Casco Viejo: Casco Viejo is the historic district and cultural gem of Panama City. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997, Casco Viejo was established around 1673 by the Spanish colonialists, the Catholic Church, and other settlers. Historically one of the richest and most densely populated neighborhoods in the Americas, Casco Viejo went on to experience decades of neglect around the 1950s. The streets are filled with buildings that served as homes, cathedrals and churches and government buildings over centuries and many architectural phases. Some of these structures have been painstakingly restored and now house museums, gourmet restaurants, quaint shops and upscale residences. Other buildings stand in disrepair or complete ruin and the homes of poor families juxtaposed next door with a remodeled, exclusive property offer a an excellent peek into the varied history that the district has.
The Amador Causeway: At the southern entrance of the Panama Canal is the Amador Causeway. This beautiful and picturesque causeway, lined with tropical palm trees, and with magnificent views of the Canal and the Panama City skyline, was built from excavated material during Canal construction. It took 18 million yards of solid rock extracted from the famous Culebra or Gaillard Cut of the Panama Canal to build this Causeway. The Causeway was formerly part of a military base, which has been transformed into a flourishing tourist attraction. Great restaurants, hotels, shopping arcades, marinas and a convention center provide an infrastructure that is attracting ever-increasing tourism. The causeway is also the home of the Marine Exhibition Center of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), where visitors can see and touch exotic species of Panama’s Caribbean and Pacific marine life, and learn about marine-coastal environments. An excellent paved pathway, the full length of the Causeway, is an irresistible temptation to anyone desiring a leisure walk, jogging, biking, skating or roller-blading. The causeway is also popular with locals and tourists who want to enjoy a swim in the Pacific Ocean; or simply relax with fabulous scenic views.
Miraflores Locks: The Miraflores Locks, due to their close proximity to Panama City and easy public access, is probably the most visited tourist site in all of Panama, more than Panama Viejo and Casco Viejo.
The lock gates at Miraflores are the tallest of the three (the others being Gatun and Pedro Miguel), which is due to the extreme tidal variation that takes place in the Pacific Ocean; the tidal variation on the Atlantic coast is by far less. Miraflores Locks are slightly over one mile long, from beginning to end.
The visitors center at Miraflores Locks is open daily between 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The center faces the Locks, resides just in front of the control tower, and has four floors; from any of the three floors photos can be taken of the locks from their respective balconies. On the third floor there is a restaurant, which is open to the public until 12:00 midnight. Inside the visitors center you’ll find a small gift shop, exhibition salon, snack bar, and more. Upon entering, English and Spanish pamphlets can be obtained, which include photographs and information pertaining to the Canal’s construction and operation. Throughout the day a bilingual speaker repeatedly comments on the Canal itself, as well as make reference to the boats that are transiting the Canal at that particular time.
The cost to enter into the visitors center is $8.00 for foreigners and $5.00 for Panamanian citizens. There is no limit as to the amount of time you can stay inside the Miraflores Locks visitors center.
Depending on the size of each vessel, one can see anywhere from 1 to 3 vessels, perhaps more, make the transit simultaneously. From the minute the vessels enters the locks, it takes approximately 10 minutes for the process to be completed. It is important to note that the water enters and leaving the locks by means of gravity only, as there are no pumps or other man made devices that assist in this process. For large commercial vessels, assistance is provided with multiple, land based, electric cars that run alongside both sides of the Canal, attached to the vessel by long cables. These cars help guide the vessel through the locks, however, the vessel, at all times, moves under it’s own power.