Situated right on the Pacific Ocean, Panama City has everything you could need from fabulous dining and shopping to museums and cultural exhibits. The most cosmopolitan Central American city boasts numerous shopping malls, trendy boutiques, and art galleries to satisfy your every need. Fine dining is on par with top restaurants in other big cities and nightly entertainment abounds. If you love a variety of amazing food, this is your spot.
Of course the Panama Canal is Panama City’s claim to fame. Miraflores Locks Visitor Center is a fabulous place to learn the history of the canal and how it functions today. Besides a short, historical movie and museum, the visitor center has a great viewing platform for watching the ships transit the locks. Or if you would rather feel the sensation of going through the locks, then hop on a boat and spend a day traversing through the Panama Canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific.
With 4 national parks bordering the city to the North, the Pacific Ocean to the South, and a modern and cosmopolitan city in between with an amazing amount of history, a visit to Panama’s capital is an exciting experience.
Attractions & Places to See
Panama City has become a cosmopolitan city that boasts many historical and cultural attractions:
- Miraflores Locks Visitor Center
- Panama Canal
- Casco Viejo- a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Panama La Vieja : ancient Spanish empire settlement dating back 500 years
- BioDiversity Museum : Frank Gehry design (designer of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao)
Activities & Things to Do
This tropical city has plenty of activities so whether you’re seeking shopping, pampering, or historical exploration, the city has you covered. Here are some of what Panama City has to offer:
- Transit through the Panama Canal
- Take a ride on the Panama Railroad
- Walk the Cinta Costera
- Stroll along Amador Causeway
- Visit nearby national parks amidst the thick, untouched rainforest
Panama City is an excellent home base for day trips. Here are a few of our favorites just 30 minutes to 2 hours from downtown:
- Snorkeling on Isla Tabogo
- Caving in Chagres National Park
- Freshwater Fishing on Lake Gatun
- Boating or Kayaking on Lake Gatun
- Hiking, Biking, or Birdwatching in Soberania National Park
- Visiting the Embera Indians
Wildlife & Nature
Metropolitan National Park, Soberania National Park and Chagres National Park come right up to Panama City and have unique bird species and other animals such as caimans, pumas, two and three toed sloths, and howler monkeys. The tropical forests have been kept in an almost pristine state.The most popular trail is Pipeline Road in Soberania where birders can spot over 400 species.
Best Time to Visit
There’s always something to see and do in Panama City although there are distinct dry and rainy (green) seasons. The driest months run mid-December through May, and the green season lasts from June to mid-December. During the wettest months, expect daily afternoon showers that last an hour or two. Rarely does it rain all day.
Where to Stay
Panama City is a popular destination for tourists and business travelers alike, and thus caters to every budget. From $10 dorm beds to luxuries that cost $300+ per night, you’re sure to find it here. Most hotels are in either the Financial District or Casco Viejo and offer free WiFi and breakfast.
Restaurants and Nightlife
Dining and nightlife in Panama City are top-notch. You can find international cuisine and of course, plenty of fresh seafood (one translation of “panama” is that it means ¨abundance of fish¨). Notable restaurants include Sal Si Puedes at the Bristol Hotel, Maito, La Posta, La Trona, and Puerta de Tierra. Calle Uruguay in the Financial District and Casco Viejo are the place to go for bars and nightclubs.
During your stay, you really can’t miss one of Casco Viejo’s best restaurants, Tantalo. This hip mid-range tapas-style restaurant features artwork from local artists that changes monthly. After dinner, head upstairs to the rooftop bar for a cocktail and check out the spectacular view!
Amenities & Infrastructure
Panama City has most amenities you would expect from a large city:
Public transportation: Yes, public buses. Central America’s first underground subway opening soon. Taxis are prevalent and incredibly inexpensive.
Public amenities: No.
Shopping: Food shopping is abundant, from larger grocery stores to roadside fruit stands. There are at least 5 large shopping malls, Albrook and MultiPlaza are the best for clothing, furniture, and goods. Souvenir shops with native handicrafts are found in Casco Viejo.
ATMs: Yes. Do not bring Traveler’s Cheques.
Gas stations: Yes.
WiFi or Internet cafés: Many mid-range and upscale hotels and restaurants offer free WiFi; Many restaurants, bars and parks also offer free WiFi.
Cell Phone Reception: Yes.
Restaurants: Yes; there are many options to suit all budgets
Nearest medical facilities: Numerous hospitals and clinics throughout the city. Hospital Punta Pacifica is the John Hopkins affiliated hospital–currently only one of two Hopkins facilities located outside of the USA. Medical emergencies for tourists are covered for 30 days with free health insurance.