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organized tour or taxi

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Philadelphia
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organized tour or taxi

Hi All,

I need your expert advice on how to go about touring the city for a day. I will be traveling with my husband and 8 year old son. Here is what we would like to see:

- Canal and ships going through the Locks

- Amador Causeway

- Ancon Hill

- Casco Viejo (main sites, grab a snack)

- Fish Market

- China Town Arch

We are staying at Riu Plaza Panama. I have two options: hire a tourguide with transportation (approximatelly $250) OR take taxis and find a knowledgable tourgide to take us around Casco Viejo, Fish Market and China Town. First option is easy but costly. Keeping in mind that we do not speak Spanish, how difficult would it be for us to do this without an organized tour and simply hire taxis to take us from place to place. Your advice is greatly appreciated. Please chime in and if you have any other ideas, I would love to read about them. This is planned for December 28 (Saturday). Thank you all in advance!

Atlanta, Georgia...
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for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
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1. Re: organized tour or taxi

You can certainly do this by taxi for a lot less and on your own. But, I'd like to know where you are staying so I can give you some idea of what you should be paying the taxi.

Second, why do you want to see the China Town arch? It is not much. If you're basing this on Anthony Bourdain's show of a few years ago, you're in for a real let down. Chinatown in Panama is about two crowded blocks with a few restaurants and other businesses. It is nothing close to what you will experience in any west coast U.S. city or New York.

Please beware of posters here who promote their own tour companies and invite you to send them a PM so they can email you privately.

Philadelphia
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242 posts
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2. Re: organized tour or taxi

Thank you for your helpful comments, yes, exactly that was the reason I wanted to see the arch and China Town, but I will take your recommendation and stay away if not worth my time, I could certainly use that time to look around The old town longer. We will be staying at Riu Plaza downtown, from what I've seen on google maps , the distance to all places of interest is not that great but I also understand that traffic Is heavy in the city, I am awaiting your thoughts on approximate cab fares and again thank you for replying to my post

Panama City, Panama
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3. Re: organized tour or taxi

Hi jolajarek

Im.from panama and i tell you about this price is so expensive.... To much; how many days you need for this trip? You want to do this trip in one day but a better price, believe me, with a safe person that know all area of PanamA.

Atlanta, Georgia...
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for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
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4. Re: organized tour or taxi

First, let me say that while Jen implies that taxi drivers are not safe, that is most definitely not true. Yes, there have been incidents -- very few, fortunately, and late at night -- where passengers have been robbed and in one case a female passenger was assulted. For that reason, it's important to use common travel sense -- just as you would in any country. Sometimes, taxis will want to fill up their cab by picking up additional passengers. (With three of you in the taxi, you shouldn't have to worry about that.) I always protest and the driver drives on. Also, I never get into a cab with two men in the front.

Sorry to get sidetracked, but the ploys of people who abuse TA for their commercial interests upset me. And for me to respond with "all taxis are safe" is as inaccurate as implying that none are.

So, to get back on track ...

You'll want to get to Miraflores as soon as they open ... 9:00AM. Ships will still be going through the locks then. Watching a ship in the locks is not the most exciting thing in the world for an 8 year-old. Everything moves slowly and deliberately. But, will probably think much of the museum is cool. Not knowing your 8 year-old, but based on my experience, I'm guessing you'll be ready to leave around 10:30 or so.

That will be good time to hit the Mercado de Mariscos (Seafood Market). it should still be active and you might want to grab a snack there. If not, then Casco Viejo is next door. Go to Independence Plaza where you can see the National Cathedral, the nearby Iglesia de San Jose. The altar in this church is gold leaf and is reputed to have been saved from the fire that destroyed the original Panama City when it was sacked by Henry Morgan's army in 1671.

The heat and humidity is probably going to be taking its toll on all of you about this time. You might consider taking a break in one of the cafes around the Plaza. Your 8 year-old will probably be interested in the tables and booths of indigenous crafts from Emberá and Kuna indians that are around the plaza.

Very honestly, if you have a good tour book, such as Fodors, or my favorite National Geographic, you don't need a tour guide. And, you absolutely don't need a tour guide for Miraflores. You might try contacting (via PM) stxSteve here on TA. He lives in Casco Viejo and will probably have some excellent, inexpensive recommendations.

Ancon hill is a nice vista, but because the road is only one lane, you often have to wait awhile at both ends to go up or down. Again, a taxi can take you just as easily as a tour company.

I'd like to suggest a couple of additional options that kids like. One is the ruins of Panama Viejo -- the first Panama City. This is a short distance from Casco Viejo and the RIU Plaza, on the way to Tocumen. That's good for about 45 minutes. The associated museum is nearby (you'll still want to take a taxi) and will take about 30 minutes -- or less with an 8 year-old.

The second place to consider is the zoo at Summit Park (Soberanía National Park). This is outside the city, not far from Miraflores. In fact, you might consider going there after seeing Miraflores. Just be sure to get something to eat before going there. There are no restaurants near the zoo.

The zoo has many of Panama's indigenous species of birds, mammal and a few reptiles -- like a huge crocodile. You'll see jaguars, tapirs, ñeques, monkeys, coatimundis, etc. There is an excellent exhibit of Panama's national bird, the Harpy eagle, the largest raptor in the Americas, capable of plucking 40lb. slothes out of trees like fruit. Bring water and sun block when you go. There is a fair amount of walking. A trip to the zoo will take about 2 hours. Again, no tour guide needed, but do make arrangements with your taxi driver to pick you up.

If you decide to go to Summit Park after Miraflores, there is a very good pizza restaurant -- very popular with kids -- at the El Rey shopping center in Albrook. That's just a couple of minutes from Miraflores. You might think about eating there before you go to the zoo.

In the evening, consider going to Tinajas restaurant. My son was 10 when we took him and he loved it. It's a dinner/show. The show features Panamanian foik music and dance. It's very appropriate for kids and families. And, it's almost walkable from your hotel. (About six blocks.) Be sure to make reservations and bring a sweater as the A/C can be meat locker cold at times. Afterwards, don't bother with the taxis waiting out front. They will want $6 to the $1.75 fare, and since there are three or four of them standing around, they can't lose face by backing off the gringo rate and treating you fairly. Either walk back to your hotel or walk a block and get a taxi off the street.

And that brings us back to taxis and costs. If you let one of the taxi wranglers get you a taxi at your hotel, you will pay horrendous gringo rates. Especially since the RIU is a hotel where "rich" people stay. So, when you come out of your hotel, turn left (against traffic) and walk to the corner. Get a taxi there. All you have to say is "Miraflores. Cuanto es?" It should be about $7. If it's more than $10, wave him off and get the next.

There are always lots of taxis at Miraflores (unless it's raining or the visitors' center is closed). They will want $10 to take you almost anywhere nearby, whether it's Summit Park, Albrook or Casco Viejo. (Albrook should be no more than $2.25).

Casco Viejo to your hotel = $4. Casco Viejo to Panama Viejo = $7 - $10. Summit Park to your hotel = I'm not sure but I would guess $15 - $20.

Most taxi drivers will realize that you're probably going to a number of places. They'll often ask if they can pick you up at a certain time. If you like one and his cab, tell him where you want to go and negotiate a deal with him. Anything will be much cheaper than $250 gringo rate you were quoted for the tour.

C J
Sequim, Washington
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5. Re: organized tour or taxi

You know, I agree with a lot that GB says and his recommendations...BUT..if I were in Panama City for a single day with an 8 year old & hubby and didn't speak the language...it sounds like a recipe for a headache and stress..and short tempers. I'd want to make sure that I got the most out of my one day there, and that it was as stress free as possible. Personally, I would hire someone because of the time constraint... For me it boils down to if I want to pay for someone to take care of the stress for me and provide extra insight, and yup, I think I would in a big city that I wanted to see in one day. I'm sure there are lower prices as well, if that's your main concern. You could even split up the day between a guided tour for the locks, and some free time to wander on your own.

Atlanta, Georgia...
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for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
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6. Re: organized tour or taxi

You've got a point, CJ. It is an aggressive schedule. And, in second thought I would suggest, "pick two." Miraflores and Mercado de Mariscos/Casco Viejo ... or Miraflores and Summit Park ... or Miraflores and a driving tour of Casco Viejo, Cerro Ancon and Amador. Or, Miraflores, lunch in Casco Viejo and a visit to Panama Viejo in the afternoon. (I know that's three, but it's easy to do in a day.)

BTW -- I forgot to comment on Amador. It's most impressive at night when you can look back across the bay and see the lights of Panama City. There are plenty of restaurants on Amador, so it's also a dinner option.

Panama City, Panama
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7. Re: organized tour or taxi

You will get a real information about the rates... 2.50 to albrok any taxi accept, is december and all places is full and taxis put your own prices... I live here and see everyday. the hotel fot casco viejo es 12 or 15 dollar, come to panama and try, and tell me after.

Bye

Panama City, Panama
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8. Re: organized tour or taxi

Hi Jolajarek

When you come to panama you see the reality about taxis prices... And you coment after.... Im here, december is to diferent this mens put you own prices...but if younwant to do by this way try. I tell you that rates thar others members put her are wrong.

Philadelphia
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242 posts
105 reviews
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9. Re: organized tour or taxi

GB thank you for the detailed write up, based on which I am pretty confident we’re going to take taxis to all sites. So here is what I am thinking:

1. taxi do Miraflores (be there by 9:00)

2. taxi from Miraflores to Ancon Hill, can I ask the driver to wait for us here (I will need to google how to ask this in Spanish :)))? I don't imagine we would spend here longer than 15-20 min, take few photos, enjoy the view and be on our way

3. From Ancon Hill to Fish Market (sample ceviche and potentially eat lunch here)

4. From Fish Market to Casco Viejo to spend the afternoon

5. taxi back to the hotel

How does this sound to you, I think we should be fine time wise ( I eliminated the Amador- by looking at photos posted here its only advantage is view of downtown, I am ok with skipping it, and we are not interested in shopping at duty free)

Zoo sounds like a great place to visit, but we'll be in Osa,CR for the second leg of our trip to get our nature fix. We have Embera/Kuna culture covered as well with Embera village visit and 5 days sailing San Blas Islands. Being in Panama City, we are purely interested in exploring the city itself. I am also not worried about my son being grouchy or tired as he's been traveling with us since he was 1 through Europe, Mexico, Caribbean and did great in pretty rough conditions in Guatemala.

Again, thank you for your advice, safety tips and for helping me make this decision.

Atlanta, Georgia...
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for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
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10. Re: organized tour or taxi

jolajarek -- You're very welcome. That sound very doable and I hope you have good weather for it.

Many of the taxi drivers do speak English. But, if you need to ask your driver to wait for you, say, "Por favor, espere para nosotros" "Please wait for us." (Phonetically -- Pore fah-VORE, es-PAIR-ay PAR-ah noce-OH-troce.) Or, "Por favor, espere aquí." "Please wait here." (Phoneteically -- Pore fah-VORE, es-PAIR-ay ah-KEY)

Have a wonderful trip!