Panama from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Around 5/6 weeks ago Rose and I enjoyed a short visit to Merida and while we were there we spoke again about the promise we’d made to each other that we would use our Ambergris Caye home base to visit neighbouring countries and countries in South America far more than we have done so far in the 41/2 years we have been living in Belize.

So early last week we got the atlas out and we pondered (Rose is quite good at pondering too) and then I remembered (the memory still works from time to time) that last December Copa Airlines introduced a twice a week (Tuesday and Friday) service between Panama City and Belize. Why not give it a try, we thought.

With the decision made I got up early the next morning (around 04.30 hours for those of you that might be remotely interested), made myself a mug of coffee (instant, black and unsweetened), grabbed the iPad and headed out to the veranda (the western, lagoon facing one). I had some Googling to do!

It didn’t take too long to start pulling our itinerary together. Fly out on the Friday and return the following Tuesday. With the travel arrangements made I chose a hotel in the business district (I’d been told by friends who’ve been there that this’s is a safe and central location) of Panama City fairly quickly. The Hilton Garden Inn if you want to know. Even if you don’t want to know, that’s the hotel I booked. 

After breakfast – at Estel’s Dine By the Sea of course – I popped in to Tropic Air and booked our flights to Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport and the around to Pampered Paws to book Ziggy’s ‘holiday’. All set.

On Friday morning we dropped Ziggy off at his holiday ‘resort’, I dropped Rose off with the bags and found a parking space for the golf cart. Ready to go!

When we landed on the mainland I was amazed again by how much change the airport has undergone. It just seems ( maybe it’s me, maybe it’s not) but it appears to be getting bigger and bigger. Nothing like the airport we landed at 18 years ago on our first visit to Belize.

From the fairly new sign

to the recently added Check In desks.

There’s no doubting that Philip S.W. Goldson Airport is fast gaining the appearance of an international airport. Personally I prefer the charm of the way it used to be but with ever growing tourism numbers there’s no arguing that the changes were necessary.

After a fairly uneventful flight – well that is apart from having to circle for 20 minutes before landing because of a thunderstorm – we arrived at Panama’s Tocumen airport where we spent nearly an hour getting through Immigration and Customs. This is the only airport I’ve ever landed at where they X-Ray your luggage on entry!

A 25 minute drive to our hotel (US$30) and we were in our room by 19.30 hours and out of it having unpacked, showered and changed within 45 minutes. Time for a local beer (Polar if you’d like to know) and a bite to eat.

The next morning we were up bright and early and after breakfast we headed straight to the Metro station that was a short walk from our hotel (one of the reasons I chose the hotel). We were off to Albrook Mall, currently the 14th largest shopping mall in the world. 

On arriving on the concourse we purchased a US$2 ticket from one of the dispensing machines and then ‘loaded’ it with US$ 4. Rose and I would use the same ticket -swiping it twice at every turnstyle reader we had to pass through – and at 35 cents a journey on the Metro or 25 cents on a bus I was fairly confident that our US$4 would cover our 4 day trip (it did, by the way).

Our Metro ticket.

The very helpful route map they make available at the stations.

It’s a new transport system and it shows. Spotlessly clean and modern platforms

and immaculate trains. No eating or drinking allowed in the carriages.

Five stations later we were at the mall and wow. Everything about it is huge.

From the snowman outside the mall.

To the model animals that each of the wings are named after.

To the food courts.

And the hundreds and hundreds of shops.

And there was cultural entertainment thrown in too!

We spent nearly a full day there and we still didn’t get to cover the entire mall – Rose did her best though and trust me her best is pretty good – because it really is BIG.

We stopped on the way back to the hotel for dinner and a few beers (it would have been rude not to ‘sample’ some more Panamanian beers) and then a reasonably early (around 22.00 hours) return to our hotel. We had a busy day planned for the next day. A visit to the Mercado de Mariscos and a tour of Casco Viejo. And we were (obviously) going to visit the Panama Canal.

All will be revealed in the next gripping (yeh, right) instalment !

The headline for today’s edition is based on the single released in 1984 by Van Halen which reached number 64 on the UK Singles Charts and number 13 on the US Billboard Hot 100.


  1. Peter Oberhaus says:

    Every thing looks so beautiful and clean!

    1. There are some unsavoury areas Peter but we tended to stick to the touristy places.

  2. Mike Mitchell says:

    Riveting! These little trips are great to hear about.

  3. Kristina H Nadreau says:

    thank you for sharing this adventure. all little expeditions are of interest.

    1. You are more than welcome Kristina. And there is more to come!

  4. robert says:

    Hi John. Sounds like a fun trip, when i flew to UK from Belize via Cancun they x-rayed our luggage to , kinda random selection so i was told . Looking forward to next rivetting instalment .

    1. It was a very nice long weekend Robert. It wasn’t random X-Ray, every piece of luggage had to go through the machine.

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