Panama City’s Great Outdoors Is Great For Walking, Jogging, And Keeping Fit
As you may have heard, I have undergone a few life changes of late. Some of these changes have been by choice, others less so. As a member again of free society, I can report some benefits of my recent experiences. One has been getting in much better shape. Since the first of February, when my life took a very unexpected turn one afternoon on the jetway of Panama City’s international airport, I’ve lost about 40 pounds. Now your valiant correspondent is a fit and sexy 185, down from about 225.
I wish I could take all the credit for this. I can’t, but I am now committed to staying in shape. Ultimately, I hope to return to Panama City, where I’ve been a part-time resident for the past three years. And I’ve been thinking through how, back in Panama City, I’ll stay fit. Here are my recommendations, for myself and for you if you, too, are planning a stay in Panama’s capital.
One big downside to this city from a staying-in-shape point of view is that it’s not a town for walking. You’ll notice right away that no one walks anywhere, and it is a rare sight indeed to see someone jogging. A Panamanian is more likely to spend 30 minutes getting his car out of the parking garage and down the street two blocks to his lunch destination than walking that distance.
There are two good reasons for this. The first is that, walking or jogging down any Panama City street, your chances of falling into a hole are not insignificant. Proper sidewalks are not a priority in this city. The second reason no one walks or jogs in Panama City is because drivers do not give you the right of way. They are more likely to run you over than stop for you. Even if a driver wanted to slow or stop to avoid hitting you, he’d likely be so surprised to see a jogger pass in front of him that he’d be unable to find the brake pedal in time.
This means that you will need to do your training in a formally designated area. The most popular gym option is Power Club, with locations in El Cangrejo, Punta Pacifica, and seven other spots around Panama City. The website is www.powerclubgym.net, but be warned. The beautiful pictures on this site are misleading. I was a member of Power Club El Cangrejo, on Via Argentina, for a year-and-a-half, and I do not recognize any of the photos on the website.
Power Club is a full-service gym, with a decent number of weight and cardio machines, classes, and everything a U.S. gym would offer. However, the facilities are smaller, have more members (which means lines for the machines), and can be more than double the price compared with a California gym. I can’t remember waiting for a cardio machine in California when I belonged to a gym there, and I can’t remember not waiting for a machine in Panama. Registration fees at Power Club range from US$99 to US$25, and monthly dues range from US$80 (month-to-month) to US$50 (12-month contract). My fitness club in California charged no registration fee and cost US$30 per month.
You should think carefully about which Power Club you join. The Power Club in Punta Pacifica is filled with business people in the mornings and evenings, and homemakers and retirees in the afternoons…something like a California club. The Power Club in El Cangrejo is filled with Colombian hookers from about 1 p.m. (I guess their wake-up time) to 6 p.m. (off to the office). The El Cangrejo gym might be a good option for you and your wife in the mornings and for a single guy on a fishing expedition in the early evenings.
Another option is a gym in a hotel or condo building. Off the record, my favorite escapade in Panama City was sneaking in to the gym at the Veneto Hotel in El Cangrejo. No one asks questions of gringos wandering around that hotel, and no one is watching the gym. Simply go up to the pool deck, turn right, and the gym is on your left, across from the spa. It is a good size fitness center with weights and cardio, and the gym, unlike the bar, is usually hooker-free.
There are three places where it is acceptable to walk, run, or jog out-of-doors in Panama City: Parque Omar, Cinta Costera, and the Causeway. Parque Omar is a golf course converted to a public park. This is where most Panamanians go to exercise. It usually opens at 5 a.m. and closes around 10 p.m. The park is about 5 kilometers long and includes a well-maintained walking path, basketball courts, public swimming pool, soccer field, and a playground for the kids. My single female Panamanian friends have always felt safe walking around Parque Omar at night.
Parque Omar is located on Via Porras in the San Francisco area, just a few blocks from the Live and Invest Overseas world headquarters. If you are planning a visit to the park, do me a favor and drop in on LIO to pick up Lief Simon. He could use a good run in the park, and he just loves a surprise.
If you prefer to walk or run along the water, head to the Amador Causeway. This peninsula is just outside the city, at the southern tip of the Panama Canal. It reaches about 3 kilometers in to the Pacific Ocean, with long stretches of running and biking tracks. The good thing about the Causeway is that it is lined with great bars and restaurants. The bad thing about the Causeway is that it is lined with great bars and restaurants, which just might tempt you away from your fitness goals and in to a night of drunken fun and frivolity. Oh, well, there is always tomorrow…
The city’s newest park area is the Cinta Costera, which runs along the busy waterfront boulevard Avenida Balboa and is lined with palm trees and features views of the Bay of Panama and Casco Viejo. The park is a great walking and jogging route and, for most residents of the city, saves a lot of time driving to and from the Causeway.
Of course, as with many things in Panama, there is a downside. Panama City’s raw sewage pours into the bay from a series of pipes just below the Cinta Costera. This is especially noxious when the tide is out. For years, the government has said it is working on the problem, but it is still not fixed. So before heading off for a run along the Cinta Costera, consult your international version of The Old Farmer’s Almanac to determine moon position and the accompanying tides.
One more note while we’re on the subject of enjoying the great outdoors in Panama City–to do with pets. Panama City is not pet-friendly. You rarely see someone walking his dog and doing such is frowned upon…again, with three exceptions–the Causeway, the Cinta Costera, and Parque Omar. Feel free to take your furry friend on your walk in these zones.
Live and Invest Overseas Editorial Staff
“Kathleen, I love Panama and Panama City in particular. However I am an avid walker wherever I live. Is there any part of the city that’s walkable? The part I visited was not, which has dissuaded me somewhat for Panama to be my second home. I would appreciate your insight. Thank you.”
–Eliza G., Canada
No, Panama City is not built for pedestrians.
I like to walk, too. That’s one reason our Live and Invest Overseas offices are in the El Cangrejo neighborhood of Panama City. This is the most walkable area of Panama City proper.
Outlying “suburbs” can be more pedestrian-friendly—Costa del Este and the emerging neighborhoods in Panama Pacifico, for example.
However, in downtown Panama City, crossing the street, walking down the block, or even going around the corner on foot is not to be undertaken lightly. You need to watch where you place your feet (lest you step in an open manhole, for example, as I’ve known three people who have done, or trip over a cavernous crack in the sidewalk) and what’s at head level, too (dangling wires and low-hanging tree branches lie in wait around every turn).