Teatro Bambalinas was created to stage productions for kids, and is located in Paitilla. Check their website for details on upcoming shows.
The construction of the Panama Canal demanded a whole lot more than just digging a really long trench—the engineering required manipulation of an entire geographical system. To calm the ocean waves around the Pacific entrance to the Canal, a colossal breakwater was constructed, that reaches out to the sea, connecting three islands along the way. After its construction in the early 20th century, Fort Grant was established here in 1913, and the area was militarized and fortified by the United States during the World Wars. It was entirely off-limits to Panamanians until 1999, when the zone was finally officially returned to Panama. A road and sidewalk running along the top of this breakwater are the thoroughfares of the Amador Causeway, a great stretch of road for walking, jogging, biking, and especially for the phenomenal views over the Bay of Panama to the city beyond. Because of the heat on the un-shaded road, daytime activity is mostly confined to a few restaurants that make the most of the panorama, along with sightings of boats and brown pelicans, and a smattering of scintillating resorts. Come evening, a bevy of restaurants that double as nightlife spots open on each of the three islands that make up the Calzada. A teeming hive of activities, this waterside avenue hosts a range of attractions including the Centro Artesanal Market, the futuristic Biomuseo and the Punta Culebra Nature Center - which chronicles Panama’s natural heritage - and many others.
A truly beautiful wall standing along one of the charming streets of Casco Viejo, sprouting a few weeds from the uneven top of its brickwork, is the surviving façade of the colonial Convento de Santo Domingo. The 17th-century church and monastery were burnt to the ground twice and not rebuilt after 1756, so that little was preserved through the centuries except the front of the building and an archway within it. Known as the Arco Chato, this brick arch eventually became pivotal to development in Panama. Its survival despite a remarkably precarious construction proved to engineers that an interoceanic canal built in Panama would not be destroyed by earthquakes; the rest is history.
Nestled in Panama City, Biomuseo deftly chronicles the natural, cultural and ecological heritage of the country. The labor of love of eminent architect Frank Gehry, the museum boasts a futuristic facade, while the main building has an equally innovative and distinctive design, which is billed to be the only one of its kind in Latin America. Here, a wide arsenal of buildings, galleries, exhibits and artifacts together, illustrate some of the country’s most pressing aspects including its dynamic biodiversity, the evolution of the Pacific and the Caribbean, the country’s cultural and communal legacy, as well as the importance of the Isthmus of Panama, which has been an integral catalyst in carving out the landscape of the country. A wonderland for science aficionados and nature lovers alike, this elaborate museum is educational and inspirational in equal amounts. Its frontage enlivened by splashes of solid blues, yellows and reds, the cutting-edge Biomuseo is one of the major tourist draws, and contemporary landmarks of the city.
A legend of human struggle, a marvel of economics and a daily triumph of engineering, the Panama Canal is a captivating story, as well as an awe-inspiring system to watch at work. The tale of the effort to connect two oceans began in 1539, when the first Spanish team studied the feasibility of such a project, and in 1880, the French began actually attempting the construction. After several workers perished during the course of construction, the canal was abandoned until the United States bought control of the zone in 1903. After completion in 1914, it stretched 48 miles (77 kilometers) between the coasts, and today about 13,000 ships representing 5% of global maritime trade pass through the canal each year. Ships around the world are built to fit smoothly through the three locks that function like enormous steps over the isthmus, and pay a fee according to weight to make the 8- to 10-hour transit. The record for the heaviest ship to pass through the canal is frequently redefined, but the smallest fee was paid in 1928, when Richard Halliburton swam through for PAB0.36.
The presidential palace in the oldest existing neighborhood of Panama City, with its neoclassical architecture and unsurpassed views directly over the Bay of Panama, is popularly known for its pets. In the early 20th century, President Belisario started the tradition of keeping pet herons and egrets in the Moorish interior courtyard of the Spanish colonial mansion. The same president commissioned the 1922 renovation of the 1673 building, originally built for the Spanish crown, to its current appearance. It was put to good use in the interim as the Royal Customs House in the 18th century and a government house in the 19th century, and the President now resides upstairs with the executive offices on the ground floor. Expect to show identification at either end of the guarded street if you'd like to walk past the front of the building because the beautiful birds in their Palacio require very tight security.
Canal-crazy visitors to Panama have a little talked-about opportunity to visit more than one set of locks managing the depth of the water so ships can safely transit between the different altitudes of the two oceans. The second set of Pacific-side locks are actually right down the street from the well-publicized Esclusas Miraflores, and less ceremony is involved in taking a good look at this set: a parking strip is located just about 100 meters past the locks along the highway to Gamboa, where both visitors and locals often come to enjoy the spectacle.
Continual renovation projects in Panama Viejo, the original Panama City site which was sacked and destroyed by pirates in 1671, has produced a number of spectacular opportunities to explore eye-catching colonial architecture: the Torre de la Catedral is preeminent among these restored buildings. A recent five-year-long renovation produced a near-intact tower rising tall from its square foundation and ringed with solid bits of crumbling stone walls. A steel staircase has been installed in the interior of the tower so that visitors can climb to new heights for panoramic city views, and a speaker recreates the chiming of bells three times each day; an actual bell replica would be too heavy for the tower to support. The Torre de la Catedral is located across the street from the Panama Viejo Visitors' Center and Museum, where visitors can pay the combined entrance fee to access both attractions. A good handicraft market is located inside the Visitors' Center.
Travelers who know the tale of the golden altar might expect this miraculously surviving relic to be housed in the grandest church in Panama—that, however, would be an ironic way to honor a treasure famously saved by its humble disguise. The Iglesia de San José is an exact replica of the church of the same name in Panamá Viejo, where a quick-thinking priest saved the genuine gold altar from pirate Henry Morgan by having it painted black—with mud, according to some reports. Fittingly, then, the Iglesia de San José has a modest, white and blue exterior and stained glass windows not apparent from the outside. It was constructed in 1671 through 1677 and remodeled during the 19th century, and travelers should make every effort to visit and take a look at the famed altar.
Considering the crowd of enormous colonial-era churches in Casco Viejo, an unsuspecting tourist could easily stroll past the Iglesia San Felipe Neri every day without realizing they were brushing past a piece of history. Completed in 1688, this is one of the oldest churches anywhere in the city although it now occupies a modest, crowded corner across from Plaza Bolívar. To emphasize the historical significance of this church, it is worth mentioning that the Casco Viejo neighborhood is also known as San Felipe. The structure has seen fires and serious damage, but it was remodeled in the early 20th century and again in 2003. This latter renovation was effected with aid from the governments of China and Taiwan under the then-president of Panama, Mireya Moscosa.
Built in the late 17th century, the San Francisco Church of Casco Viejo was the first Franciscan church in Panama, and probably remains one of the most frequently remodeled. It was destroyed by fires and subsequently rebuilt in both 1737 and 1756, and at times served as a monastery. Beginning in 1918, it was remodeled by Leonardo Villanueva Meyer in the style of European eclecticism, and less drastic restorations took place in both 1761 and 1998. Across from the Plaza Bolívar, the smooth cream-colored exterior rises into a belltower and spires accented in white and roofed with terracotta tiles.