Panama City was the first European established settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas, but its significance isn’t just relegated to the history books. The city continues to play an important role in international trade and commerce and over the years it has become a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. It’s a place […]
Panama City was the first European established settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas, but its significance isn’t just relegated to the history books. The city continues to play an important role in international trade and commerce and over the years it has become a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. It’s a place where old meets new, urban meets rural, and traditional meets modern. We’ve created a quick Panama City Guide to show you the best sights and give you travel tips, along with our top recommendations.
Panama’s capital city has a rich and intriguing history which includes the Spanish conquest, gold, and even pirates! There is plenty to do, see, and learn wandering its streets and, for those needing an escape, you don’t have to travel far out of the city to find beautiful national parks and rainforest. We recommend you spend at least 3 days here in order to see the city’s top attractions. Make sure you don’t miss out on our top 6 top things to do in Panama City:
A trip to Panama is not complete without visiting Panama’s most famous landmark and one of the American Engineering Society’s “Seven Wonders of the Modern World.” Learn about the history of this remarkable feat of engineering by boarding a vessel transiting from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, as a local guide explains the canal’s history and global significance.
Panama City’s oldest district was established in 1671 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. While it used to be rife with gang violence, nowadays it’s an up-and-coming area and the colonial architecture and pastel facades add to its bohemian charm. Wander these narrow streets and learn more about the Panama Canal at the Interoceanic Canal Museum, grab ceviche at the local fish market or enjoy an evening drink at a rooftop bar.
It’s obvious from the name that if you like monkeys you should go here! This small island in the middle of Lake Gatun is home to several different species, including the Mantled Howler Monkey, Geoffroy’s Tamarin Monkey, Lemurine Owl Monkey, and the White-Faced Capuchin Monkey. Visitors can even get the chance to feed the wild monkeys!
This gorgeous promenade stretches along the Panama City’s shoreline. Take a relaxing walk along here at sunrise or sunset and you’ll get fantastic views of the skyline and some incredible photo opportunities. If you’re looking to keep fit, the area is popular for running and cycling as well as many ball sports such as volleyball, tennis, and soccer; there is even free workout equipment! Otherwise, head to Panama City’s fish market on the western side of the promenade for delicious seafood dishes.
This causeway connects four small islands at the entrance to the Panama Canal on the Pacific side and was constructed from the rock excavations for the Canal. As well as being a great spot to see ships, this 4-mile (6-km) strip also has many of its own activities and attractions. Visit the Biomuseo or the Punta Culebra Nature Center to learn more about Panama’s native biodiversity. If you prefer being active, try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding in the bay, along with cycling and fishing. Topped off with a “beach” and even an “aquabus,” you’ll find plenty of things to do here.
Just a few kilometers east of modern-day Panama City are the ruins of the original settlement which was founded in 1519. In 1670, the city was attacked by the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan and burned to the ground, though there are various versions of this tale, and the city was relocated to where the Casco Viejo now stands. It’s worth taking some time to visit this UNESCO World Heritage site and its museum to learn all about Panama City’s early days as a base for the Spanish conquest and a major port in the transit of gold and silver to Europe.
Popular local specialties include:
Head into one of the many coffee shops and you’ll see Geisha coffee, which is Panama’s finest bean. It’s the world’s most expensive and regarded as the champagne of coffee! Check out Bajareque coffee house to taste this rare delicacy, or opt to sample their trio of house blends. Bajareque is unique in that the owners also own the plantations in Boquete, so you can be sure you’re getting a true Panamanian coffee experience!
If you’re after a beer and some classic comfort food, head to Nomada Eatery in Casco Viejo. This rustic café serves authentic Panamanian dishes, such as ceviche and plantain, alongside international classics such as mac & cheese and pizza. They also showcase and sell local artwork as well as artisan products. It’s the perfect place to grab a few beers and a delicious meal with friends and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere.
For fine dining, choose none other than Donde José – one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Chef José Carlos stays true to Panamanian cuisine by using native ingredients in a creative tasting menu. The menu changes every few months but expect contemporary dishes celebrating the best of Panama’s cultural heritage. The restaurant is tiny, seating only 16 diners, so advance reservations are necessary.
Panamanian Food Tour
Panama’s incredible multicultural history has resulted in a unique and vibrant cuisine which is found at its best in Panama City! Taste your way through the iconic neighborhoods of the city while a local guide explains the fascinating roots of this culinary revolution. Mouthwatering dishes include lobster ceviche, plantain tart, codfish cakes, and orange & raspadura juice, among many others!
Soberanía National Park
You don’t have to go far from the city to experience Panama’s incredible biodiversity. Soberanía National Park is just 15.5 miles (25 km) outside of the city and is a bird-watcher’s paradise with an exotic array of some 525 species. Spend the day with a local expert guide who will take you to the park’s best spots and help you see all kinds of exotic species. As well as birds, the park is also home to several varieties of monkey, sloths, iguanas, and even jaguars.
Visit an Embera Village
The Embera are an indigenous group in Panama with unique customs and culture. Take a break from the city to venture deep into the rainforest to visit an authentic Embera community and learn more about their way of life. Read more about this fascinating culture in this blog post.
Sail to Taboga Island
Also known as the Island of Flowers, this volcanic island floating in the Pacific Ocean has a history stretching back to the era of Captain Morgan and is home to the second oldest church in Latin America, Iglesia San Pedro. It has plenty to offer its visitors, from relaxing on the peaceful beaches, snorkeling in the clear waters, or hiking to El Cruce. It’s easily reached in a day trip from Panama City.