¿Tienes un mapa?, according to my translator app, was how to ask for a map in Spanish. Simple enough, and I know my Spanish accent isn't horrible, yet still no one seemed to understand me. Maybe they just didn't have any maps.
In Panama City we stayed slightly outside the city at the mouth of the Panama Canal. This was ok with me since one of our first sights in the city was a large patch of grass next to the highway lit ablaze. I asked our taxi driver if that was supposed to be on fire and he ignored me, or the only English he knew was money related- still not sure.
Our hotel, The Country Inns and Suites, was nice for its price, pool, large rooms, TGI Fridays, canal views, not near anything. At first it was charming, quiet...but by the next morning we felt stranded and were sick of the “Jack Daniels grill” and mozzarella sticks, so we decided to rent a car through the hotel.
I assumed with all the history and relations with the US and the fact they use American money many people in Panama would speak English. I was wrong (hence my above mentioned need for a translator app). This made renting slightly more difficult, on top of the fact that rental car companies don’t trust anyone under 25, but, eventually, we got the car.
After driving around the city, I decided we should not just be next to the canal, or just see the locks, but we should go IN the canal (in a boat of course, there are crocodiles). So I did a little internet research and discovered a resort about 45 minutes up the canal that offered canal activities.
Off we were to Gamboa resort. Well not just yet, I found the location on my iPhone map and the map did not, um, show a road, which concerned me. The hotel staff insisted there was, in fact, a road and gave me a cartoon map of our area insisting the road at the edge of the page would lead us there. I did not believe them so we stopped at several gas stations so I could practice uttering the most consecutive words I ever have in Spanish (my middle school Spanish consisted of colors, numbers and days of the week). But, as I mentioned before, no maps.
Well Teddy Roosevelt probably didn’t have a map when he was here (who knows) so we bravely followed the nicely paved, perfectly safe looking road. I’m realizing now that it’s a little sad that if my iPhone does not say it exists, I'm not sure it’s real.
The road did not become a dirt road, we were not stopped by a herd of goat, but we did run across a $2 zoo and visited Jaguar Mundo! Soon after our visit with the jaguars de Panama we were at Gamboa. Cliche- but it was like an oasis in the rain forest. The resort was beautiful, huge had many pools, amenities, restaurants that were not franchises, etc.
Many tours that day were already filled up (I would get there early, or plan/call ahead), but we were able to score some seats on a boat tour. We had a few hours to kill so we ate on a terrace overlooking the canal and walked around the grounds. It was a little large and busy for my hotel tastes, but still very nice. Isolated like our hotel, but there was much more to do on the grounds.
Eventually we loaded into the little motor boat and were on our “Gatun Lake Expidition”. We saw monkeys! Sloths! Dredging machines! And Crocodiles that scooted into the water when we got too close! Not much to write about the actual boat ride except, I loved it, recommend it and was only slightly nervous when everyone decided to lean over one side of the boat to see our first monkey.
Gamboa Resort: http://www.gamboaresort.com/
I would recommend both, keep in mind you may want a rental car at the Country Inns and Suites!