After our not-quite-as-planned trip to Eastern Europe, we decided that at the very least, we would make sure we could go somewhere warm for the winter of 2023/24. The previous winter we spent a few weeks in Florida, which had the advantage of being a destination within driving range.

We had pretty good luck last year, but in Florida you can't count of the weather being warm all season. I remember one January in the Palm Beach area when it was windy and in the low 40's a couple nights for example.

And Florida is not cheap. When I started looking around for lodging, it was looking like a private apartment was going to cost $3,000-4,000/month.

So we started thinking about warm destinations outside of the United States. One of the first that came to mind was Panamá.

We had changed planes at the Tocumen Airport in Panamá many times when we lived in Ecuador, but we had never had a chance to spend some time in the country itself. I had been to Panamá City without Rita once for a couple of days at an International Living writers' conference, but other than a quick stroll on the maleçon and a dinner in Casco Viejo (the Old Town), I didn't really see much.

We quickly decided to try and spend one month in Panamá City, then go a little further west to Playa Coronado for six weeks at the beach. We would leave January the 5th and return March 15th, thus successfully avoiding most of winter's chill.

We found a pretty decent deal in Panamá City on a one-bedroom condo. It was small, but in a nice location and less than $1200 for the month - including all fees, utilities, internet, etc.

A tall white building with a tall tower

Description automatically generatedOur home for January - the 26th floor of The Sands

A room with a couch and a rug

Description automatically generatedI did say it was small, right? But note the view.

A bed in a room

Description automatically generatedA kitchen with a microwave above a sink

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Small but usable kitchen.

A pool with a large building in the background

Description automatically generatedVery nice pool we made use of frequently

One of the things we liked best about this location, was its proximity to the Maleçon or Rambla, a four kilometer strip along the waterfront with biking and walking paths. There were also outdoor exercise areas, basketball/soccer courts, tennis courts, rest areas and more.


Not only did this give us a place we could walk every morning, it also provided easy walking access to Casco Viejo, the Old Town of Panamá City. Casco Viejo sits on a point that is encircled by a roadway that also has another biking/walking path.

A city at night with lights on the water

Description automatically generatedCasco Viejo by night. You can see the lights along the encircling highway.

Casco Viejo turned out to be a great place to walk in the mornings. Not only were there fewer cars on the narrow brick streets, but the buildings provided some much-needed shade from the early morning sun.

Scenes around Casco Viejo in the morning

A building with a white railing and trees

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A building with a bell tower

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A statue of a person holding a flag in front of a church

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Another terrific resource just down the Rambla from us was the Mercado de Mariscos - Seafood Market!A building with a sign on it

Description automatically generatedLet's take a little stroll through the market, shall we?


We loved that this market was just a short walk away - in fact, we could see it from our window. Even better, just a short distance from the seafood was another great find, the San Filipe Neri Mercado.

Let's take a look inside the market:


We also found just a short walk from our condo a huge grocery/household goods store called El Machetazo. Between those three resources, we could do most of our shopping as part of our morning walks.

What was really nice, is that there were also two very big modern malls just a short cab or Uber ride away where we could find anything else we might need. There were also several large grocery chains in these malls, so we could make a trip for the big, hard-to-carry items and bring them home in a cab.

Having access to this kind of shopping when you're doing slow travel can come in handy. For example, just a few days into our stay, one of the lenses popped out of my glasses. Luckily I always travel with a back-up pair, but still, I would need to find someplace to get this fixed.

A short Uber ride of $3.50 brought us to the first of the two malls we visited, the Allbrook Mall, which is a terrific find for our stay in Panama City. This mall is huge! The second largest in the western hemisphere, covering over 4 million square feet with 700 businesses, several food courts, sit-down restaurants, two grocery stores, a bowling alley and a movie theater complex.

We easily found an optical shop, one of at least a half dozen, where the helpful optician popped my lens back in the frame and secured it with a new screw. Best of all, she refused to accept payment for the repair, smiling and telling us “no problema”.

A person leaning on a large statue of a gorilla

Description automatically generatedRita meets Kong at the Allbrook MallA large building with stairs and a poster

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The other mall, Multiplaza, isn't quite as big but is still pretty impressive. It seemed to have more upscale shopping options, with one section in particular devoted to shops like Cartier, Dolce & Gabanna, Tiffany's, and so on. There were also some big play areas for kids, and some familiar restaurants. We indulged in a lunch at P.F. Chang's.

A large building with many shops

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It was very easy to get around in Panamá City. If our destination was too far to walk, we were able to get an Uber within just a few minutes. In fact, the first time we ordered one we did it from our condo. By the time we got down the elevator to the street, we were getting messages asking where we were, because our ride was waiting.

There is also a public bus and subway system, but we did not get a chance to try them out. We spoke to some people who used them however, and were told they were great - once you figured out where to get the fare cards, and which bus line went where.

There were also plenty of things to see and do in and around town. We visited the Canal Museum and enjoyed an expensive meal in the Hotel Central in Casco Viejo. We took a ferry out to spend part of the day on Taboga Island, visiting the historic town and relaxing on the beach. And what trip to Panamá would be complete without seeing the Miraflores Loch on the Panamá Canal?

A building with many cars parked outside

Description automatically generatedMuseo Canal in Casco Viejo

A room with a large balcony and a large table

Description automatically generated with medium confidenceInside the Central Hotel, Casco Viejo for dinner

Black risotto with shrimp

Of course, nothing is perfect in this world, so there were some downsides to our visit. For one thing, it is quite warm. Just about every day got up into the low 90's, and keep in mind we were there in January. The heat, humidity, and the sunshine that far south was just a little hotter than we like. Also, for almost a week we were plagued with smoky clouds from a garbage dump fire on the other side of the city. And speaking of trash, there were places where we saw piles of garbage on the streets. I mean piles, like piled higher than I am tall.

All in all though, I would still recommend Panamá City as a great place to spend some time - maybe even a great place to live!

Find out more about slow travel - listen to the "Travels With Jim and Rita" podcast at https://travelswithjimandrita.buzzsprout.com/ or on all major podcast platforms.