Sunday, March 20, 2011

5 fun places to go with kids around Panama City

A couple of things you should know, I am not talking about places designed specifically for children, rather places that will appeal to the whole family.   Also, Panama City is hot and humid and you probably want to plan outdoor activities for earlyish morning and late afternoon (you will end up red-faced and soaked in sweat if you hike in Parque Metropolitano at high noon--trust me, I know).  In no particular order (and I'm sure this is not the definitive list), here are five great places to take kids in Panama City that are not the mall:
Parque Metropolitano
This is a beautiful park right in the city.  It is called the "lung of Panama."  On a recent morning visit we saw monkeys and a Motmot.  It always seems incredible to me that these beautiful animals are just right there (who needs zoos?).  The trails are all easy and well marked; it is possible to walk the network of trails in under three hours.  There are some of the best city views from the top lookout point (this is also a great spot to stop for a picnic).   The park is also home to a rehabilitation center; when we were there the other day, they were bringing in a tranquilized deer that had wandered out of the park and into the city.

The Causeway
The Amador Causeway has 5 kilometres of bike path/walkway along the Pacific entrance of the Canal.  It is possible to rent bikes and there are places to get ice cream and cold drinks (as well as lots of restaurants).  You will see spectacular city views and you can watch ships entering the canal.  There is usually a decent breeze on the causeway, making it a great place for kite flying.  The Smithsonian has a small nature centre on Punta Culebra, where there are touch pools (you can hold a starfish) and other marine exhibits.  Something I am very excited about is the opening (at the end of this year) of the Museo de Biodiversidad.  This natural history museum and botanical garden was designed by Frank Gehry and is interesting to look at under construction; it will be a great addition to the city.

Unless your kids are fascinated by feats of engineering (and I know some kids are), this is probably a place you'll only want to visit once.  Miraflores has a very good museum explaining the workings of the canal.  There is also a viewing deck to watch the locks in action.  The museum has some good hands-on exhibits that children will enjoy (a simulation of driving a boat through the canal).  It is one the most visited tourist spots in Panama, but with good reason.

Casco Viejo
The old city is beautiful.  The cobblestone streets and plazas around every corner make for some fun exploring.  You can get fancy ice cream or just a raspado (snow cone).  There are little shops and interesting buildings in various stages of repair and disrepair.  Casco Viejo is the cultural heart of Panama City and there is some interesting street art to look at as well as galleries to duck into.  Casco Viejo is great for a couple of hours of wandering on quiet afternoon.

Kiwanis Park in Clayton
I chose Kiwanis over Parque Omar because you can cycle on the loop around Kiwanis.  Parque Omar is a beautiful park but you can't cycle there.  If you don't have your own transportation, Parque Omar is probably a better choice than Kiwanis (taxis to Clayton can be difficult).   Kiwanis is a large sports complex in the canal zone (it's beside Ciudad de Saber/City of Knowledge) in Clayton.  There are soccer fields and baseball diamonds, a running/cycling path,  a gym, and a full-sized pool ($1 to use the pool!).  The pool facilities are clean and well maintained and there is a kiddie wading pool beside the big pool.  There are some beautiful trees on the perimeter of the park.  The park itself has picnic shelters and a playground.  The park gets quite busy on Sunday afternoons, but the rest of the week it's  quiet.  We taught both of my daughters to ride their bikes in this park.

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