Published on January 20th, 2015 | by Mark Chesnut0
“My Panama” — Travel Tips from Neil & Denise Patrick, Panama Roadrunner
Neil and Denise Patrick liked Panama so much that they moved there. Today, as owners of Panama Roadrunner Secure Transport — a Canadian-owned company with Canadian and American drivers — they’ve become local experts on the ins and outs of visiting Panama. In this exclusive interview with LatinFlyer.com, they share their own best Panama travel tips.
How did you decide to live in — and start a business in — Panama?
Neil and I came down to Panama in November 2010 to see if we would be interested in living here, and within our two-week vacation we came to the decision that we wanted to live in Coronado, Panama. We had spent several months before our vacation researching life in Panama, medical availability, safety of Panama, housing prices, banking practices and every question we could think of!
We moved here from Calgary, Canada in May 2011. Neither of us were fans of the brutally cold winters of Canada or our ever increasing taxes. We came down to run a bed and breakfast, and in November 2011 we became involved with Panama Roadrunner and then closed our B and B.
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What do you like the most about Panama overall?
We love the weather and waking up to blue skies almost every single morning. We are a five-minute walk from the beach and we have met many amazing friends. Many of our friends were people we got talking to while driving! Coronado has a close-knit expat community, and there are many events and expat get togethers. I think my favorite thing about Panama is the consistent weather — I live in shorts, flip flops and a sleeveless T-shirt. I’ve never needed socks, pants or a sweater in four years in Panama!
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that travelers might have about Panama before they visit?
We drive about 3,000 couples a year, and many of them are here to check out living in Panama. The biggest misconception is how expensive things are. There are some articles floating around online that say you can live for $1,000 to $1,200 a month here. If you are paying rent that would be very, very difficult. There are definitely services that are cheaper in the United States, such as water, garbage pick-up, some food, alcoholic beverages and medical/dental/vision care. In Coronado, I have not heard of renting a house for less than $1,000 a month, or a condo for less than $1,100.
It can sometimes be difficult to find things in Panama — whether a car part, certain foods, clothing for taller people, etc. When we first came here, we could not buy dishwasher detergent, canned pumpkin, dry dill weed and other spices we were used to, and baking soda. We’ve adapted and bring some things in by mail, some by friends —and the local supermarkets now carry a much wider variety of items.
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What is the most challenging or potentially annoying thing about visiting or living in Panama?
The hardest thing for any newcomer to deal with is driving in or to Panama City. The traffic in the city can be brutal at the best of times, and the traffic on the highway can be stopped for hours because of a group of locals protesting. There is an issue in the city with the streets not having street signs, or the names have changed and the street signs still reflect the old name. There are many one-way streets, and during rush hour the volume of cars makes it almost impossible to get anywhere.
What should be the “must-see” and “must-do” places and activities for first-time visitors to Panama?
The four most popular Panama City attractions we get asked about are:
1. Miraflores Locks Visitor center: Visit the canal and see the ships go through the locks. The best time to go is earlier in the morning. We encourage our visitors to make it their first stop of the day. The visitor center opens at 9 a.m., and often by 10:00 a.m. the ships are done going through the locks to the north and don’t start up again until mid-afternoon. There is a great museum, as well as a theater that shows a video (in English) ever hour about the history of the canal and the new expansion. Admission is $15 for adults.
2. Ancon Hill: The high point in Panama city at 454 feet. Ancon Hill has views of the Panama Canal, both the Bridge of Americas and the Centennial bridge, as well as downtown Panama. We often see toucans, armadillos, sloths and other wildlife on the mountain. Many people walk to the top — a 45 minute hike!
3. Amador Causeway: There is a new artisan market that sells local crafts, the Bio-Diversity museum, the duty free store and some great views of the city and harbor from the islands. Feeding crackers to the ocean fish at high tide is one of my favorite activities there.
4. Casco Viejo: The old city dates back to the 1670’s. Casco Viejo was built after the original city was burned to the ground in 1670 after a battle with the privateer Henry Morgan. Most of the villagers escaped in their boats, and the new location was chosen, as it had better natural defenses. Iglesia San Jose (church of the golden altar) is one of the most popular tourist attractions, as is French point. Many people do not realize the French were here from 1881-1889 and were instrumental in starting the Panama Canal.
Outside the city, we often get asked about snorkeling, Portobelo old forts, Gatun Locks and the Canal expansion and El Valle.
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What are your favorite Panamanian foods?
I love the fruit: pineapple, the sweet bananas and papaya, and in mango season I collect as many mangoes as I can and dehydrate them so I have mangoes year round. Neil loves to visit the little fondas for rice and beans and chicken meals.
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What are some of your favorite restaurants in Panama?
In Panama city I love the Leños & Carbon on the Amador Causeway. The food is consistently excellent and we always try to sit so we are overlooking the water and the city. Coronado is home, and we have several favorites: Malibu, Todo el Carbon, Pantay and Coronado Cafe.
You live in Panama and you’re a local expert now, so obviously you’ve done all the top “tourist” stuff. When you have an entirely free day and really want to enjoy the Panama living experience, what’s your own personal idea of a perfect day in Panama?
Yes, we do the “tourist” trips everyday with our customers. We both love the quiet Coronado days where we can take our dogs and walk on the beach and meet friends for a quiet dinner. We both enjoy entertaining and have a large group of friends come on Canadian Thanksgiving and on Christmas eve to celebrate with us.
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What else can you share about living in Panama?
Living in Panama is an ongoing adventure and there is always something new to learn about the country. The growth and expansion of the country has been amazing, and we see new buildings up almost every month. Economically, the country is doing well and tourism is on the rise, as people from North America and Europe find out about this little piece of paradise. Panama uses American currency (and has its own coin system) which makes it very easy for North Americans to visit.