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During a premium-cabin mileage run I did recently to earn AAdvantage Executive Platinum status with American Airlines, I had some time to explore Panama City, Panama. My trip was extremely brief, but was full of delicious food, lots of photo-ops while walking around the historic quarter and, best of all, I got to witness the engineering achievement of a massive cargo ship passing through the Panama Canal.
I stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Panama for two nights, which I had booked through Hilton for 16,000 Honors points and $71.50 cash per night, for a total of 32,000 Hilton Honors points and $143. Using Uber, I could easily reach the beautiful streets of the city’s old quarter, Casco Viejo. After checking in and enjoying some time at the hotel pool, I had an tasty Argentinian steak dinner around the corner before heading to the Capital Bistro for a view of the city skyline from its rooftop bar.
The must-see Panama City attraction for me the next day was the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal. I took an Uber from my hotel for about $6.79 to the Miraflores Visitor Center, a museum with a large, three-level viewing deck so guests can watch as the ships pass through. This was the main thing I wanted to see on this trip, and I had no problem shelling out the $15 for a non-resident admission ticket, which includes access to a series of exhibition halls and a short 3-D film showing the history and function of the canal.
I had not found out in advance when a ship would be passing through next, so I was excited to get to see the entire process, as smaller boats — and a boat full of tourists — were positioned at the front of the lock before the large container ship entered behind them.
The small boats helped show the true scale of the operation — passengers were almost completely hidden from view by the time the water level was lowered. Next time around, I would consider taking a ride on one of these boat tours to experience the locks that way.
I headed back down to the Casco Viejo in San Felipe and walked around during the golden hour, that brief period at dusk (and dawn) when sunlight is softer and makes almost everything look more attractive.
I bought a raspao — a shaved ice with fruity flavors and condensed milk — from a street vendor and enjoyed it while soaking in the Old Town’s brick streets and alleyways.
After my walk, I had an early dinner and enjoyed a fantastic eight-course prix fixe meal at Manolo Caracol. The entire meal was locally sourced, with dishes like bone marrow with sweet onions, yucca ceviche, prawns on a plantain with onions served in a sweet yellow-pepper sauce, beef mole tacos and dessert.
For my trip home, I bought bottles of Ron Abuelo seven-year and 12-year rum as gifts. I had a hunch this could be an issue when I flew back to Miami, and sure enough, after clearing customs, I was informed by the TSA that the rum would have to be placed in my checked bag. It turns out the clerks at Tocumen International Airport (PTY) hadn’t used the proper tamper-evident bags, opting instead for taped-up shopping bags in a box. Lesson learned: plan ahead if you want to bring any rum back with you.
All in all, I loved my first trip to Panama City. It was a great place to find beautiful light and pictures and next time, I hope to have enough time to see even more of it.
Have you had a chance to visit Panama City, Panama? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees