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The Five-Point Weekend Escape Plan

Taste the Roots of Fusion Cuisine in Panama City

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5. Oddball Day

Frank Gehry's much-awaited Biomuseo, a striking tribute to Panama's biodiversity.  

Escape the gleaming urban sprawl and explore Panama’s tropical flora and fauna without ever leaving the city limits. Begin your morning at the base of rainforested Ancón Hill with an apple cayuco ($4.25)—a fresh baguette filled with apples, cream cheese, herbs, honey, and cinnamon—at Country Store & Cafe. On the patio, you can often spot tiny Geoffroy’s tamarins. From here, climb the hill to the city's highest point via the paved path behind the Panama Canal Administration Building on Quarry Heights Road. In 30 minutes, you’ll reach the summit, where the Panamanian government planted a basketball-court-sized flag upon gaining sovereignty in 1979. Watch for sloths, toucans, and agoutis, which look like long-legged guinea pigs. Back at the bottom, hail a taxi ($7) to the newly built Biomuseo, Frank Gehry’s first building in Latin America, for a pre-opening private tour ($32). Celebrating the country’s rich biodiversity, the building is a riot of different colors, planes, and materials—a nod to the explosive volcanic birth of the isthmus millions of years ago. Five minutes up the road, order grilled octopus for lunch at Restaurante Pencas, then look for pelicans and diving frigate birds as you walk two-and-a-half miles along the palm-lined Amador Causeway. Stop off at Isla Naos, home to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Punta Culebra Nature Center ($5), where you’ll find coral reef aquariums and pools with sea turtles and sharks. Two trails lead through tropical dry forest, a nearly extinct ecosystem where you’ll often see armadillos, raccoons, and iguanas. Continue along the causeway to Isla Flamenco for dinner at Bucanero’s Restaurante & Taberna, named for the pirates (such as the infamous Captain Morgan) who once plied these waters. Sample ultrafresh seafood caught by indigenous fisherman, like Caribbean lobster (market price) and Panamanian king crab ($69), then end the evening at Isla Flamenco’s cruise ship terminal, watching the sunset from the marina.

Published on Mar 27, 2014 as a web exclusive.

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