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20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

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Orange County...
posts: 3
reviews: 25
20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

My family has a 20 hour layover on our way home from the Carribean and we'd like to see the Panama Canal. Our flight arrives at 2:00 pm, and we depart at 11:30am the next day. We're undecided if it is best to hire a tour operator to take us from the airport to the canal/visitor center or if we would be better served renting a car and going there on our own, and then going to Casco Viejo for dinner? It seems the canal is only about a half hour drive from the Panama City Tocumen airport? Any advice for seeing the canal and what a good agenda would be for our short time in Panama City would be appreciated!

Atlanta, Georgia...
Destination Expert
for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
posts: 2,530
reviews: 10
1. Re: 20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

First question - is your luggage checked through or will you be getting when you arrive at Tocumen?

Second question - are you planning to spend the night in a hotel?

My first bit of advice - no matter what other plans you may have or make - DO NOT rent a car. Driving in Panama City is not something you want to attempt as a first time visitor. Navigating the narrow, unmarked, maze of one-way streets of Casco Viejo is difficult under the very best of circumstances. With all the construction going on, I wouldn't bet 2 cents on your possibility of finding a parking place. In Panama City, taxis are plentiful, cheap and the drivers know where they are going and how to get there. (And, with all the construction, traffic and neighborhoods to avoid, knowing how to get there is most important.)

Miraflores Visitors Center is not 30 minutes from Tocumen -- especially not at the time you are arriving or in the morning. It's more like 45 minutes to an hour. The bad news is that you'll be going to Miraflores during the afternoon rush hour. The good news is, half of it will be going the other way. You'll still get caught in it, though.

Depending on whether you have to get your luggage and go through customs or can just go through immigration, it will take you somewhere between an hour and two hours to get to Miraflores from the time you get off the plane.

The visitor's center ticket window will close at 4:30pm. and the exhibit hall will close at 5:00pm. But, if you haven't seen enough of the ships going through the locks, the restaurant stays open until 11:00pm. I don't know about dinner, but they do have a nice lunch buffet with great views (especially from the balcony) of ships and the locks.

Considering that the visitor's center doesn't open until 9:00am and you have to be on your plane at 11:30am, I would not attempt to see the locks in the morning.

Madrid, Spain
posts: 5,461
reviews: 12
2. Re: 20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

I will agree with gb, overall.

I think you should be wary about driving yourself - much of the route is on highways with traffic joining and leaving and confusing signage.

Casco Viejo is lots of narrow streets which dead end or are closed. It is not too bad to navigate as there is almost only one way in and around. I have never found parking a problem there. But it is an unnecessary hassle for you.

How is your Spanish ? I would suggest getting a taxi from the airport to Miraflores, get him to wait, and then take you somewhere nice to eat - the Causeway or the Casco would be interesting.

Orange County...
posts: 3
reviews: 25
3. Re: 20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

Thank you both for the information. We will be checking our bags through and only have a carry on with our change of clothes for the next day flight. I see there are some companies that advertise they can take you from the airport to the canal and Casco Viejo during your long layover for about $55 per person - wasn't sure if that was reasonable or if we should just hire a taxi.

Any recommendations on hotels near the airport? Or if we stay in either Casco Viejo or downtown Panama City is it easy to catch a cab to the airport?

Many thanks for the help!

Madrid, Spain
posts: 5,461
reviews: 12
4. Re: 20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

There is only one hotel near the airport.

Getting a taxi from in town is not a problem.

Atlanta, Georgia...
Destination Expert
for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
posts: 2,530
reviews: 10
5. Re: 20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

A taxi will cost you about $35 to go to Miraflores from the airport. From Miraflores to Casco Viejo should be $10. (There are no meters in the cabs. They supposedly charge by the zone, but many try to rip of the gringos. So, negotiate your prices.) Casco Viejo or El Cangrejo to the airport should $30 including tolls and tip. If you hire a taxi to take you multiple places, get a fee per hour, say $15 per hour.

Amador has a great view of the city from across the bay, but the restaurants are really very mediocre. The better restaurants will be in Casco Viejo or downtown in Cangrejo district. My favorites are ...

El Trapiche - traditional Panamanian cuisine - very inexpensive - El Cangrejo district.

Martin Fierro - Argentinian steaks - moderate - El Cangrejo

Siete Mares - novelle seafood - upscale - El Cangrejo

El Bodegon - best Spanish food west of Sevilla - somewhat expensive - San Francisco district

I would recommend staying at the Riande Aeropuerto. They have a free shuttle to the airport, just minutes away. Used to be horrible, but it has been getting good reviews in the last year. Downtown hotels are noisey (like New York City).

Orange County...
posts: 3
reviews: 25
6. Re: 20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

Many thanks - this is extremely helpful!

Madrid, Spain
posts: 5,461
reviews: 12
7. Re: 20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

Only here - tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g294480-i1194-k608… - CDY said one of the two best cervices is on the Causeway.

The reviews on Siete Mares are mixed - I think you have to know what to order there.

The reviews on the Riande are mixed - but I can see an advantage in not having to get through traffic in the morning.

Edited: 10:04 pm, February 08, 2013
Langhorne...
posts: 2
reviews: 13
8. Re: 20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

I would recommended Easy Travel Tours- Judy Tovar Panama.

easy travel@cwpanama.net. Daniel, a retired former banker was an amazing guide. I would bet that they can arrange a tour that starts at the airport and ends at your Hotel.

Atlanta, Georgia...
Destination Expert
for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
posts: 2,530
reviews: 10
9. Re: 20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

You really don't need a tour guide. In your case, it is a total waste of money.

posts: 6
reviews: 46
10. Re: 20 hour layover in Panama - best way to see the canal?

We stumbled onto an excellent guide who took us from our hotel to the major attractions in Panama city . We then went to the Mirafflores locks and ended up at our B and B in Gamboa. We used him to go to the airport and for all out touring needs around Panama City,. He charges about 25$ an hour and speaks good English. His name is Jorge Morales. His email is jorge05_morales@ hotmail.com Cell is 6747-1960/6681-7555. Finding Jorge made it effortless to get around and see things in Panama City.