Panama City, the cosmopolitan capital of Panama, is a melting pot of cultures with a rich history and stunning natural beauty. From exploring the charming streets of the historic district to experiencing the wonder of the Panama Canal, there’s no shortage of exciting activities to do in this bustling city. Here are the best things to do in Panama City to make the most of your visit!
Explore Casco Viejo, Panama City’s Historic District
If you’re looking to experience Panama City’s rich cultural roots, then exploring Casco Viejo, the city’s historic district, should definitely be on your itinerary. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a maze of charming streets, colorful colonial buildings, and beautiful plazas and churches that have stood the test of time.
Wander Through the Charming Streets
Take a leisurely stroll through the cobblestone streets of Casco Viejo and enjoy the colorful buildings, blooming flowers, and traditional street vendors selling everything from fresh fruit to artisan crafts. As you wander through the streets, you’ll notice the unique blend of architectural styles, from the colonial Spanish buildings to the French and Italian-inspired designs. Make sure to keep your camera close by, as the picturesque streets and vibrant atmosphere are sure to captivate you.
As you walk through the streets, you’ll also see the influence of Panama’s Afro-Caribbean culture. The neighborhood is home to many descendants of the West Indian laborers who helped build the Panama Canal, and you’ll notice the colorful buildings with wooden balconies and intricate ironwork that are characteristic of this culture.
Visit the Iconic Churches and Plazas
No visit to Casco Viejo is complete without exploring the stunning churches and plazas that dot the neighborhood. Admire the gorgeous architecture of the Cathedral of Panama, the Iglesia de la Merced, and the San Francisco de Asis Church, each with a unique history and charm. The Cathedral of Panama, also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral, is the largest church in Panama and features beautiful stained glass windows and intricate wood carvings. The Iglesia de la Merced is known for its stunning bell tower, while the San Francisco de Asis Church is famous for its ornate altarpiece.
Don’t forget to take a rest in one of the beautiful plazas, such as Plaza de la Independencia or Plaza de Francia, and indulge in people-watching. Plaza de la Independencia is the main square in Casco Viejo and is surrounded by some of the neighborhood’s most important buildings, including the Palacio Municipal, the National Theater, and the Cathedral of Panama. Plaza de Francia is located at the tip of the peninsula and offers stunning views of the Panama Bay and the modern skyline of Panama City.
Discover Local Art Galleries and Museums
Casco Viejo is also home to a vibrant art scene, with numerous art galleries and museums scattered throughout the neighborhood. Visit the Diablo Rosso contemporary art gallery to see the work of some of Panama’s most talented contemporary artists. The Panama Canal Museum is a must-visit for history buffs, where you can learn about the construction of the Panama Canal and its impact on the country. The Museum of History Panama is another great option, with exhibits showcasing the history of Panama from pre-Columbian times to the present day.
Overall, a visit to Casco Viejo is a journey through Panama’s history and culture. From the charming streets and colorful buildings to the iconic churches and plazas, there’s something for everyone in this historic district.
Experience the Panama Canal
One of Panama’s most iconic landmarks, the Panama Canal, is a must-see attraction for any visitor to Panama City. The canal is a marvel of modern engineering, stretching 80 kilometers from the Pacific to the Caribbean coast.
The Panama Canal is not only an engineering marvel but also an important waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It has been a crucial part of global trade since its completion in 1914. The canal is a source of pride for Panamanians, who fought for control of the canal from the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.
Visit the Miraflores Locks
One of the best places to experience the Panama Canal is at the Miraflores Locks, a series of three locks that lift ships over 50 feet from sea level to the level of the canal. Watch as mammoth ships journey through this incredible feat of engineering or visit the Museum of the Panama Canal for an in-depth look at the history of the canal and its impact on global trade.
The Miraflores Locks are an engineering masterpiece that uses gravity to lift and lower ships through the canal. The locks are operated by a team of skilled workers who use a system of gates, valves, and pumps to control the water levels and guide ships through the canal. The locks are also home to a visitor center where you can learn more about the canal’s history and the challenges of its construction.
Take a Panama Canal Cruise
A Panama Canal cruise is another great way to experience this spectacular engineering marvel. Cruise through the canal and experience the wonder of lifting over 20,000 tons of steel and cargo up and down the canal’s elevations. You’ll also get to enjoy beautiful views of Panama City and the surrounding tropical rainforest.
The Panama Canal cruise is a unique experience that takes you through the heart of Panama. You’ll get to see the canal up close and personal, as well as the lush rainforest and diverse wildlife that call it home. The cruise is also an opportunity to learn about the canal’s history and the role it plays in global trade.
Explore the Panama Canal Railway
For a different perspective on the Panama Canal, take a ride on the historic Panama Canal Railway, the first transcontinental railway in the world. The scenic train ride takes you through lush rainforests, across the canal, and along Panama’s stunning Pacific coastline.
The Panama Canal Railway is a historic railway that was built in the mid-19th century to transport goods and people across the isthmus of Panama. Today, the railway is a popular tourist attraction that offers breathtaking views of the canal and the surrounding rainforest. The train ride is a great way to learn about the history of the canal and the impact it has had on Panama and the world.
Dive into Panamanian Cuisine
Panamanian cuisine is a delicious combination of African, Spanish, and Indigenous influences. The country’s diverse cultural history has led to the creation of unique dishes that are sure to tantalize your taste buds. Whether you’re a foodie or just looking to try something new, Panama is the perfect destination for food lovers.
Sample Traditional Dishes at Local Restaurants
When it comes to traditional Panamanian dishes, there are plenty of options to choose from. One of the most popular dishes is sancocho, a hearty soup made with chicken, yams, and corn. The soup is simmered for hours, allowing the flavors to meld together into a rich and savory broth. Another must-try dish is ceviche, a refreshing dish made with fresh raw fish marinated in lime juice. The acidity of the lime juice “cooks” the fish, resulting in a tender and flavorful dish.
For those looking to try these and other traditional dishes, there are plenty of local restaurants to choose from. Granclement and Patacon are two popular options that serve up authentic Panamanian cuisine in a cozy and welcoming atmosphere.
Take a Panamanian Cooking Class
If you’re looking to take your love of Panamanian cuisine to the next level, why not try your hand at cooking it yourself? There are plenty of cooking classes available throughout the country that will teach you the secrets of Panamanian dishes and the culture that inspired them.
Casa Sucre Coffeehouse is one popular option that offers cooking classes to both locals and tourists alike. Here, you can learn how to make traditional dishes like arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and carimañolas (deep-fried cassava rolls filled with meat and vegetables). And the best part? You get to eat your creations afterwards!
Visit the Vibrant Food Markets
No trip to Panama would be complete without a visit to one of the country’s vibrant food markets. These bustling markets are a feast for the senses, with colorful displays of fresh seafood, exotic fruits, and traditional street food like empanadas, tortillas, and tamales.
Mercado de Mariscos is one of the most popular food markets in Panama City, offering a wide variety of fresh seafood caught daily by local fishermen. You can sample everything from lobster and shrimp to octopus and squid. For those looking for a more traditional market experience, Mercado de Abastos is a great option. Here, you can find everything from fresh produce to handmade crafts.
Overall, Panama’s cuisine is a true reflection of its rich cultural history. Whether you’re sampling traditional dishes at a local restaurant, taking a cooking class, or exploring a vibrant food market, you’re sure to discover new and exciting flavors that you won’t find anywhere else.
Connect with Nature at Metropolitan Natural Park
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a while by visiting Metropolitan Natural Park. This beautiful park is home to over 250 species of birds, monkeys, sloths, and other wildlife. The park is a perfect place for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts to explore and enjoy the beauty of Panama’s natural environment.
Hike the Scenic Trails
The park offers several hiking trails that allow you to enjoy stunning views of the city skyline and surrounding mountains. Take a 2-hour hike along the Pipeline Road and spot rare birds and other wildlife along the way. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, making it a great option for hikers of all skill levels. Make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen, as the trail can be quite hot and exposed to the sun.
Another popular trail in the park is the Plantation Trail, which takes you through a dense forest of trees and other vegetation. This trail is a bit more challenging than the Pipeline Road, but the views are well worth the effort. Keep an eye out for howler monkeys and other wildlife as you make your way through the forest.
Spot Wildlife and Birdwatching
For nature lovers, Metropolitan Natural Park is a paradise with numerous opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife spotting. Keep an eye out for toucans, sloths, monkeys, and other creatures among the lush greenery. The park’s location in the heart of Panama City makes it a great place to see a variety of different bird species, including parrots, hummingbirds, and tanagers.
If you’re interested in learning more about the park’s wildlife, consider booking a guided tour with a local naturalist. They can help you identify different species and provide you with fascinating information about the park’s ecology and conservation efforts.
Enjoy Panoramic Views of the City
Climb up the Ancon Hill for panoramic views of Panama City, or take the Cable Aéreo to the top. Enjoy the stunning views of the city skyline, the Panama Canal, and the surrounding nature. The Cable Aéreo is a unique way to experience the park, as it takes you high above the treetops for a bird’s eye view of the park’s flora and fauna.
At the top of Ancon Hill, you’ll find a small museum dedicated to the history of the park and its role in protecting Panama’s natural resources. The museum is free to enter and offers a fascinating look at the park’s conservation efforts over the years.
Overall, Metropolitan Natural Park is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in nature and the outdoors. With its beautiful trails, diverse wildlife, and stunning views, it’s a perfect place to escape the city and connect with Panama’s natural environment.
Relax on the Stunning Beaches
No trip to Panama would be complete without a visit to the stunning beaches that surround Panama City. With crystal-clear waters, white sandy beaches, and beautiful coral reefs, Panama’s beaches are a true paradise for beach lovers.
Visit Isla Taboga
Just a short boat ride away from Panama City, Isla Taboga is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. The island boasts pristine beaches, warm crystal-clear waters, and beautiful coral reefs. Relax on the beach, swim in the ocean, or take a snorkeling or boat tour to explore the island’s natural beauty.
Aside from its natural beauty, Isla Taboga is also rich in history. The island was discovered by Spanish explorers in the 16th century and has a long and fascinating history. Visit the island’s charming town, which is home to several historic buildings and landmarks, including the San Pedro Church, which dates back to the 18th century.
Explore the Pearl Islands
The Pearl Islands, made famous by the TV show Survivor, offer a true island paradise experience. Located just off the coast of Panama, these islands are home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Visit the islands of Contadora, Saboga, or Viveros for a day trip or an extended stay. Enjoy the white sand beaches and clear turquoise waters, or go fishing or scuba diving to explore the underwater world.
The Pearl Islands are also rich in wildlife, with a variety of bird species and marine life living in and around the islands. Take a guided tour to explore the islands’ natural beauty and learn about the local flora and fauna.
Discover the Best Beaches Near Panama City
If you’re looking for a beach closer to the city, there are several great options to choose from. Veracruz, located just 20 minutes from the city, is a popular spot for locals. The beach offers great swimming, lounging, and water sports opportunities, as well as several restaurants and bars where you can relax and enjoy the ocean views.
Santa Clara, located about 1.5 hours from Panama City, is another popular beach destination. The beach is known for its calm waters, making it a great spot for swimming and lounging. There are also several resorts and restaurants in the area, making it a great spot for a day trip or an extended stay.
Farallon, located about 2 hours from the city, is a popular spot for surfers and water sports enthusiasts. The beach offers great waves and is home to several surf schools and rental shops. There are also several resorts and restaurants in the area, making it a great spot for a weekend getaway.
Whether you’re looking for a secluded island paradise or a bustling beach closer to the city, Panama has something for everyone. So pack your swimsuit and sunscreen and get ready to relax on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world!
Experience Panama City’s Nightlife
Panama City is known for its vibrant nightlife, with numerous clubs, bars, and folkloric shows to keep you entertained all night long.
As you explore the city’s nightlife, you’ll find that it offers a diverse range of experiences that cater to different tastes. Whether you’re looking for a night of dancing or a more laid-back evening with live music, Panama City has something for everyone.
Dance the Night Away at Popular Clubs
Head to popular clubs like Teatro Amador, Casa Jaguar, or Tantalo for a night of dancing. These clubs boast a mix of locals and tourists, offering a great opportunity to experience Panama City’s nightlife.
At Teatro Amador, you’ll find a unique atmosphere that combines the city’s history with modern entertainment. The club is housed in a beautifully restored theater from the 1900s, and features a mix of electronic and live music.
Casa Jaguar, on the other hand, offers a more exotic vibe with its jungle-inspired decor and outdoor terrace. The club features a mix of Latin and international music, and is a popular spot among locals and tourists alike.
Tantalo is a rooftop bar and club that offers stunning views of the city skyline. The club features a mix of electronic and live music, and is known for its creative cocktails and delicious food.
Enjoy Live Music at Local Bars
For a more laid-back night out, visit local bars like La Rana Dorada or Istmo Brewpub, where you can enjoy a beer or cocktail and listen to live music or DJs.
La Rana Dorada is a popular microbrewery that offers a range of craft beers and delicious food. The bar features live music on weekends, with a mix of local and international bands.
Istmo Brewpub is another popular spot that offers a range of craft beers and delicious food. The bar features live music and DJs on weekends, and is a popular spot among locals and expats.
Attend a Traditional Folklore Show
To experience Panama’s rich culture, attend a traditional folklore show at local venues like Las Bovedas or Folklore Panamá Viejo. Enjoy traditional music and dancing, as well as a reenactment of the traditional pollera, the national dress of Panama.
Las Bovedas is a historic venue that offers a range of cultural events, including traditional folklore shows. The venue is housed in a beautiful 18th-century building, and features stunning views of the Panama Bay.
Folklore Panamá Viejo is another popular venue that offers traditional folklore shows. The venue is located in the heart of Panama City’s historic district, and features a range of cultural events throughout the year.
As you explore Panama City’s nightlife, you’ll discover that the city offers a unique blend of modern entertainment and traditional culture. Whether you’re looking for a night of dancing, live music, or cultural experiences, Panama City has something for everyone.
Shop ’til You Drop
If shopping is your thing, then Panama City won’t disappoint.
Browse the Artisan Markets
Visit local artisan markets like Mercado Nacional de Artesanías or Mercado de Artesanías de Panamá Viejo, and browse handmade crafts, textiles, and jewelry made by local artisans. These markets offer a great opportunity to buy unique souvenirs and gifts.
Visit the Luxurious Shopping Malls
Panama City is also home to luxurious shopping malls like Albrook Mall and Multiplaza Pacific, where you can find high-end brands like Chanel, Gucci, and Prada. Enjoy a day of shopping, dining, and entertainment at these upscale malls.
Discover Unique Boutiques and Local Shops
If you’re looking for unique and local finds, then head to neighborhood shops like El Valle Artesanal or the Diablo Rosso store. These shops offer a selection of locally made items, including clothing, jewelry, and artwork.
From the historic district to the natural parks and stunning beaches, Panama City offers visitors a diverse array of activities and sights to explore. Whether you’re looking to connect with nature, experience the culture, or simply relax on the beach, Panama City has something for everyone. So pack your bags, book your tickets, and get ready to experience the best of Panama City for yourself!