Panama: 17 Foot Tides make a fascinating landscape

Casco Viejo, San Felipe

Panama City, Panama

When Patrizia and Casey planned their recent wedding ceremony on the Casco Viejo beach that looks out over the Canal entrance, we suddenly had to pay attention to the tide table, something most of us here rarely have reason to do.

The wedding had to accommodate various travel and schedule conflicts and furthermore had to be in the late afternoon not long before sunset. The only date and time that suited everyone was just two hours before high tide, assuming we were checking the right table.


My apartment has a view of that beach and I’ve seen full moon high tide roll right up to the old colonial wall leaving not a sliver of sand on which to arrange chairs and place a dais and create colorful aisles lined with tropical fruit. The wedding planner had concern–after all, the tides in Panama are famously seventeen feet or more.

Who ordinarily worries about tides? For most visitors the tide is fascinating only in that from, say, the old fort, Las Bovedas where the ancient courthouse and dungeons during the 1700s was located, at low tide you can see vast stretch of uncovered rock jutting out it in every direction for a couple hundred yards. This rocky brown bottom when exposed is what kept seafaring marauders such as the infamous pirate Henry Morgan from getting close to this peninsula in the 1700s. That is, back when it was simply The City, long before it was Casco Viejo (the Old Center of Town, or alternately, Casco Antiguo and also goes by the name San Felipe).

We Googled up Panama Tides, and being told that there could be–or might not be–a discrepancy because U.S. tide tables take into consideration Daylight Savings time which Panama doesn’t use–we opted to trust the Panama Canal’s tables.

Which turned out to be right? The sandy strip was some 100 feet from sea to seawall, and the ceremony was over before the tide even encroached. In some areas of the bay, locales will walk out on the rocks to catch a few tasty morsels for dinner. We never tire of watching the tides ebb and flow.

As most people know, the tides are regulated by the moon, which rises about 50 minutes later each day. All that means to most of us is that if you go walking on the Bovedas at, say, 6 a.m. every morning, within the space of a couple of weeks you’ll see everything from dead high to dead low tide which won’t affect your life much. Unless you’re planning a wedding.

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