From the Burg to Panama: An Extraordinary Adventure

** Enter to win round trip tickets to Panama at the end of the article ** 

While we love the Burg more than words can ever adequately express, the travel bug is rampant in our downtown office. Earlier this year, we were fortunate enough to travel to the beautiful country of Panama. Our guide, Josue, with Visit Panama gifted us not only with an in depth look at Panamanian culture today, but also with his encylopedic knowledge of the country’s past.

For example, did you know that the hats commercially refered to as “Panama” are actually from Ecuador? Teddy Roosevelt was photographed during his historic visit to the country in 1906 at the controls of a a ninety-five-ton Bucyrus steam shovel wearing the now iconic hat. Once the photo was published, people from all over America began to note the president’s “Panama” hat. The rest is history.

After a first class trip courtesy of Copa Airlines — international travel is a perfect excuse for a bit of mile high bubbly — we arrived at the bustling Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. From there, adventure awaited. Here are our favorite moments from the trip.

Panama Canal

There’s nothing quite like witnessing a cargo load pass through the Panama Canal. After nine years of intensive work and roughly $5 billion in updates, the canal is now equipped with a third set of locks and deeper navigation channels. This will exponentially increase the canal’s capacity for carrying cargo between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Back in the early 1900s, it took roughly 75,000 workers to create the 50 mile long channel. Today, it accounts for 6 percent of trade in the entire world.  It costs nearly $450,000 per passage for a vessel carrying 4,500 containers. The country hopes that with the expansion of the canal, and the allowance for larger vessels, those costs can go down.

We felt like ants motoring by the cargo ships on their way to the canal. Crowds of visitors flocked to a chainlink fence under a fierce sun to watch a cargo ship make its slow passage through the canal.

Our guide also informed us that no boat has crossed the canal more than the Isla Morada, once owned by Al Capone.  The boat is over 100 years old and was used to smuggle rum and whiskey from the Domincan Republic and Cuba to an island in Key West during prohibtion.



The Biomuseo

The design for the stunning Biomuseo was conceived by architect Frank Gehry. He gifted the design to Panama in 2004, and in 2014 construction was finally completed in Panama City. Its eight exhibits feature work curated by the Smithsonian and the Univeristy of Panama.

Upon entering, we were brought into a dark room where a hall of screens treated us to a multi-sensory experience.

After passing through halls of fossils and digital displays representing the formation of present day Panama, we found ourselves amongst sculptures depiciting the diverse and captivating wildlife that once existed in the country. We’re still reconciling with the fact that we’ll never actually get to see a terror bird in person. An outdoor hall boasts hues of orange, blue, red and green with the history of the country written and drawn on giant pillars. The coastal views, illuminant garden and interactive exhibits provided us with a comprehensive education in Panamanian culture.


Ancon Hill

Our guide brought us up the 654 foot hill known as Cerro Ancon, which features the highest point in all of Panama City. The views of the burgeoning downtown area are juxtaposed by the lush trees that frame every shot and clouds that billow and roll overhead. The hill was only just returned to Panama in 1977.

If you arrive at the top at just the right time you might catch sloth coming out of a nap. The first ship to ever cross the Panama Canal, the SS Ancon, took its name from the hill. Today, the national flag flies proudly at the hill’s peak.


Churches of Casco Viejo 

Catedral Metropolitana is one of the largest in all of Central America. The gorgeous structure was completed in 1796 using stones from the ruined cathedral at Panama Viejo. It is currently receiving some much needed restoration work.

La Iglesia de la Merced was built in 1680 also using stones from the ruined cathedral at Panama Viejo.

Iglesia San Jose, built in 1673, is famous for its striking baroque golden altar. It’s garnered a bit of notoriety for surviving pirate Henry Morgan’s sacking of Panama Viejo in 1671. The story goes that a priest painted the opulent altar black and convinced the pirates that it had already been stolen. The altar was later moved to its current location at Iglesia San Jose.

Our trip also consisted of architecture appreciation, visiting local shops, feeding monkies and trailing iguanas on the Gatun River, dancing in the Old Quarter, absorbing the energy and excitement of a Panamanian film festival and enjoying all of the fun trivia our guide sent our way. If you want to learn a bit more you can visit a page he created dedicated to the history of the country: Recuerdos De Panama.


Copa Airlines is offering special rates from Tampa Bay to select destinations in Latin America. Click HERE for more information. Copa offers direct flights from 12 US cities to their Hub of the Americas in Panama City, which offers connections to more than 55 destinations throughout Latin America. With Copa Airlines you can visit two exotic locations with just one ticket! Just contact the Copa Airlines reservations center.




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Terms and Conditions:
  • Tickets are valid for Coach Class travel on Copa Airlines.
  • Tickets are not transferable, not refundable.
  • All tickets are subject to normal changes in flight schedules and routings. Passengers have to travel together.
  • Tickets may be claimed until December 31, 2016. Once issued, they shall be valid for ninety (90) days after the date of issue. Extensions not permitted.
  • Upgrades are not allowed.
  • Passenger will not accrue miles on ConnectMiles, MileagePlus or any other frequent flyer program.
  • Passenger will be responsible for any excess baggage fees.
  • Copa Airlines is not responsible for the payment of government or airport taxes imposed by city of origin or destination.  Such taxes must be paid when the tickets are issued.
  • Certain blackout periods apply (rev. Jan 2016):  January 1 – 4, February 4 – 14,  March 23 – 29, June 18 – August 10, November 1 – 13, 16 – 28, and December 15 – 31. Copa Airlines reserves the right to change these blackout dates at anytime. Due to limited number of seats available, travel may not be available on preferred travel dates. Travel is allowed on flights operated by Copa Airlines only. No travel is permitted on code share flights.

Written by Andrew Harlan

Andrew Harlan

Andrew Harlan is in his third year as Writer/Editor of New York Times bestselling author Andre Dubus III has said of him, “Andrew Harlan has a sharp and discerning eye for detail that deftly captures character and landscape." He has published fiction and poetry in Sabal and Prime Number Literary Magazine. He graduated with honors from Eckerd College in 2013 with a B.A. in Creative Writing and a minor in Literature. He can be reached by phone: (727) 896-3435 or email: