I only have 5 days in Panama. What can I do? Quite a lot, actually. Panama may be a small country, but it is packed with a variety of attractions, from bio-diverse nature reserves to fascinating historical sites and gorgeous beaches. To help you plan your trip to Panama, we’ve put together 4 possible […]
Quite a lot, actually. Panama may be a small country, but it is packed with a variety of attractions, from bio-diverse nature reserves to fascinating historical sites and gorgeous beaches.
To help you plan your trip to Panama, we’ve put together 4 possible itineraries, focusing on culture and history, adventure, nature, and beaches, respectively.
Select whichever itinerary corresponds most to your interests, or pick and choose from the activities that seem the most fun to you to make your own custom itinerary.
History buffs and those interested in anthropology will be intrigued by Panama’s historical attractions and unique culture.
Panama has held international importance for hundreds of years, from the Spanish gold trade to the construction of the Panama Canal. Since then, the country has attracted pirates, international investors, and more, resulting in a mixture of cultures, including indigenous groups, Afro-Caribbean people, and those of European origin.
Panama City and the surrounding area have more than enough attractions to satisfy a history lover. Take a look at our suggested itinerary below to learn more about the best cultural and historical spots in and near Panama City.
Day 1 – Arrive to Panama City and Explore the Historic Old Town
After flying into Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport, make your way to Casco Viejo, the historical district of the city. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has colonial architecture, magnificent churches, and impressive government buildings.
Depending on the arrival time of your flight, you can go on a food tour in Casco Viejo from 17:00 pm to 19:30 pm. You’ll enjoy a guided tour with samples of fresh ceviche, high-quality coffee, organic chocolate, and craft beer.
Day 2 – Panama City Day Tour
There’s so much more to see in Panama City, with historic sites at every turn. Go on a Panama City day tour to experience the best spots. Your expert bilingual guide will take you to the Museum of Panama Viejo, the National Theater, and, of course, the Panama Canal, explaining the historical significance of each site.
If you’re visiting Panama City, you just have to see the spectacle of the Panama Canal at the Miraflores Locks. Witness the engineering marvel as you watch gigantic ships pass through the locks.
For more ideas on things to do in Panama City, see our Panama City Guide.
Day 3 – Visit an Embera Village in the Panamanian Rainforest
Enjoy a complete change of scenery as you venture deep into the rainforest of Panama’s interior to visit an Embera Village. Many of the indigenous Embera people still practice their ancient customs and live as their ancestors did, along rivers in the jungle. The Embera are known for their distinctive houses on stilts and their colorful clothing.
For your visit, you’ll take a traditional dugout canoe up a river to get to the village. Then, you’ll learn about Embera culture, see their handicrafts, and enjoy a traditional meal of fresh fish and fruit.
To learn more about the Embera people and how your visit influences their community, read our blog post: Authentic or Touristy: Is an Embera Village Worth a Visit?
Day 4 – Take the Panama Canal Railway and Explore Historic Forts
The construction of the Panama Canal would not have been possible without its predecessor, the Panama Canal Railway, which was finished in 1855. Read up on its tumultuous history before going, so that you can appreciate even more all the hard work that went into building the railway. Note that the Panama Canal train runs Monday to Friday and tickets cost $25.
If you ride the train as part of this day tour, you’ll also get to visit the less crowded Gatun Locks, on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. Then, experience the historic Fort San Lorenzo, a Spanish fort dating back to the late 16th century which was tasked with protecting the Spanish gold trade along the Chagres River from pirate attacks. You’ll also see Fort Sherman, a former US army base.
Day 5 – Depart from Panama City
After such a fun time learning about Panama’s compelling history and cultures, you’ll surely want to stay longer. But as today is the last day of your trip, you’ll head to the airport instead.
Do you love to be physically active, exploring new environments and participating in heart-pumping activities? If so, Panama is the perfect destination for you.
Although the other itineraries in this guide center around Panama City, we recommend heading to western Panama, to the mountain town of Boquete to experience the best adventure activities.
The region of Chiriqui in western Panama is home to green mountains, stunning highlands, cloud forest, and rushing rivers, all of which form a terrific base for outdoor activities.
Day 1 – Arrive to Panama City and Transfer to Boquete
First, you’ll fly into Panama City’s airport. From there, book a flight to David. The flight only takes about an hour and taking the bus from David to Boquete takes another hour. After a day of travel, we recommend relaxing in a luxury private bungalow at Coffee Estate Inn, where you can enjoy spectacular mountain views.
Day 2 – Hike in Baru Volcano National Park
The mountains around Boquete hold fantastic hiking trails. Walk through the cloud forest to surreal waterfalls, admiring local wildlife such as exotic quetzal birds. You can even hike up the Baru Volcano, the highest point in Panama at 11,400 feet (3,475 m).
For shorter hikes, try Los Quetzales Trail or Pipeline Trail. We’ve reviewed all the best hikes in Boquete in our other blog post.
Day 3 – Go Whitewater Rafting
Panama’s Chiriqui Province, where Boquete is located, has more than 35 world-class whitewater rafting runs! There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the scenery than rafting, as you’ll get to see views only accessible by boat.
Set out on the wild rivers of Boquete on a full-day rafting trip. Your experienced guides will take you to the best rafting spot to match your experience level.
Day 4 – Enjoy an Adrenaline Day: Ziplining, ATV, and Coffee Tour
Are you looking for even more adventure activities? Then get your adrenaline rush by ziplining through the cloud forest canopy on a half-day tour either in the morning (8:00 am-12:30 pm) or afternoon (13:00-17:00 pm). You’ll soar high in the treetops on a series of 11 ziplines, with views of La Amistad International Park and Baru Volcano.
For the other half of your day, have a blast driving ATVs, then see a local coffee farm on this 4-hour tour.
Day 5 – Return to Panama City and Depart from Panama
To bring your adventure trip to an end, take the bus from Boquete to David, fly from David to Panama City, then board your flight home.
Nature lovers and birders will love the diversity of Panama. There are nearly 1,000 bird species in a country roughly the size of the US state of Washington! What’s more, Panama’s rainforests hold all sorts of interesting animals such as monkeys, sloths, and even jaguars.
If the rainforest’s wildlife doesn’t impress you, head out to Panama’s coasts to discover migrating whales, sea turtles, dolphins, and more marine life. You’re sure to see a variety of fish if you go snorkeling or scuba diving.
Even within Panama, you’ll find a variety of environments, from interior rainforest to high cloud forest to low wetlands. Although there’s so much to see, you should stay in the Panama City area if you only have 5 days in Panama. You’ll be able to see plenty of wildlife just outside the city.
Day 1 – Arrive to Panama City
After you fly into Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport, go to your hotel and drop off your bags. Then, head to Amador Causeway, a 4-mile (6-km) stretch of road connecting 4 islands in the bay. There, you’ll find the Museum of Biodiversity which has exhibits about Panama’s natural history.
Walk or bike on further along the causeway to appreciate unbeatable views of the city and bay. You can even see huge ships lining up to pass through the Panama Canal locks. Towards the end of the causeway is the Punta Culebra Nature Center, a Smithsonian-run conservation center with exhibits about marine and amphibian life.
Day 2 – Go Birding at Pipeline Road in Soberania National Park
Just outside Panama City, the landscape changes from concrete and high-rises to greenery and jungle. Within the rainforest of Soberania National Park, you can find about 500 bird species, along with other unique wildlife such as sloths and monkeys. To see a higher number of animals and birds, go with an expert guide who knows the local bird songs and behavior.
For more information about Soberania National Park, check out our blog post.
Day 3 – (July-October) Spot Whales at Taboga and Otoque Islands
Every year, humpback whales migrate to the warm waters off Panama’s Pacific coast. On a full day whale-watching tour, you can see these magnificent gentle giants in their native habitat. Plus, you could also see dolphins and other marine life, especially when you stop at an island for lunch and to swim at the beach.
Day 3 – (November-June) Discover Monkey Island and Visit an Indigenous Village
This day tour takes you on an adventure to Monkey Island, in Gatun Lake. You’ll navigate the Panama Canal to reach this unique island which, as the name suggests, is full of monkeys!
You’ll also get to visit a Wounaan indigenous village, where you will go on a nature walk to learn about how they use native plants.
Day 4 – Enjoy a Day Trip to El Valle de Anton
Venture into Panama’s mountainous interior on a day trip to experience a completely different environment from Panama City. El Valle de Anton is only a little over 2 hours away by car. Explore a botanical garden with beautiful orchids that bloom year-round.
You could even stay overnight in this lovely town. For more ideas of things to do in Valle de Anton, click here.
Day 5 – Depart from Panama City
By the end of your trip, you will have seen more birds than you can count, cute local wildlife such as sloths and monkeys, and some marine or water-based animals. You won’t want to leave Panama, but you’ll head to the airport and get on your flight home.
Panama is unique in that you can easily access both Pacific and Caribbean beaches, even in the same day! You can find high-quality beaches throughout Panama, on both coasts.
For secluded islands and beaches, head to the San Blas Islands. For world-class surfing and sea turtle hatchlings, go to the Azuero Peninsula, especially Isla Cañas. For lovely beaches with great snorkeling and scuba diving, travel to the Bocas del Toro region.
For 5 days in Panama, we recommend staying close to Panama City, where you will most likely arrive by airplane. That way, you can make the most of your time and have some more hours to enjoy the beach instead of in transportation.
Day 1 – Arrive to Panama City and Explore the Casco Viejo Neighborhood
Once you arrive to Tocumen International Airport, head to Casco Viejo, Panama City’s historic district. We recommend staying the night there and taking advantage of your location to explore the local neighborhood. You’ll get plenty of beach time in the following days.
Day 2 – (June-October) See Humpback Whales in the Pearl Islands
Go on a boat trip to the Pearl Islands, south of Panama City in the Pacific Ocean. In addition to looking for graceful whales in the open ocean, you’ll also get to experience the warm waters of the Pearl Islands. Relax on the beach and enjoy a delicious lunch before heading back to Panama City.
Day 2 – (November-May) San Blas Day Trip
Experience the pristine sands and indigenous Guna Yala culture of the San Blas islands on a day trip from Panama City. You’ll visit three beautiful islands, enjoy a tasty traditional lunch, and get to snorkel and swim in the Caribbean to your heart’s content.
If you’d rather stay in the same beach area for your whole vacation, try our 5-day sea kayaking trip in the San Blas islands.
Day 3-4 – Sea Kayak and Camp at Isla Mamey
This 2-day Isla Mamey tour allows you to relax and experience the beauty of this secluded Caribbean island. Isla Mamey is near the town of Portobelo, Panama and offers wonderful snorkeling spots. You’ll also get to go sea kayaking and visit the nearby Isla Grande.
Day 5 – Fly Out of Panama
With your batteries recharged, you’ll head back to Panama City to catch your departing flight.
On your 5 days in Panama, make the most of your experience by first determining your priorities. Do you want to do adrenaline-pumping adventure activities or relax and listen to the ocean waves? Are you more interested in nature or history?
With an understanding of what you enjoy the most, use the itineraries above as inspiration to build your perfect Panama vacation.