By Manuel Rueda
Catholic News Service
PANAMA CITY (CNS) — Panama City will be packed during World Youth Day, especially along the “Cinta Costera,” where most events will be held.
The celebrations will include more than 100 bands, dance troupes and DJs that will perform on six stages located along the wide coastal avenue.
But for someone yearning to get away from the crowds for a bit, the city also offers a wide variety of cultural, historical and green attractions. Here are some options.
EL PARQUE NATURAL METROPOLITANO
A tropical jungle on the city’s doorstep. This peaceful, 500-acre nature reserve has six well-marked trails that provide three to four hours of leisurely walking. The Mono Titi Trail ends on a hill with wonderful views of the city.
Some 40 species of mammals and more than 200 birds — including toucans, three-toed sloths and furry raccoonlike creatures known as “coatis” — can be found in this park, a 15-minute taxi ride from the financial district. Buses that say “Domo Universidad de Panama” leave from Albrook Mall and drop off about 500 feet from the park entrance.
CASCO VIEJO (CASCO ANTIGUO)
Panama’s historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes dozens of buildings, churches and squares built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the colorful buildings have been restored while others are still in decay. The center is compact and can be explored in a couple hours. Signs in English and Spanish tell the history of the main sites.
CASCO VIEJO CHURCHES
Six churches in the historical center have been restored for World Youth Day, including the city’s cathedral. During World Youth Day the churches will be open at all hours, and some will stage musical performances.
Watch for the massive golden altar at San Jose Church. Legend says that in 1671 a local monk covered it with grayish paint as the Pirate Henry Morgan plundered Panama City. The disguised altar survived and was transferred to its current location after Morgan left the city.
MIRAFLORES LOCKS AND THE PANAMA CANAL
Located about 20 minutes from the historical center, the Miraflores locks (Esclusas de Miraflores) are the best place to see the Panama Canal and appreciate this marvel of modern engineering.
There’s a visitor center and a terrace to watch ships entering and leaving the canal. Arrive around 9 a.m. for the best chances to see ships. The entrance fee ($15) includes a guided tour. Buses to the Miraflores locks also leave from the Albrook Mall bus terminal and cost 25 cents.
A state of the art natural history museum with interactive displays that talk about the origins of the Isthmus of Panama and its impact on the world’s biodiversity. The colorful building was designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry.
The museum is on Avenida Amador, a 10-minute taxi ride from the historical center.
BIKING THE AMADOR CAUSEWAY
A long causeway with a well-kept bike and jogging path starts at the Biomuseo and ends at the Flamenco Island Lighthouse about 3 miles away. The bike path has water on both sides and offers great views of the city and the entrance to the Panama Canal. Bikes can be rented at Bikes & More, or Bicicletas Moses (Moses Bikes), two outfits located just a short walk from the Biomuseo, on Avenida Amador.
A souvenir market on the corner of Avenida Central and Avenida A in the historical center sells all sorts of things, from Panama license plates to bracelets and T-shirts. Bartering with the shopkeepers for a good price is the norm.
Next to the market is a street that faces the sea where indigenous people sell their crafts. Colorful tapestries known as “molas” are especially popular.