Surviving San Miguelito

I was filled with so many emotions as I reached closer to the infamous San Miguelito. I was excited, concerned, and worried all at the same time. I have been here several times before but no matter how many times, I am always on guard. This part of Panama is not a joke and is not for the faint of heart. However, I am blessed that I do not have any personal horror stories.

Entrance of San Miguelito, Veranillo; Photo Courtesy of Tony Polanco.

The name of this part of Panama was founded sometime before 1950. The population living there called it San Miguel Adentro and confused it with another neighborhood in the area of Calidonia called San Miguel. Panamanians are like that. We make up names and just stick with it. San Miguelito became an official district on June 30, 1970 by the  Cabinet Decree No. 258. It currently has the second largest population in the republic with over 300,000 inhabitants.

I met up with my wife as we were visiting her aunt and grandfather (the things I do for love). We noticed we were in the slums because of the hills and alleys at each corner. What really confuses me is how young children and the elderly are able to navigate through these rough hills and mazes. The resilience and will of the Panamanians in this community is strong. Behind the toughness of it all, there is a certain charm and charisma that they hold.

Photo Courtesy of Tony Polanco.

Once we were at my wife’s grandfather house, I was taken away by the amazing views that the hills of San Miguelito had to offer. Looking over the porch transported me to a while new world. You could see the Panamanian skyline in all its glory portraying the paradise that you see on tourists guides. Furthermore, there is also a contrast in Panamanian reality. As became lost in the spectacular views, I also noticed the social differences by just looking. San Miguelito stands out because of its appearance as a shanty looking town. It is like a village of hills all smashed up together. These are the conditions that make up 3rd world countries although Panama is a developing country (San Miguelito is very behind when it comes to economic and social progress).

Slums of San Miguelito; Photo Courtesy of Tony Polanco.
Hills in San Miguelito; Photo Courtesy of Madelin Vasquez Polanco.


One can focus on the negativity and dangers in San Miguelito but coming from the ghetto, I knew that there is so much more that meets the eye. I was very inspired how the community here comes together to provide the basic things. I noticed small bodega in the middle of the area with hard workers.

Although you will never see San Miguelito mentioned in tourist guides or lonely planet travel books, I felt it is important part of Panama’s culture. I survived this trip and it realized that sometimes we often judge what we do not understand. I made this mistake myself but the beautiful people of San Miguelito shown me a totally different side to the slums of Panama.

Photo Courtesy of Madelin Vasquez Polanco.


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15 thoughts on “Surviving San Miguelito

  1. I like how you didn’t just sidestep a place because it wasn’t in the guidebooks you could see. And I loved how the beautiful place proved itself to be very impressive also. P.S- Tony Polanco takes the most beautiful photographs. The pink splashing with the green, so beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

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