Ancon Hill- Panama City’s landmark

January 02, 2010 By: Administrator Category: Travel guide

When you look from your (back) room window in the Balboa Inn, you can’t fail to see the imposing ‘Cerro Ancón’. Ancon Hill is a steep 654-foot hill which overlooks Panama City, Panama. It is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the area.


It was under U.S. jurisdiction as part of the Panama Canal Zone for much of the 20th Century, and therefore was never developed like most of the surrounding urbanized parts of the city. The lower slopes contained residences and the Gorgas Hospital. Higher up the hill were the residence of the Governor of the Canal Zone, and Quarry Heights, where the U.S. Southern Command was located. Quarry Heights was named for being adjacent to a large rock quarry on one side of the hill, which left a visible cliff face on one side. The hill contains an abandoned undeground bunker once manned by the U.S. Southern Command.

As much of it was undeveloped, it became a sort of “island” in an urban area, where wildlife still survived cut off from other jungle areas. It is not uncommon to see sloths, coatimundi, armadillos or deer on Ancon Hill which status is now protected. Its name is used as an acronym by Panama’s environmental group, Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (ANCON) which has its offices there.

It’s a really nice hike up the hill – best in the morning – and at just a few minutes from the Balboa Inn its a nice way to get your day started in Panama. If you don’t want to make the sweaty hike have a cab take you up and you can enjoy the views on your walk down.

Miraflores Locks/ Visitors Center

January 02, 2010 By: Administrator Category: Travel guide

The Panama Canal locks at Miraflores mark the Pacific entry of the Panama Canal. At just 10 minutes by car from the Balboa Inn, you don’t want to miss this one.

The Miraflores Visitor Center is the perfect location to watch the operations of the Panama Canal and to learn more about how the Canal works and its history. The facility includes three observation terraces, a full-outfitted theater, 2 snack bars, a restaurant with the best views in Panama City and of course…the gift shop.

The visitor center provides interactive elements that explain to you more about the functions of the canal along with video presentations and actual historic pieces. These elements are divided into four exhibition halls; the History Hall, the Hall of Water, the Canal in Action, and the Canal in the World. Each exhbition hall as evident from its title provides insight into separate aspects of the Canal.

Getting to the Miraflores Visitor Center is easy, its close to Panama City and very popular so grabbing a taxi there will be no problem. And if you can come to the center in the afternoon and have a drink in their restaurant and enjoy the amazing views from the terrace. If you’re staying for dinner be sure to make reservations prior.

The hours for the Visitor’s Center are:
Monday-Sunday, holidays included
Ticket Office: 9am-4pm
Exhibition Halls/Snack Bar/Gift Shop: 9am-5pm
Restaurant: 12pm-11pm

Ticket Prices for Visitors Exhibtion Center (Non Residents):

Complete Package
(exhibitions, observation decks, snack bars, restaurant and gift shop)

Adults- $8

Students/Minors (5 to 17yrs)- $5

Children under 5- Free

Partial Package
(ground terrace, snack bars, restaurant and gift shop)

Adults- $5

Students/ Minors (5 to 17rs) -$3

Children under 5- Free

* Rates for Nationals/Residents are about half these prices, so if you are a Jubilado be sure to bring your carnet.

La Pollera, Panama’s national dress

January 01, 2010 By: Administrator Category: Culture

polleras-blogThe Pollera is the most beautiful and admired national costume of the Americas. There are many tales related about its origin, but the popular opinion is that it was adapted from a gypsy dress worn in Spain at the time of the conquest of Peru and brought to Panama by the servants of the colonial families. It normally consists of a blouse or shirt and a two-tiered full skirt.
The lavish satins and brocades that made up the dress of society at that time were not suited to the tropical climate and the servants’ garb was appropriated by the mistress and enhanced with lace and embroidery. It was not worn outside of the home but gradually the ladies added more lace and ribbons, ornaments for the hair (tembleques) and jewelry for the neck and eventually it made its way into the public eye.

The experts agree that the ground cloth must be white and the 12 yards of material required can be fine linen, cambric or voile. The motifs may be formed by birds, flowers, fruit, vines, garlands or native designs. The height of elegance is achieved when these designs are executed in “talco en sombra” which is hand-sewn appliqué; however, they can be also created in cross stitch or embroidery. The cost of the gala costumes runs into hundreds and sometimes, thousands of dollars, depending on the hand work involved.

The basic pieces of the pollera are the gown or upper part, the skirt or lower part and the petticoat or underskirt. The gown or blouse consists of two ruffles, appliquéd or embroidered in favored color and design edged with valencienne lace and gracefully draped from handmade thread lace insertion at the neckline (this blouse is worn off the shoulder.) Wool is woven in and out of the insertions and two big pom-poms are centered at the chest and back. The wool must be the same color as the shoes, which are heel-less and made from velvet or satin.


The skirt is two wide pieces ornamented with the chosen motif and joined together with insertion and bordered with insertion and lace. It is very fully gathered on a waist band. Four wide ribbons hang from the waist, two in the center front and two in the back–they are called “gallardetes”, meaning “graceful streamers”. The petticoat is often as elaborate as the skirt but is always pure white and the trimming is hand-made thread lace

The ornaments, “tembleques”, for the hair are exquisite. A large tortoise shell comb embellished with pearls and gold is worn on top of the head and resembles a crown. This is the key piece and the gold hairpins and tembleques, which are quivering pins and worn in pairs, are placed on the head to give the appearance of a radiant halo. Two small discs tied to the hair at the temples with black silk thread and large gold filigree earrings with pearls or corals complete the head dress.

The jewelry adorning the neck usually consists of a pearl or coral rosary, a flat gold chain or “cadena chata”, a chain of gold coins and a gold cross on a black velvet ribbon worn as a choker. The jewelry worn with the pollera in the olden days was indicative of one’s wealth and sometimes as many as a dozen chains were worn, all of pure gold and precious gems. A large gold and pearl button or rosetta is worn over the wool pom-pom and a purse suspended from the waistline and fastened with two gold brooches is the finishing touch.

Four days before Ash Wednesday are “carnival” days and La Pollera comes into its own. The streets are filled with merry makers and each Pollera one sees seems to be more beautiful that the last. La Pollera has to be seen to appreciate the work and imagination that produces this loveliest of dresses. The grace and enchantment of the Panamanian women is never more in evidence that when she is wearing La Pollera.

Canal Administration Building

May 25, 2009 By: Administrator Category: History, Travel guide

At only 5 minutes walking from the Balboa Inn and atop a large hill rests the Panama Canal Administration building…

The building overlooks the Pacific entrance of the canal along with parts of the city and the nearby Balboa neighborhood. It houses the administrative offices of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) however its not all business and paperwork here, the building is also known for its amazing murals that adorn the rotunda of the building. These murals are a narration of the history of the Canal and the intense manual labor that went into its construction. It is a way of commemorating the history of the Canal and all those who worked on its construction and operations.

The administration building is a 5-10 minute walk from the inn and less than a 5 min taxi ride from Albrook Airport. It’s also the starting point for the hike up Cerro Ancon, It lies right of the side of Ave Roosevelt and atop a large hill i.e. you can’t miss it. For more information about the Canal visit their website.

Domestic Airport: Marcos A. Gelabert

May 18, 2009 By: Administrator Category: Travel guide

One reason many guests decide to stay at the Balboa Inn is our conveniently close location near Panama’s domestic airport Albrook Airport (official name: Aeropuerto Marcos A. Gelabert). Flights from here will take you to all parts of Panama including David and Bocas del Toro. The two airlines are AirPanama and Aeroperlas. If you have a flight with either of these two airlines do check about 24 hours ahead of time to confirm the time.

Domestic airlines have luggage restrictionsPlease remember these are small planes so the airlines have luggage weight restrictions in place, currently 25 pounds per person. If you have more than that, you can safely leave luggage in storage at the Balboa Inn until you return. Well, assuming you carry a little less than this lady. Also a note about liquids, sometimes they are sticklers about liquids and aerosols so keep this in mind. It’s not part of their official regulations but it has happened in the past that they prohibit these items.

If you are thinking about renting a car in Panama for a trip to the interior you might consider picking it up at the Albrook Airport this way you can avoid the hassle of going all the way back to the Tocumen International Airport.

Getting to the airport is easy as it is just a 5 minute taxi ride from the Balboa Inn and right next to the Main Bus Terminal and Albrook Mall. For more information about Albrook Airport call (507) 315-0403.

Below a picture to give you an idea of Albrook airport and its surroundings.Albrook airport is around the corner from the Balboa Inn

Car Rental Agencies at Albrook Airport:

National Car Rental: (507) 315-0416 / 0417

Budget Car Rental: (507) 263–8777

Thrifty Car Rental: (507) 315-0144

Helicopter Rental/Tours at Albrook Airport:

Helipan Corp.

Albrook Mall: Shopper’s Paradise

May 18, 2009 By: Administrator Category: Travel guide

albrookDepending on where you come from and what you need to buy, you may want to pay a visit to the Albrook Mall, the largest (covered) mall in Central America. Located just 5 minutes from the Balboa Inn ($2 taxi) and across the runway from the domestic airport, Albrook mall is great if you need:

* clothing
* electronics
* catch a bus to the country side

The Albrook Mall is attached to the Main Terminal where you can catch a bus into Panama City or even further into the interior of the country. You can even catch a bus to Costa Rica from the terminal.

The terminal aside though, Albrook Mall is a HUGE shopping mall that could take you hours to get through because of everything it has to offer. At first slightly overwhelming this mall can be maze-like but once you get the hang of it you can enjoy the variety of shopping here.

The stores range from affordable department stores like Conway and Titan to more brand name boutiques like Diesel and Converse. It also includes a bowling alley, movie theater, supermarket, pharmacy, and plenty of places to eat. Either way this mall is worth a visit and if you’ll be staying in Panama for a while you will find yourself visiting often whether its to catch a movie at Cinemark or grab groceries at Super 99.

Mall Hours:

* M-Thur 10am-8pm
* Fri & Sat 10am-9pm
* Sun 11am-7pm

Isla de Barro Colorado

May 18, 2009 By: Administrator Category: Travel guide


One of the prize points of Panama is its flourishing ecotourism. You can be just 20 minutes out of the city and explore the wildlife of the rain forest. Panama is home to thousands of different species and Isla de Barro Colorado is a well maintained reserve that is home to many of them.

The island was created during the construction of the Panama Canal and is currently used for research by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Access to the island is allowed to a limited number of tourists a day so do make your reservations through a tour agency before going. It’s located in the Gatun Lake less than 30 minutes from the city so if you want to get to know more about the wildlife in Panama be sure to take this walk through nature and don’t miss the “fat tree” lovingly referred to as Barrigon (big belly). You might even catch a glimpse of a howler monkey.

Visit the Smithsonian Research Institute to learn more about making a reservation.

Restaurant Picks

May 15, 2009 By: Administrator Category: Culture, Food, Travel guide

cevichePanama’s culinarly landscape is a reflection of its cultural diversity. You can find most types of food that you are looking for in the city. However hear are just a few recommendations that we will be updating periodically and remember we’re always here to make a reservation or if you have suggestions, let us know!

Local Spots

Niko’s Cafe (Balboa)-

A traditional Panamanian spot to get a quick, casual, and cheap meal, food is served cafeteria style. The sandwhiches are recommended. A 5min walk from Balboa Inn.



Las Tinajas (Bella Vista)-$$$

A very popular restaurant because of its folkloric show offered T-Sat(9pm). Aside from the show the food is delicious, a great place if you’re las-tinajaslooking to experience Panamanian food in a fine dining atmosphere. Just a sidenote, the show is $5 and its a $12p/person minimum consumption.


Amador Causeway/Canal Area

Cafe Barko-$$

This restaurant is located on Isla Flamenco in the Causeway. From there you know you are going to have nice ocean views along with your meal. They serve seafood, sushi, and traditional Panamanian food…this is the place if you’re looking for lobster or fresh and delicious ceviche. The staff is bilingual which could be a plus if you’re spanish is rusty or nonexistent.

Mi Ranchito-$

Right on the water and very popular with locals and tourists alike this place can get very busy, they serve mainly traditional Panamanian cuisine. A good place for groups and families but not if you’re looking for a quiet place to dine.

Miraflores Restaurant (Miraflores Locks)-$$

This restaurant has the most amazing views as it is located right on the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal. It is a very popular restaurant so reservations are a must, however if you can’t make it to dinner come in the afternoon and have a drink on the terrace and enjoy the views.

Casco Viejo

Manolo Caracol-$$

This restaurant lies near the edge of Casco Viejo on the corner of Avenida Central y Calle 3ra. The chef is Spanish from the province of Andalucia. They serve a fixed menu that comes with a variety of plates. The dishes are creative and delicious and the atmosphere romantic for dinner.


A fish market that has a small restaurant upstairs. You won’t find fresher fish in Panama and you don’t have to stay for dinner, just pick-up a delicious serving of ceviche downstairs in the market area.

New history book

May 14, 2009 By: Administrator Category: History

panama_feverThere is an excellent new book on the history of the Panama Canal by British writer Matthew Parker. “Panama Fever”. Subtitled ‘The epic story of one of the greatest human achievements of all time – the building of the Panama Canal’, I can really recommend this book. Fascinating and pleasant to read.

The other classic, ‘Path between the Seas’ by David McCullough, an American is also excellent reading. While covering the same topic, the different nationalities of the writers do result in a somewhat different perpective and focus. Matthew Parker gives more attention to the experiences of the average worker – mostly blacks from the West pathbtwnseasIndies – on the project and you’ll read a more critical note here and there about the American power politics which is mostly absent from Mr. McCullough’s book.

These books don’t just talk about the building of the Canal, they also cover the politics behind the ‘creation of Panama’ in depth. Really fascinating stuff.

Get them at Panama Fever and Path Between the Seas.

Fiesta Patronal Virgen del Carmen, Isla Taboga

May 14, 2009 By: Administrator Category: Culture, History

Every year on July 16 the people of Taboga pay tribute to their Patroness La Virgen del Carmen.

The holiday is based on a story passed on through the people of Taboga for centuries. According to this story around the 16th century the island and its peole were plagued by pirate attacks because of its use as a port for Panama City at the time.

taboga-virgencarmenOne day around noon the people of Taboga Island were preparing once again to defend themselves from the pirates and as they were heading towards the beach armed with sticks and stones they saw a woman on the sand facing the approaching ships. To the pirates this woman appeared to be the commander of the armed group and upon seeing her they quickly retreated and left the island in peace. The townspeople unaware of what had happened went to the island’s church to give thanks to God. When they arrived they saw wet footprints leading up to the altar and the statue of the Virgen del Carmen’s feet were wet and covered with sand.

The people believed that she had protected them from the attack and thus named her Patron Saint and Protector of the Island of Taboga.

The island celebrates this day with a boat parade and on the weekends with special church services and celebrations.