What’s the best part of moving to a new city? Tasting everything for the first time? All the new smells? Moving into your new place? The exhilaration of moving to a new city can rapidly be dampened by the lack of a social network. There are so many new things and places to be discovered, seen, eaten, photographed, touched and appreciated, but in some cases, no one to share it with. Feeling isolated can impede on your level of enjoyment and not to mention, is detrimental to personal wellbeing. Fret not however; as there are several efficient ways you can bolster your social life when you move to this fair metropolis.
1. Take a walking tour
There are several companies in Panama City offering walking tours, however Panama Detour stands out among the rest. This tour is run by American Expat Joey Bonura who moved to Panama City from Kentucky just shy of a decade ago, and is now a respected, bonafide local, and founder of online magazine Pty.life. The tour is billed as “an urban walk through the real Panama city” and is unlike majority of the tours you have been on: there is no tour bus, no big umbrellas and no rigid structure. Joey will find out what each group’s preferences are from the start, and tailor the tour accordingly.
On the day I took the tour, someone wanted recommendations on where to get great coffee. Within minutes, Joey had recalibrated our route and started us off at Mentiritas Blancas, a quaint coffee shop off Via Argentina where we got to try the world famous (and relatively pricey) Geisha coffee, which Panama is steadfastly becoming renowned for.
By the end of the day, we had thoroughly traipsed through the neighborhoods of El Cangrejo, San Francisco, Punta Pacifica, beautiful Cinta Constera, and even made the picturesque hike up to Cerro Ancon for cascading panoramic views of the city in its entirety. We munched on delicious ceviche at the fish market (Mercado de Mariscos), had Dulce de Leche popsicles and Argentinian Choripan at a food truck a stones throw from Parque Omar. All food and drink is included in the price of the tour as well as multiple forms of transportation to see how real people get around, and learn how to use the public transportation ourselves. Our group was rather multicultural with a Nigerian, Costa Rican, two Americans and one Canadian. Numbers swapped and sufficiently fed, it was time to return to beautiful Casco, with fantastic memories to boot.
Panama Detour: $60 per person for 5 hours and includes a guided tour, food sampling, drinks and all public transportation costs.
2. Go on a bar crawl
Panama Bar Crawl is a fantastic event founded by two Belgian entrepreneurs who themselves know a thing or two about uprooting your world and moving it elsewhere. The ladies moved to Panama City in early 2017 and have rapidly set up a strong relationship with Casco Viejo’s hottest nightlife establishments including Malibu, Zaza, Casa Jaguar, and fabulous rooftop bar Tantalo. Tickets cost $25 and include a drink at all 5 locations, as well as entry into theatre-turned-nightclub, Teatro Amador. The tour more than pays for itself. The ladies have literally thought of everything and anything needed to break the ice, and even incorporate games to get to know one another, with funky props and themes coming along for the ride. Check out their Instagram for photographic evidence of all the fun.
Panama Bar Crawl, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays from 8pm. Call/ Whatsapp +507 6959 9811
3. Work remotely
Panama City is being heralded as THE hot spot for digital nomads in Central America. With a slew of co-working spaces popping up including Workings and My Office, you’re sure to bump into other expats who are here temporarily or longer-term. The old town of Casco Viejo is also littered with a plethora of cosy cafes and coffee shops where you will find yourself sandwiched between graphic designers, and architects working on their blueprints and burgers. My personal Casco Antiguo favourites are Nomada Eatery, Super Gourmet and Café Unido at The American Trade Hotel.
Walking along stunning Cinta Costera in the early evenings, you will notice that it becomes a mass outdoor gym with joggers galore, and exercise classes taking place al fresco. There are also free aerobics, cardio dance, yoga and Zumba classes held every single day in Parque Omar Torrijos. Going to a class regularly is a great way to meet like-minded people with mutual interests. In Casco Viejo, it’s certainly worth paying a visit to the friendly folks at Casco Yoga. Doors open 30 minutes prior to each class, so arrive early and get chatting to your neighbour. You might have even more in common than working out.
5. Use your social networks
Make sure everybody you know is aware of your impending move to Panama. Utilise your old social network to build your new one. Social media defies location boundaries, so the fact that you don’t know anyone here yet, doesn’t mean that one of your current friends won’t. If your extended social network doesn’t happen to include people in Panama, the Expats in Panama and Young Expats in Panama Facebook groups are great place to post meet ups and other event ideas.
6. Listen up
Hear someone speaking your language? Dart toward them and ask where they’re from. Finding common ground is the easiest way to create strong bonds.
7. Attend a networking event
Group socialising sites such as Meetup.com and Internations are full of people just like you: new to the city and actively looking to expand their social network here. Eventbrite is also useful to see what the upcoming free and paid events are in your area. First Tuesday is also a networking event and presentation held monthly on the first Tuesday of each month at various locations. The event brings together entrepreneurs and expats to pitch ideas and swap business cards over canapés and drinks. The presentations are held in Spanish, and might help you sharpen your listening skills.
8. Take Spanish classes
The highest rated Spanish school in Panama City is the Casco Antiguo Spanish school, situated in (you guessed it), Casco Antiguo. Their most popular course is the Small- Group Intensive class, which contains a maximum of four students. Though they offer private lessons in the evenings and weekends for students who can’t take a half-day or full week off, many opt for group classes as a means to meet new people, while benefiting from the curiosities and questions of others. Enrolling in a class is a great way to spend quality time with new faces when you’ve just stepped foot on Panamanian soil. Read the testimonial of my very well-spent time at the Casco Antiguo school (Justin Bieber is even involved).
Armed with the knowledge that their students want more than just a Spanish class when they come to Panama, the Casco Antiguo School offers a host of activities for one to be able to experience the city with others, because life’s better when shared, right? There are free volunteering opportunities for all students, and a healthy schedule of extra-curricular activities, which commence in the evenings at 5pm – also free of charge. Tuesday is happy hour at one of Casco Viejo’s finest rooftop bars, craft beer breweries or even a rum distillery. Wednesday is salsa class, taught by a professional dancer, Thursday is a sunset bike tour and Friday is beach volleyball. There’s an activity to suit all tastes and take full advantage of this scenic city of ours.
Rosie Bell is an international travel writer, author of the book “Escape To Self”, and Content Editor for Club Elsewhere. Follow her on Instagram @TheBeachBell.