Panama City is pretty impressive. I had been in the largest city in Costa Rica (San Jose) quite a few times. It is busy and has some tall buildings but doesn't come close to Panama City. This is a very modern city, with impressive skyscrapers and architecture. From a distance, it could be mistaken for a major US city.
This city, the capital of Panama, sits on the Pacific Ocean and is a major banking hub for Central and South America.
Traffic and driving "rules" in Panama City take a little getting used to. As a passenger, it's often better just to not look. As a driver, it definitely takes a different mindset to navigate your way through the busy streets. The first rule is: there aren't really any rules. I was riding across the city with a taxi driver, who fortunately spoke English. As we bobbed and weaved our way across the city, he could probably see the amazed look on my face [amazed sounds better than terrified]. He smiled and said, "Driving in the city is ... how should I describe it..." "Freestyle," I suggested. He laughed and said that was a good description. It's an every-man-for-himself game, based on the ability to bluff, take calculated risks ("his car is nicer than mine, so he probably won't hit me"), and exude confidence. Unlike in the US, pedestrians do NOT have the right-of-way. I've seen many pedestrians standing in the middle of a busy 4 lane street, stranded on the center median line, waiting for a break in the traffic to make the dash to the other side - crosswalk or no.
As warm and friendly as most Panamanians are in person, when they get behind the wheel, it's a Jekyll and Hyde transformation. Where most of us use the accelerator pedal and the brakes when operating a vehicle, the Panamanians use the accelerator and the horn. They honk for everything. A honk can mean "hurry up", "I'm coming through", "the light has changed - or is about to", "looking good, Señorita", "don't back up, I'm behind you", "buenos dias", "don't EVEN think about it", and more. I figured out it's nothing personal and even with all the aggressive driving, cutting people off, horn honking, sudden lane changes, etc, you really don't see the kind of road rage that type of driving would evoke in the US. It's just the way the game is played and everyone seems to understand that. Despite the seeming chaos, it works.
Posted by Mark