Written by Erika Renee
For the last two years, we at Unity Travel have had the joy of partnering with The Day After, Panama’s premier music festival. This partnership has allowed us to take the uncertainty international attendees may face out of the experience, allowing travelers to enjoy the festival and everything this cosmopolitan city has to offer. With it’s close proximity to the US, fascinating history and plenty of natural beauty, Panama is the prime spot for your first (or second…or third!) international festival,
Unlike the saturated festival markets of Europe, Asia, and the United States, Panama is virtually untouched. Disco Donnie and ShowPro Panama have brought a first of its kind experience to Central America, and relationships with artists like Jack U, Above & Beyond, Zedd, Bob Moses, Guy Gerber, Magda and more created the perfect blend of genres. The venue was certainly large enough to host this wide variety of talent, but small enough to avoid feeling lost—it also made a good amount of stage-hopping perfectly doable.
Partnering with TDA put our headquarters at the Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis. Since pretty much everyone stayed there, it was easy to run in to everyone from festie friends to artists…we spotted Above & Beyond at the breakfast buffet. The hotel’s nightclub Bling hosted both local and international talent, and the rooftop pool made the perfect spot for Sunday’s day party.
If you have the time (hint: come a few days early!), we highly recommend splurging for the hotel’s Panama Canal/Casco Viejo tour. Learning the history from a local who appreciated the truth of his country was enlightening, and we were given plenty of tips on what else to do, and what to avoid. The tour of the Miraflores Locks of Panama Canal was included in this particular tour, and it was absolutely wild to see infrastructure that so heavily influenced the world’s economies. Fun fact: Casco Viejo translates to Old Quarter; it’s the quaint historical district of Panama City where you’ll find local hotspots for dining and drinks away from the tourist-driven (and overpriced) district.
Anyone looking for the chance to explore on foot should definitely check out the breathtaking Avenida Balboa, a well paved walk/bike ride along the coast of the city—and only a three mile ride from the hotel. Cabs don’t have an official payment system, so if you’re not comfortable negotiating a price Uber is available for just about $2-$3 a ride. Wear comfortable sandals and stop for “raspao”, shaved ice street food that’s perfect on a hot summer days. Avenida Balboa is well lit at all times, and I felt totally safe heading home at 1:00am after watching a dance crew practice on the waterfront.
On a different note, as expected, Panamanian food was on point. Here’s a quick list of the places we enjoyed:
The Fish Market: Definitely a sight to see! You will find the best ceviche here, and everyone knows it. Dozens of restaurants lined up around each other will flash their menus and try to convince you they have the best ceviche, but you honestly can’t go wrong with any of them. I highly recommend ceviche in a platano (fried “banana”) bowl, and some local fruit juice with added Panamanian rum…t’was lit. 😉 We ate at a corner restaurant that had a view of the shore from the side and front. Locals roam the area selling everything from paintings to flowers to keychains and earrings; trinkets only cost $3 at most, so definitely a good place to buy inexpensive gifts.
Tantalo Kitchen & Bar: This place was superb, with locally sourced ingredients served as tapas and delicious cocktails. It was recommended as a top place to eat at, and it certainly lived up to the hype. After dinner, we headed upstairs to the rooftop nightclub/bar with sultry Latin beats and great views of the city at night. This is the place to go for an authentic local experience, just be sure to bring a jacket if you plan on enjoying the rooftop…it gets windy!
Diablicos: This well-known gem lies along the shore in Casco Viejo, near the city’s oldest church. We didn’t have the pleasure of eating here, but it comes highly recommended, holding the reputation as best restaurant for traditional Panamanian food.
La Rana Dorada: Probably the most hipster bar in all of Panama. Local craft beer on tap, hand crafted cocktails and a good time await you at this spot, located at the start of Casco Viejo.
Caution and awareness are always advised when traveling. A few tips: wear clothing with deep front pockets if possible, and avoid putting anything in your back pockets. Only carry what you need for the day, and ladies, use a cross-body bag without outer pockets. It’s very easy to get around the city, so don’t feel the need to carry everything with you at all times. Pay attention to your surroundings when bringing out your cell phone in public, avoid flashy jewelry, and consider dressing more modestly than usual (I made the mistake of wearing a crop top). The golden rule of alcohol definitely applies here: never accept drinks from strangers, not even the servers if you didn’t order it. Though I never felt unsafe, it’s always best to be prepared!