“Tour”: a word that doesn’t really have any place in a backpacker’s vocabulary. But we can make exceptions.
I tend to believe the first day you arrive anywhere, all rules are off. You don’t have to do everything, you don’t have to do anything, you just arrived, take a minute, breathe.
My usual go-to is dropping off my things, taking a walk and getting my bearings with the neighborhood I’m staying in, but the day I arrived felt different, with my flight getting in so early I truly had a full day ahead of me and for lack of a better plan, wanted to get as much “box-ticking” done as possible.
So I hired a driver.
Casco Viejo? Tick!
Cinta Costera? Tick.
Pedro Miguel locks?
Famous fish market?
Tick. Tick. Tick.
I didn’t have a lot invested in Panama City, and with a huge layout and a bus system I didn’t care to learn for a short stay, I was happy to see the city in this manner. A driver also has an air conditioned car, a breadth of history knowledge, and carries the best secrets of the locals, some luxuries of not totally going it alone. Miguel, the driver, knew the timing of the boats through the canal and was able to stop at a set of locks outside the visitors center, which saved me $15 and from having to deal with a slew of other bodies.
The day ended with ceviche and beers overlooking the water; by this point I could have collapsed as it was still the same day I landed off an overnight flight with no rest. Maybe my day didn’t have the charm of discovering places on my own, but I’d learned a lot, stayed cool (only in the temperature sense), and didn’t waste a second of the day. With not so much needing the second night I booked in Panama City for the following day anymore, I returned to the hostel to plan for getting right out to the beaches: next up, San Blas.