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Saturday, November 01 2014 @ 05:35 AM EDT

Cerro Ancon - The View From The Top

Travel & Tourism I got up to the top of Cerro Ancon early this morning. You really can't beat it for a view of the city. You can see the ships going through the Panama Canal, Casco Viejo, Balboa and the old Canal Zone, and down Balboa Avenue to Paitilla. There were two security guards keeping an eye on the place. One was a National Police officer, and the other was a security guard from the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the government organization that has inherited the responsibilities of the old Inter-oceanic Region Authority (ARI.) According to the guards, they only see about thirty to forty visitors on a "good day," and mostly the people that go up there are either school kids on a field trip or tourists. They say that the average Panamanian almost never makes the trip, and that's a shame. Anyone can drive up there, seven days a week, from 6:00 am to 5:45 pm. They are open every day, and there's no charge. If you haven't taken the time to go up there you really should go check out the "view from the top." (photos below)




Hopefully this photo map will help me explain how to get there. I picked the intersection in Balboa in front of the McDonald's, below the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) administration building as a starting point. Go up hill from this intersection, and stay to the right after the curve. You have to follow the road to the left when you're about to run into the ACP building, and the road curves around to the left and then right as it goes up the hill. Keep your eye's open for the turn back to the right at the "top" of the hill and head into the old Quarry Heights area.

There's a guard shack at the entrance to the Quarry Heights area, and this morning when I went it was unmanned. A short way past this guard shack there's a turn to the left and signs for the "ANCON" building. Turn left here and continue up the hill. You'll go past some buildings, and basically from this point you can't get lost and it's a straight shot. Once you get past the last "tree-house" building there's another guard shack which was also unmanned. There was an orange cone in the road that I just drove around.



Follow this single land road around the hill as it climbs to the top, and I suggest you take your time for a couple of reasons. First, the view is great. Second, there's a chance that another vehicle might be coming down and either you or them are going to have to squeeze over. And third, it's a very sharp drop-off and the road is usually wet or damp from either rain or mist and could be slippery. So, take your time and enjoy the view.



Towards the top there's one more guard shack (guess what, unmanned) and if you take the road to the right there's another set of antennas, but you want to take the road to the left to go up to the visitor's area where the flag is. From this point it's a short climb up to the top. There's a large parking area where the two security guards where hanging out.



The great thing about Cerro Ancon is that it sits right in the middle of the city, and offers a great view of both the Panama Canal, the old Canal Zone, and Panama City. The hill itself is actually a park that covers 43 hectares, and the top of the hill is 199 meters above sea level. My GPS was reading 634 feet altitude at the top. It's high enough to squeeze the water out of the humid air, and there's very often a "standing cloud" covering the top of the hill, especially at sunrise and sunset.



Cerro Ancon is a very important piece of property from the Panamanian historical point of view. Cerro Ancon is the "high ground" that flew the US flag for a long time, a constant reminder to Panamanians of the US presence and power, just across the street in the canal zone. Now a Panamanian flag that is literally the size of a basketball court flies on top of Cerro Ancon, and that simple fact fills most Panamanians with a strong sense of nationalistic pride.



It's hard to get a feeling for how big the flagpole is when you get close to it. I would estimate that it's about three feet in diameter at the base. There's an electric winch that raises and lowers the flag, it's way too heavy to be raised by hand. The flag itself is attached to a steel guide which is raised by a steel cable. It's a really big flag. According to the guard it's larger than a basketball court.



I took this picture specifically to provide a sense of proportion. You can see the top of the cement guard shack at the lower right hand corner of the photo, and that's big enough for a full grown man to enter standing full height.



The best part about getting up on Cerro Ancon is the view. And for the record, this is the only picture in this article that I didn't take. I got the same angle, but this shot had much better blues and clouds.



This is a picture looking back up the Panama Canal toward the Miraflores Locks. You can see the ACP administration building in the foreground, the very end of the Albrook runway, and a couple of ships in port at Balboa.



This is the view toward Casco Viejo, with Chorillo in the foreground. You can pick out a couple of landmarks, like the two towers of the cathedral, and single point rising up in front of the French Embassy at the end of Las Bovedas. And, this pictures was taken at high tide this morning.



This is a good view of the port of Balboa, which is operated by the Panama Ports Company, owned by Hutchinson Whampoa, which is a PRC Chinese company. They don't own this port, they have a concession to operate it. And, they don't run the canal, just the port.



A view of the Bridge of the Americas, with the tank farm in the foreground. Notice there's another ship going northbound through the canal under the bridge. The new "mega-port" that's about to go to bid will be built in the Farfan area, on the far side of the canal and to the left of the bridge from this view.



This antenna and generator complex is owned by Cable & Wireless and is part of the telephone system for Panama. The generator was running, and there were buzzards all over the place. In case you were wondering, buzzards smell like rotten fish guts close up.



From the top you can look down on the burned-out court house that used to hold the Maritime Court and several other courts. This fire was probably arson, and there are several other articles about this fire posted on Panama Guide. At the apartment fire the other day I spoke to the fire investigators, and told them the arsonist probably used JP-4 to start this fire.



This is a ceremonial guard shack on top of the hill that protects the approach to the flag. Once upon a time there were probably some kind of Honor Guard assigned here.



This little shack or building would make a perfect visitor's center, but there's nothing in here and I have no idea why. This building would be great for some kind of display or exhibit, a museum, anything. Right now it's just gathering dust. What a waste.



This is one of the resident cats, who was content to hang out and ham it up for the camera. Check out the bright yellow eyes...



This Maersk container ship happened to be heading northbound in the Panama Canal. That's the old Rodman Navy Base on the other side of the canal behind the ship, and the start of the Balboa Panama Ports Company facilities in front of the ship on this side of the canal. Notice the tugboat toward the front, and the ACP pilot vessel in the middle where "Maersk" is painted on the side of the ship. These small boats are used to bring pilots from the Panama Canal out to the ships, and you can even see the ladder and gang-plank lowered to bring someone on board.



There's an area on the top where you can sit and just hang out. There are bathrooms (but no toilet paper) and I didn't notice if there was a drinking fountain or not.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this photo-essay of Cerro Ancon in Panama City in the Republic of Panama. I highly recommend you make a note to visit this place at some time during your stay in Panama. It's worth the trip for sure, and you'll love the "view from the top."
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