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Author Barbara Noe on the run in Panama City (Photograph by David Kennedy)

Travels on the Run: Panama City

In Latin America’s “tallest” metropolis—Panama City glistens with more skyscrapers than anywhere else in the realm—a palm-dotted urban pathway snakes along the Pacific shoreline, running roughly parallel to the Cinta Costera.

I begin at the southern end and head north along the manicured greenway, taking it all in: basketball courts where young men kick about soccer balls; vendors purveying cotton candy, ice cream, and Gatorade; lovers sitting atop the malecón; skateboarders, walkers, stroller-pushing moms, and runners like me.

Sailboats perch in the building-backed bay, yellow warblers flit about, and pocket gardens flourish beneath the tropical sun. This place is alive!

Midway along the trail rises a gleaming white statue of conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the first European to lock eyes on this part of the world, and I wonder what he would think about all the vim and verve on display.

Indeed, just as recently as 1999, when the Panamanian government took up sole control of the Panama Canal, Panama City was still a drowsing mañana-land. No longer! According to The New York Times, since 2008 the Central American nation’s economy has expanded by nearly 50 percent.

Frank Gehry’s Biomuseo opened in early 2014 amid much international fanfare. The canal itself, which perches on the edge of town, is undergoing a massive restoration that will double its capacity—not to mention allow the passage of post-Panamax giants.

Onward, I continue to Casco Viejo, the Spanish colonial “Old Town,” in mind and spirit about as far away from the city’s burgeoning forward-moving energy that you could be. Timeless brick lanes, iron-wrought balconies, the glorious Metropolitan Cathedral, all force me to slow down and absorb the past, before I turn around and head back to the future.

> Run Stats

Mileage: 2.6 miles (one way)

Best time: Early morning or evening, when the sun isn’t so intense. There’s virtually no shade to protect you from the beating sun.

Start and End: At the pathway’s southernmost point near Parque del Florista, in the Paitilla neighborhood. 

> The Route 

  • From Parque del Florista, follow the pathway with the ocean on your left. It runs through Cinta Costera Park, parallel to Avenida Balboa in downtown Panama City.
  • About a mile north, you’ll pass the monument to Vasco Núñez de Balboa on your right (you’ll have to cross the road to get up close).
  • Once you get to Casco Viejo, find Plaza de la Independencia. Follow Avenida Eloy Alfaro to Calle 6a Este; turn right; and proceed for two blocks.
  • Return the way you came.

Barbara A. Noe is senior editor at National Geographic Travel Books.