Before the pandemic, back when it never would’ve occurred to us that face masks would be essential parts of our wardrobes, I was lucky enough to travel all across the American continent… everywhere from up north in Canada to way down south in Chile and Argentina.
Granted, these trips were for work—but during my time off there was no way you’d catch me cooped up inside a hotel room. Not when there were so many new places to discover…
Back in Panama with excess time on my hands while in lockdown, I got to thinking about what type of lifestyle I wanted to have post-pandemic. It dawned on me that my sense of adventure only ever perked up while traveling. The urge to go out and explore never seemed to hit me while home…
I’d never actually taken the time to go out and see what was near and dear to my heart. The little isthmus of Panama is my home, specifically Panama City… Just how proud of being cédula 8 could I be if I didn’t even know my surroundings? (Fun fact: Panamanian IDs, also called cédulas, vary in the first digit depending on the region of birth. Panama City is 8, Colón is 3, Chiriquí is 4, etc.)
I made a list of all the places that any visitor to Panama would want to see. Ready to start looking at my city with fresh eyes, pen and paper in hand, I began to think like a tourist…
My first stop, I decided, needed to be something easy, accessible, yet at the same time emblematic…
My first thought was the pride and joy of every Panamanian—the Canal. But I had already been there and felt the need to discover somewhere new…
And then I thought, what’s more emblematic than the Panamanian flag?
Flying into the country, it’d be almost impossible to not see the enormous flag that waves solemnly above its hill. That view is the same one that made me feel like I was home after every trip away.
I made a plan to hike up Cerro Ancón (Ancon Hill) to the flag right then and there.
A Quick History Lesson…
Cerro Ancón is a 653-foot hill rich in history… Back in 1671 when the infamous pirate Henry Morgan was getting ready to ransack Panama City, his scouts climbed up the hill to get a better look at the local defenses and prepare to attack. After the destruction and mayhem they caused, the city was rebuilt near the hill and inaugurated as the New City in 1676. Some 200 years after that, the French chose the hillside to build a hospital.
Then came the Americans, and in 1904 when construction for the Panama Canal began, the hill served as a quarry and was placed under U.S. jurisdiction.
For 75 long years, Panamanians had no access to Cerro Ancón. This is the reason why such a large flag, said to be the size of a basketball court, was hoisted here. The hill symbolizes the locals’ struggle to regain sovereignty.
Today, both Panamanians and visitors can hike up the now protected area at no cost to enjoy the extraordinary wildlife (I spotted a sloth carrying her baby up a tree on my way to the top) and breathtaking views of Panama Bay as well as the rest of the city.
Wildlife You’re Likely To Run In To…
Cerro Ancón is home to 260 kinds of plants and 70 animal species, like the Central American squirrel monkey, two- and three-toed sloths, toucans, iguanas, and nine-banded armadillos to name a few.
The hill was declared protected territory in 2001 to conserve the area’s wildlife. Panama has over 996 recorded bird species; 28% of these are migratory. This is a bird lover’s paradise…
How To Get Here…
The quickest ways to get to Cerro Ancón are uber, hailing a cab (if you’re up for it), or driving to one of the two entrances: the first entrance is located next to the Mi Pueblito Tourist Center on Avenida Los Mártires, and the second entrance can be accessed from the Panama Canal Administration Building.
I recommend accessing from the Administration Building. Google Maps took me to the first entrance and the street was closed. Some friendly policemen let me know that the only entrance available at the time was through the Administration Building.
You can also take the bus or metro. The nearest station is 5 de Mayo. You’ll need to purchase a metro card, which goes for US$2, and then charge it with the amount you need. Bus fare is just 25 cents and a metro ride will set you back just 35 cents.
I recommend saving yourself the hassle and just taking an uber.
The hill is open for hikers every day of the week from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased up. You must, however, wear your mask at all times.
The trail is considered an easy climb—it only takes 30 minutes to get to the top. The road is paved the entire way up, and there are several water fountains along the way. There are also bathroom facilities once you reach the top and several viewpoints to choose from.
Besides the spectacular views and humbling presence of the enormous flag at the summit, you’ll also find a statue of renowned Panamanian poet, Amelia Denis de Icaza. The hill and what it represented at the time served as inspiration for her most famous poem: “Al Cerro Ancón.”
Renting In The Area…
The Cerro Ancón area is particularly safe due to its 24-hour police presence. Because it’s a protected area and thanks to its history, there are important buildings on its slopes—hence the police protection.
I was pleasantly surprised to find housing available here… if you’re a nature lover but like to be close to the city, Cerro Ancón is the place for you—specifically Quarry Heights.
As I was making my way down towards my car after my hike, I noticed a couple of buildings with vehicles in the garages. Some of these buildings had for rent signs on them. Curiosity got the best of me, and I ended up getting a tour of the apartments for rent. What surprised me most was how cheap these apartments were…
In total, the building administrator showed me three apartments ranging from US$500 to US$650. The bigger apartments were already rented out but these were pretty decent sized for the price.
The apartments are furnished and have brand new appliances. The rent covers water, Wi-Fi, gas, and electricity.
The views from the balconies depending on how high up you are range from luscious trees and the hiking trail to views of one of the bridges over the Panama Canal. It’s common for monkeys and sloths to show up on your balcony if you leave fruit out for them.
My hike up Cerro Ancón was revitalizing to say the least. I understand now more than ever why Amelia dedicated an entire poem to this hill… very cédula 8 of me, finally.
If you’re outdoorsy or just feel like getting some fresh air… Cerro Ancón is your best option within the city.
What better way to see what Panama has to offer than a quick climb up this historic hill?
As for my growing Panama City bucket list… I’m pleased to say that the next adventure is soon to come.