This beautiful Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador) extends more than three kilometers into the Pacific, calming the waters at the entrance of the Panama Canal and preventing that entrance from silting up. It was built from spoil dug from the canal and connects three islands: Naos, Perico, and Flamenco.
The causeway has gorgeous views. On one side the majestic Bridge of the Americas spans the Pacific entrance to the canal, so there’s always a parade of ships gliding underneath it or waiting their turn in the anchorage. On the other side is the half moon of Panama Bay, ringed by the ever-growing Panama City skyline.
In the old Canal Zone days, the causeway was a major make-out and hang-out spot for high-school kids. It’s seeing more action now than ever before: It’s become a nightlife destination for locals, and huge amounts of money are being poured into it in the hopes it will lure international visitors.
In the last few years, restaurants, bars, and shopping centers have gone up in this area, as have a hotel, cruise-ship terminal, marina, convention hall, and amphitheater. Most of these have been built on Isla Flamenco on one end of the causeway and in Amador proper on the other. (Amador was formerly a U.S. army base called Fort Amador.)
The causeway itself has gotten an understated and elegant makeover, with new street lights and a renovated walking path that left the palm trees along it intact but added benches for those who need a rest. Near the entrance to the causeway is a row of flags of many countries, though the U.S. one is conspicuously absent; flying the stars and stripes anywhere in Panama, especially at a former gringo army base, would be loaded with controversial symbolism.
Amador and the causeway can get packed with visitors on the weekends, particularly dry-season Sundays. The popularity of the bars and restaurants causes traffic jams on the two-lane road on weekend nights.
For those without cars, the main way to get around here is on foot, though it can be a long walk in the sun from one end of the causeway to another. Fortunately, most of the attractions are clustered at the end of the causeway, on or near Isla Flamenco. There’s a bike and scooter rental place at the entrance to the causeway. It may also be possible to flag down a passing taxi or bus for a quick ride up or down the causeway.
Note: Avoid the taxi concession at the Flamenco Shopping Plaza. It’s aimed at cruise-ship passengers and their prices are outrageous. (The hourly rate, for instance, is nearly 10 times the norm.)
Museo de la Biodiversidad (Museum of Biodiversity)
Designed by architect Frank O. Gehry, who is married to a Panamanian, the ambitious Museo de la Biodiversidad (www.biomuseopanama.org) is meant to do for Panama what Gehry’s Guggenheim did for Bilbao, Spain.
Unfortunately, the museum has been delayed for years by funding shortages. In 2010 the building was finally nearing completion, but finishing and stocking the galleries will be a huge project in its own right. The museum is not expected to open its doors until the end of 2011. Fingers crossed there are no more delays.
In the meantime, the museum now offers talks and a tour of the building site. These are held on Fridays and last about an hour. Tours are free but are in Spanish only.
For safety reasons, children are not allowed, and adults must wear long trousers and closed-toe shoes. Construction and rain can limit the tour to a room that holds scale models of the museum. Those interested can book tours through the museum’s website, which also has live webcams showing the work in progress.
El Centro de Exhibiciones Marinas
There’s a long-established little museum, El Centro de Exhibiciones Marinas (Punta Culebra on Naos, tel. 212-8000, ext. 2366, rainy season hours: 1–5 P.M. Tues.–Fri., 10 A.M.–6 P.M. Sat. and Sun.; dry season hours: 10 A.M.–6 P.M. Tues.–Sun., US$2 adults, US$0.50 children), toward the end of the causeway that’s well worth a visit. Try to call ahead of time, as opening and closing hours shift erratically.
This nicely designed marine exhibition center is run by the Panama-based Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. (Search “Punta Culebra” at www.stri.org for history and current information.) Exhibits set up along a beach-side path explain the extensive natural and human history of the area and touch on that of Panama in general. There’s a small outdoor aquarium and an air-conditioned observation building.
Free telescopes are set up along the path; check out the ships waiting to transit the canal. At the end of the path are a few hundred square meters of dry forest, once common all along the Pacific coast of Central America, but now mostly wiped out since it’s easy to burn. It’s amazing what you may find in this little patch of forest. There are lots of iguanas, and the last time I was there I saw a shaggy three-toed sloth walking upside down along a branch just a few meters above my head.
The center is on Punta Culebra toward the end of the causeway. At the public beach on the first island, Naos, make a right when the road forks. There should be large signs.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition