On top of the red double decker

August 4th, 2012
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Getting to know the city

City Sightseeing Panama

The red double decker bus, one of London’s traditional icons, also seen in many major capitals of the world in its open-top version, is now part of the Panama City scene.

A local company, City Sightseeing Panama, is now a member of the worldwide tourist bus franchise whose slogan is “Hop on, hop off’. The buses operate on circular routes and for a set fare passengers can alight at any stop, take in the attractions nearby, then board the next bus and go on to another destination.

The brand new fleet of buses now plying the city streets is not totally open to the elements. A yellow sun (or rain) roof protects passengers, who normally choose the top deck. The novelty of sitting on top of a double decker bus is a lure for many. It feels good to look down on the world from that height where the views lift the spirit even higher.

So that you know what you are looking at, pre-recorded commentaries are available in six languages and are heard on the earphones which are pro-vided as you board the bus.

Panama City skyscrapers

Much of the city is vertical.

Two routes are offered: The City Route and the Canal Route. On the City Route, buses pass every 30 minutes and the Canal Route which goes out as far as Miraflores Locks, offers a frequency of one hour. Tickets can be purchased upon boarding the bus. It is a great advantage that tourists can decide when they want to start the tour and how long they wish to stay at any location.

The process of getting to know any city, involves a good deal of walking and this applies to the tour on the City Sightseeing bus. But again, the nice thing is that you not only choose tim-ing and location, but also the amount of walking you want to do. In this review of Panama’s latest tourist facility, we offer you some idea of where the buses go and the places that can be visited.

THE CITY CITY TOUR

Multiplaza Mall

Multiplaza Mall.

All the buses start and finish at Multiplaza Mall in Punta Pacifica, the new high-rise district of apartment and office towers. The first stop is at Multicentro Mall on Avenida Balboa at the northeast corner of the bay at the entrance to Paitilla. The mall is the attraction at this stop, but if you were inclined to take a walk, you could follow the seashore along the Cinta Costera or coastal beltway to Parque Urraca, another bus stop. The Cinta Costera is popular with city folk for walking, jogging and biking.

The second stop is at Calle 52 at the parking area of Felix Maduro, an upmarket and old-established department store in the heart of the banking and hotel district. Nearby is the beautiful church of El Carmen on Via Espana and the venerable El Panama and Continental hotels, pioneers of the tourist industry from early in the last century and still industry leaders.

EL CASCO ANTIGUO

View of the Old Quarter from the coastal beltway.

View of the Old Quarter from the coastal beltway.

You may want to save the serious walking for the fourth stop in San Felipe on the edge of the Casco Antiguo, Panama City’s fascinating Old Quarter. There is much to see, including the Golden Altar saved from pirate Henry Morgan’s clutches, the Flat Arch which is said to have convinced the U.S.A to decide on Panama as the route for the Canal, and Las Bovedas, the impressive sea wall and dungeons constructed by the early Spanish settlers to defend the walled city from the seaward side.

Restaurants, bars, boutiques and small hotels abound in this fascinating enclave, a fuller description of which is given in another section of this guide. From Casco Antiguo, the bus returns along the Cinta Costera to its starting point at Multiplaza Mall.

THE CANAL ROUTE

The Canal -- of course

The Canal — of course

It would seem that City Sightseeing really wants you to do some serious shopping in Panama City. The Canal Route bus also starts from Multiplaza Mall, stops at Multicentro Mall and then, believe it or not, goes on to Albrook Mall, a vast complex adjacent to Marcos Gelabert Airport, the city airport for domestic scheduled flights and international general aviation traffic. Albrook Mall is also adjacent to El Gran Terminal, the bus station for all routes to the interior of the country.

The next stop is at Ciudad del Saber or City of Knowledge at the former U.S . army base of Clayton on the bank of the Canal. Unless you had a specific reason to go there or were staying at the Holiday Inn or another hotel in the area, you would probably not alight here. From the bus you can get some idea of the imaginative use Panama has made of this large military base in turning it into an international center for learning, research and culture.

Views from Amador Causeway

Views from Amador Causeway.

Then comes what could be the highlight of the tour — the Visitors Centre at Miraflores Locks. From the comfort of viewing galleries, you can see the big ships being raised or lowered the 54 feet on their journey between the two oceans. Restaurants, a film and exhibits, including a virtual canal transit, are available.

The visual highlight, however, could be the next leg of the route which goes back through the old U.S. town of Balboa and out on the Amador Causeway flanking the Pacific entrance of the Canal and joining several small islands. The bus goes right to the outermost island of Flamenco and stops at the Amador Cruise Port and Duty Free Area. Scheduling lunch here would be a good plan for the island is liberally endowed with good restaurants, indoor or out, with views of the city across the bay, the Canal and the Bridge of the Americas, or the hundreds of boats in the marinas. The renowned Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) has its headquarters and a permanent exhibition on Naos, an adjacent island.

The Biomuseum under construction at Amador Causeway

The Biomuseum under construction at Amador Causeway.

The last stop on the Causeway before the bus heads back to the city is at the Biomuseum designed by Frank Gehry. You will have noticed it on the way out. Its weird conglomeration of garish colored roofs does not allow you to miss it. The museum is under construction and it is possible to make an advance booking for a tour (call 314-1877). The museum will be dedicated to the geological, biological and an-thropological history of the isthmus. For any further information about the City Sightseeing bus tour, call (507) 392-6000 or 392-9999 or email info@citytourspanama.com

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