I had 2 layovers in Panama city on 7/16 & 8/4. I took full advantage!
On 7/16 I unfortunately got on the local bus instead of the express and spent almost an hour and a half sweating to death on my way down town - oops!From the bus terminal I took a taxi up to the Parque National Metropolitano where I walked the trail to the lookout point, not seeing any animals along the way but really enjoying looking at the buildings of the city through the trees up at the top.From there I took a taxi to the Causeway to see the Smithsonian aquarium and forest where there were sloths.I checked the forest once and saw nothing.I then saw an interesting video on the animals I was supposed to see in the park, learned all about different kinds of fish, saw a harpy turtle, compared Carribean & Pacific fish and spent another 45 minutes looking for sloths to no avail.LI did see a couple of raccoons though and there was a nice view of the different ships coming from the canal on the tip of the island as well as TONS of informational signs about the environment & animals.I walked back along the Causeway and enjoyed the views of the old city and the water & palm trees despite the fact that I almost melted from the heat.At the end I took a taxi to el Pueblito where a nice girl in the traditional dress shop took me on a tour.She showed me the typical dresses & the remade colonial square, school, house etc..From there she took me to the replica of the Afroantilles (black) area (Esmeraldas) and the indigenous area of the country, including the coastal Cunas.The cunas do a special ritual for the girls when they pass into adulthood and the women give birth in this weird kneeling position leaning against wood.They also wrap their dead in a white cloth and bury them underground making a little house on top (see pic).They also do special carving in palm ivory called tagua.When I was done at Mi Pueblito it was time to go back to the airport and on to Medellin, Colombia.
For my second layover in Panama City on the way back to Argentina I decided to do the airport tour to the canal for only $30.However, since the tour left me at the Multiplaza Mall for 3 hours before the actual tour started I decided to take a taxi on my own to visit a few more places.I went to the Canal Admin office where they have a famous mural that I had read about.It was OK, but not amazing.From there I went to the Casco Antiguo and wandered around sweating to death again.I saw the Independence Plaza w/ the Cathedral, the church w/ the golden altar not stolen by Morgan, the Plaza Bolivar and the Plaza de Francia and the Boveda walkway along the water. I ate a Panamanian tamal for lunch which was very different from a Mexican one but pretty good - orange inside w/ chicken.I got back to the Multiplaza on time then took the guided van ride through the Casco Antiguo which was good and informative but we only stopped at the golden altar church but no where else.I was glad that I had gone out on my own earlier.We then went to a little artisans market where I would have liked to have more time.They had beautiful molas (colorful cloth stitchings) and other beautiful items.From there we went to the canal locks at Miraflores.It was interesting but extremely hot.We got to see a big cargo ship go through and then another submergible ship that seemed empty.There was a guy describing the action in both Spanish and English.The boats pay per cargo capacity whether they actually are full or not.The highest amount ever paid was over $360,000 by an American boat and the cheapest was 36cents paid by an American guy who swam across the canal.Also the canal goes up in height in the middle so although it is only 80km (50m) wide the water (and the ships) have to go up and down a lot from one side to the other.The ships go from the Pacific to the Caribbean in the morning and from the Caribbean to the Pacific in the afternoon.It takes 8-12 hours for a ship to go through.The water in the canal is fresh water instead of saltly because it comes from the artificial lake created and the rivers supplied by rain water.There is also a dry canal that goes through Panama via train for cargo to pass from one side to the other.Since the canal is pretty narrow for today's boats they are constructing another wider canal on the side of the current one and they will make it recycle the water used for the canal instead of letting it flow into the oceans because there isn't enough water in the fake lakes to support both canals.The US built the canal from 1904 until 1914 (after the French failed to do it) and thus the canal was owned by the US until 1999 as a repayment but now it is 100% Panama's.