its classier sister that is a little quieter and more popular with the 25-and-over crowd.
Panama City has also recently been gripped by the craft beer phenomenon. If having a taste of a local craft brew in a relaxed and casual atmosphere is more your speed, La Rana Dorada is right up your alley. It's named after an endangered Panamanian frog and offers a number of different beers brewed in house, including a Pale Ale, Pilsner and India Pale Ale.
All in all, the introduction of the PokerStars Championship Panama is not only great for those looking for a poker festival filled with action and guaranteed prize pools, but it's also a fantastic addition for those who rely on poker events around the world to help them plan their family vacation. Have a great trip!
To read Part 1 of our guide to PokerStars Championship Panama click here.