We recently returned from a family vacation to Panama. We spent 20 days there and it was a terrific experience. From Panama City and its amazing cityscapes to the white sand and turquoise water of the beaches in the Caribbean Sea, there are a lot to see and explore in this tropical country in Central America. In fact, there is so much to talk that I decided to break it down in 5 parts, each one covering a specific moment of our travel, so I really hope you enjoy the reading and I would really appreciate any feedback, critique or suggestion you may want to share through the comments section below.
It’s not easy to go out on a family vacation and be a father, husband, travel companion and a photographer at the same time. You probably will miss a lot of photo opportunities to keep pace with the others, usually you won’t be able to come back to a place when the light will be better, and most of the time it will be that now-or-never moments to shoot.
Under this scenario, it’s even more critical to have a good planning before traveling. The obvious starting point is to gather as much information as possible on the web about the places you plan to visit. Sites like Tripadvisor, Wikipedia, flickr and 500px, to name a few, could help immensely when you are deciding which places to visit and preparing your shot list.
Even though the web has tons of information, one of the first things I do is buying a guidebook for the city or country I’m going to. What I like most about travel guidebooks is that they make easier to organize and prioritize the things to do. For this trip, I bought Moon Panama which helped me a lot during the planning phase.
One more thing that I think is worth mentioning is that I use Evernote to store everything related to the trip, from air tickets to shot lists. It’s so much easier when we have every piece of information organized in one place that we can access anywhere from any device.
When I’m traveling, usually the only camera I’ve been taking with me is the Fujifilm X100. I like the freedom of walking around very light without any bags, just this small camera and a couple of spare batteries is everything I need in most circumstances. X100 has a sharp fixed 23mm f/2.0 lens with an equivalent focal length of 35mm that provides a great all around classic field-of-view.
For this trip, however, knowing in advance that I will be facing some weather challenges on the beaches and a chance to see some wildlife in Bocas del Toro, it was clear that I needed something else to complement my X100. So, I packed my old Samsung GX–10 (Pentax K–10 clone), 18–55mm kit lens and a Sigma 70–300mm telephoto lens into a small Lowepro bag for those circumstances. Lastly, there is my iPhone 6, which is always with me. I use it mostly for snapshots and videos.
Cinta Costera is a coastal highway along the Bahia de Panama that extends from Paitilla to El Chorrillo neighbourhood with spectacular views of Panama City. It’s a very popular place with nice landscapes, sport courts, gardens, fountains and children’s playgrounds. They do a good job maintaining it as well. Everything seems to be well-preserved and clean. It’s a must go to place in Panama City.
During the day you don’t see much people around, my guess is that 1) most of the locals are working and 2) it’s damn hot for outdoor activities. As the night comes by, Cinta Costera really comes alive and gets crowded very fast. I strongly recommend you to walk along Cinta Costera at night if you have the chance. There are a lot of photo opportunities. Unfortunately, the few times we went through Cinta Costera at night I was driving and couldn’t take any photos.
The apartment we rented in Panama City is very near to Cinta Costera. So we walked to there a couple of times enjoying the gardens and playgrounds. On Sundays, the main avenue is blocked to cars and it’s a great opportunity for biking – there are bike rentals for free – and walking.
I had an opportunity to walk all the way from Multicentro Mall to the Fish Market and back at my pace, so I had a few hours to dedicate to photography, even though I had to deal with harsh mid-day light.
From the balcony of our rented apartment on the 23rd floor, we have a nice view of the Bahia de Panama. On the left we have Punta Pacifica and on the right Cinta Costera. I prefer to shoot those long exposures night cityscapes with my GX–10 instead of the X100 because the way it renders the light bursts.
In part 2 we are going to explore Casco Viejo, a great place for street photography.