Canal Administration Building

May 25, 2009 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.

from Tocumen (and back)

May 21, 2009 Category: - from Tocumen airport

There are 4 possible scenarios to get you from Panama’s International Airport Tocumen to the Balboa Inn:

  • We pick you up
  • You take a taxi
  • You drive with a rental car
  • Friends pick you up

(1) We pick you up
We highly recommend you let us arrange your airport pickup transfer. At $35 for 2 people addition cost is $10.00 per person. You can be sure to have a reliable driver that knows our exact location and doesn’t confuse us with another inn. We can arrange pickup at any time of the day or night. To use this service, simply arrange it during the booking process or send us your flight data.  We will then send you a copy of these airport pickup instructions.

(2) You take a taxi
If you prefer to take an airport taxi. No problem. But please, make sure to print out this document and, very important, take it with you :-). Even the most geographically challenged taxi driver in Panama (and they are all very challenged!) should be able to make it. Remember, Panamanian taxi drivers can’t read maps so make sure they read the Spanish instructions that refer to well-known landmarks. The map is for your own reference. And do be sure to note our phone number just in case.

We don’t mind late check-ins but we definitely don’t get excited by being called at 11 p.m. by a confused taxi driver who has never been to Balboa, took the wrong turn, can’t count beyond 5 or took you to Balboa Avenue instead of the Balboa neighborhood. And we know you won’t be happy neither. So, please print the instructions and carry them with you.

(3) You drive a rental car
No problem. Although driving in Panama City – depending on the time of day – is not always for the faint of heart, it certainly not as bad as Bangkok or Calcutta. As an option, you may actually consider picking up your rental car at Albrook airport after you arrive at the Balboa Inn. Driving in the Canal area is a whole different story and getting in and out of town, from Balboa, is very easy. We’re right near the Bridge of the America’s and the highway to Colon.

Please review and PRINT the  instructions on this page (in PDF).  to make driving over from Tocumen as easy as we can possibly make it.

Don’t count on your rental-company supplied GPS! We just had guests (October 2010) that spent over 2 hours driving around because their GPS didn’t work.  We also know some rental companies don’t update the local maps which can lead to all kinds of aggravation.  When you call the Balboa Inn in such a case, we will recommend you flag down a taxi and have them lead you to the Balboa Inn.   Of course for this you will need the directions for a taxi driver in Spanish.  So just place safe: print it and take it along.

(4) Friends pick you up
It’s good to have friends! Just make sure they know where the Balboa Inn is and when in doubt, tell them to check out this page and the maps above.

Return to Tocumen with a rental car?

Very easy.  Please review and print this page or ask our staff to print it.

Domestic Airport: Marcos A. Gelabert

May 18, 2009 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 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 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 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 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 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.

Darien: The Last Frontier

May 14, 2009 Category: Travel guide

Darien gap PanamaThe Darien Gap, a province that separates Panama and Colombia, is an area that holds mystery and promises adventure. It is often referred to as the Last Frontier: the last unspoilt area in the world. The Darien has proved a welcome challenge for many who wish to cross Central America to South America by land because of its lack of main roads and wealth of jungle and adventure.

The province of Darien is filled with wildlife and the native people who have lived there for centuries. Traveling through this UNESCO site will allow you to see the beautiful untouched rainforest, a large varitey of creatures, and beautiful beaches in addition to the swampy and mountainous parts of the region.

With all its beauty the Darien Gap is still often an unattractive option for tourists because of all the travel warnings and talk of drug trafficking in the area, and therefore is often missed by the worldwide traverlers who come to Panama. The US State Dept. warns its citizens not to travel to the Darien Province and only allows embassy officials to travel with permission from the Embassy’s Regional Security Officer. Claims have been made that the FARC has extended its hold past the Panama-Colombia border and well into the Darien Province making it unsafe for tourists.

However there are those that believe that the reports are exaggerated and all you really need are some panama-embera-lcommon sense and an experienced guide to explore the Darien. If you do go to Darien we recommend setting up a tour with Panama Exotic Adventures. They are two Frenchman with almost 30 years in Panama and have great relationships with the different indigenous communities. They can provide an excellent informative tour of the Darien.

To arrive to the Darien province it is better to take a plane. AirPanama will take you to La Palma and has one flight a week. AeroPerlas has 3 weekly flights and will also fly you into the neighboring town of El Real.

If you are driving or taking public transport the Pan-American Highway ends at the town of Yaviza. From here you will need to continue your trip on boat.