Monday, March 31, 2008

Panama’s Top 6 Overrated

Written by PanaMatt

Top 6 Overrated Panama

This is not meant to be a negative article, but to avoid travelers showing up in Panama and being severely disappointed, it might be helpful to forewarn them about the following things that are, in my opinion, ghastly overrated.

Panama has some wonderful things for the visiting tourist. Many of which aren’t even listed on the pages of guidebooks or websites. But there’s a small hoard of places and things that get far more attention than they deserve. There’s a small hoard of places and things that simply don’t fit into the world class image people are trying to portray.

This list could easily be characterized as typical gringo complaining, to which I would direct you to the tens of hundreds of thousands of articles I have written on this site and others about how much I love the republic. If you’re the guy who’s about to write, “if you don’t like Panama, then why don’t you just leave?” I salute you. I think you’ve made the same comment like twenty five times.

  1. Boquete: OK, so I’m not seventy years old and my favorite pastime is not gardening. But to me, Boquete is one big boring mess. OK one small boring mess. OK not even a mess at all, in fact kind of pretty. But in terms of “amazing retirement destinations,” I hope I’m not drawn somewhere like that when I’m ready to hang up my boots. There’s nothing to do, the weather is cool (had enough of that in New Jersey), and there are too many expats which is what I came here to get away from.
  2. Zip lines: Once you’ve done one, you’ve done them all. The true eco-adventurers and the owners of zip line tours will obviously have issues with this statement, but come on! The driving to get there, the whole safety routine, the climbing, the uncomfortable equipment: and then all for those few moments of “being free”. Call me nuts, but zip lines in Panama are no more amazing than zip lines in any other eco-destination.
  3. Manolo Caracol Restaurant: Yes, yes. I’ve reviewed it many times. It USED to be my favorite place to dine in Panama. However, over the past year Manolo’s has just gone down hill. The ingredients get cheaper and cheaper, the meat/chicken/fish gets smaller and smaller, the service gets less and less attentive. To be sure, I’ve gone five times in the past few months and am confident, Manolo Caracol will be less amazing than you think. It’s still good, but it’s not as great as everyone says.
  4. Coronado: On paper, Coronado looks great! But when you get out there and see that the famous housing boom is coated in 1960’s crème-colored architecture, that the beach is dirty and (at times) unswimmable, and that the “amazing infrastructure” as I read on one site boils down to a small shopping center with a Subway and beach toys store, I think everyone can agree that Coronado—while clearly established as Panama’s first and foremost beach town—is pretty darn overrated.
  5. Dining scene: Sites all over the web (including in some cases my own) will talk about the amazing restaurants in Panama City. They’ll describe places like 1985 and Rincon Andaluz and Madame Chang’s as culinary holy lands. But the truth is, compared to any other major capital city in the developed world, Panama City’s dining scene is under par. Service can be inconsistent, creativity can be overlooked due to complacency, and ingredients (due to poor refrigeration transport) can be aged and limp. There are some good restaurants in Panama, but the point is, when you bring a serious food critic from New York into town, very few places will float their boat.
  6. Casinos: Take one step into Panama’s most glamorous casino (the Venetto or however you spell that) and you’ll see what I mean. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong. But it’s definitely not the five star luxury they propagate. It looks as if the place was built solely to accommodate some rich guy’s need to have his own VIP poker room. Recently taken over by Wyndam, maybe the place will improve. But for the time being, for a world-class casino, Panama’s are simply overrated.

I think I covered all the overrated things about Panama here. Unless you can think of another…

(Overrated photo used from

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