What to do in Panama City, Panama

What to do in Panama City, Panama by BoozingAbroad.com
If you are looking for what to do in Panama City, Panama, then look no further. 

Panama is a great option to explore a Central American country when you want to avoid some of the more touristy spots, like Mexico. The most unique thing about Panama is the biodiversity; almost the entire country is covered in rainforest and the rest is full of many urban areas, like Panama City.

Panama City is the capital of Panama, and it’s one of the most cosmopolitan cities in South America. The city is full of famous attractions, thriving nightlife, trendy restaurants, historical centers, and more. Panama City is also affordable, and offers amazing weather, making it an ideal place to visit no matter what kind of traveler you are.

Psst:  We have a few Central American guides. See our most popular posts below:

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When to Go to Panama City

Panama Sign
Panama is unique in that it only has two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season (December to April) is usually quite warm and ideal for activities like hiking, sunbathing, and swimming. The wet season (April to December) is, of course, very rainy. 

While there are some good things about the rain, no one wants to spend their entire vacation inside due to the heavy rainfall. Therefore, we recommend visiting during the dry season (December to April) to experience the best things to see in Panama. 

We visited Panama over Christmas and New Years and it was very hot and rained very little, which was incredible. With a massive list of things to do in Panama City, we were grateful for the good weather.

Where to Stay in Panama City

Panama Skyline
Booking.com probably has the widest selection of budget (and luxury) accommodations in the world. In our experience, they consistently found the cheapest rooms. We also like their easy-to-use interface and no-money-down policy. When we book our travel stays, we personally use Booking.com.

TRYP by Wyndham

One of the best things about TRYP by Wyndham is the location. The hotel is conveniently located 10 minutes away from Panama International Airport, 0.5 miles away from the city center, and 10 minutes away from two shopping malls. 

All the rooms are clean, modern, and include free WiFi, a flat-screen TV, a mini fridge, and beautiful city views. 

TRYP offers great facilities as well, like a rooftop pool, fitness center, a Gastro Bar that offers Mediterranean food, and more. 

>>Check current prices and availability here. 

American Trade Hotel and Hall

American Trade Hotel is located in Casco Viejo, the historic district of Panama City. Besides being full of history, the district is very Instagram-worthy with colorful buildings and brick-paved streets everywhere you go. 

American Trade Hotel sits inside a 1917 building that was restored in 2007, so it offers plenty of historic charm while still being modern. 

The lobby is large and laid-back, and all the rooms come equipped with air-conditioning, a flat-screen TV, a minibar, and an iPod dock. Some rooms even have a balcony that overlooks the square. 

For facilities, the hotel offers a swimming pool, a restaurant, a jazz bar, a gym, and an ATM.

>>Check current prices and availability here.

La Isabela Suites

La Isabela Suites is a combination of a hotel and condo that is located in the historic Casco Viejo, close to many attractions like the Presidential Palace, the Canal Museum of Panama, Maracanã Stadium, and more. 

All the rooms in the hotel are large and come equipped with a flat-screen TV with Netflix, a kitchen, a seating area, and free WiFi. 

La Isabela offers plenty of amenities too, like 24-hour concierge service, a driver, a food shopping service, a spa, and more. 

>>Check current prices and availability here.

Map of what to do in Panama City, Panama

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Things to Do in Panama City, Panama

1. Panama Canal

Panama Canal - what to do in panama city
The Panama Canal is one of the most famous attractions in Panama and it’s even one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, which is why it’s important to put it on your list of “what to do in Panama.” After you visit, you’ll see why!  

As one of the most difficult-to-engineer projects ever attempted, the Panama Canal is truly an amazing thing to experience. Each time you pass through a lock, the water magically raises or lowers the boat to continue on its journey to another ocean. 

There are a couple of different ways to get to the Panama Canal. One of them is going on a tour where everything is taken care of for you, or you can go alone, which is pretty easy as well. You can take a taxi or Uber, or you can take a public bus that goes directly from Panama City to the Visitor Center of the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal - what to do in panama city
Once you get to the Visitor Center, a great thing to check out is the interactive museum. It’s large (four floors!), and includes information about the history and biodiversity of the canal, how it works, and the people who built it. There’s also a cinema that shows a 20-minute long film about the canal, and the museum offers great views, especially the fourth floor, which features a panoramic view of the canal transits. 

Another way to spend your time at the Panama Canal is to watch ships pass through the canal. You can watch the ships at one of the observation decks at the Visitor Center or the Miraflores restaurant. 

Either way, you can sit back and relax while you watch the various kinds of ships pass smoothly through the intricate lock system. Whether experiencing the canal on a cruise or watching from the museum, add this to your bucket list for Panama!

2. Explore Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo - things to do in Panama City Panama
Casco Viejo literally translates as “the old quarter” and it’s even considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the San Felipe area of Panama City, this small neighborhood is known for its colonial buildings, brick streets, restaurants, nightlife, and more. If you’re wondering what to do in Panama, Casco Viejo can’t be missed. 

To get to Casco Viejo, you can simply take an Uber or taxi from your hotel. Or, you can take the bus. Both options are affordable, but the bus is, of course, even more affordable. Casco Viejo is a great place to get lost, but we have a few recommendations for you as well. 

One place to check out in Casco Viejo is the Plaza de Francia, or the French Plaza. Plaza de Francia is located in southern Casco Viejo and it honors how France helped build the canal and the 22,000 workers that died during the construction.

Casco Viejo - things to do in Panama City Panama
Throughout the Plaza, you’ll see white stone tablets and statues everywhere you look. There’s also a monument of Carlos J. Finlay, a doctor who helped eradicate malaria. By the way, don’t forget to check out the shops, art galleries, and the National Institute of Culture before you leave!

If you’re feeling hungry after wandering around, don’t worry, Nazca 21 has you covered! This small restaurant is laid back and only has a few tables, so the vibe is very calm and casual. The cuisine is Peruvian and you can enjoy dishes like ceviche, lomo saltado, and prawns as well as drinks like wine, sangrias, and cocktails. 

Casco Viejo - what to do in Panama City Panama
Another great restaurant is Restaurante Santa Rita. This restaurant is located next to the waterfront of Casco Viejo and it offers great food, friendly service, and an elegant and classy vibe. The cuisine is a mix of Spanish and Argentinian, and you will find many dishes such as croquettes, empanadas, grilled octopus, smoked salmon rolls, and much more. Santa Rita offers dessert and an extensive wine list as well!

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you about Pedro Mandinga Rum located on the main road in Casco Viejo. 

Pedro Mandinga Rum - Casco Viejo Panama to do in Panama City Panama
Staking claim to being Panama’s first craft rum distillery, Pedro Mandinga Rum is distilled from a unique type of unrefined sugar called raspadura, which is sourced from a family farm that hand cuts, presses, and condenses the cane juice.

Pedro Mandinga Rum was named for a Panamanian Cimarron chieftain who befriended Sir Francis Drake in the 16th century.  As legend has it, Mandinga showed Drake the “doors of the seas, the keys of the universe” as they looked at both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from high atop a hill.  The sugar farm has a similar hill where both oceans are visible, hence the name of the rum. 

The flagship rum bar, serving up classic cocktails like Rum Punch and Mojitos, is located in the iconic Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panama City.  The founders have craft beverage-making in their blood as they also started the La Rana Dorada brewery, which is one of Panama’s first and largest craft breweries (the family also started and owns the largest craft brewery in Colombia, Bogota Beer Company).

If this has “wet” your appetite for more drink options, keep reading!

3. Take in the Views from a Rooftop Bar

There are several rooftop bars in the city to take in gorgeous views. With multiple options around town, definitely add this to your things to do in Panama City list. Our favorite bars we visited are listed below. 

 

Panaviera 

Panaviera - Panama City rooftop bar
The Panaviera is located high up on the 66th floor of the Ocean Sun Casino, part of the JW Marriott Hotel in Panama City’s luxurious Punta Pacifica neighborhood.  In our opinion, this is one of the best views to catch a Panama City sunset. 

It’s a free elevator to the top and the drinks, to our pleasant surprise, were modestly priced for a view and experience like this!  Local beers were $3 during happy hour!

A huge infinity pool separates the bar’s seating area from the edge of the building…probably a good thing when booze is involved!  You can’t get in the pool, so leave your swimsuit at home, but you can admire the beautiful sunset behind the city skyline. 

The rooftop opens at 5 PM and you should get there early to claim your spot to watch the sun go down over the hills.

 

Tantalo Hotel Kitchen Rooftop

Tantalo Hotel Kitchen Rooftop
The rooftop bar scene in Panama City is fantastic and we became addicted to finding them to take in the city skyline. Tantalo is a bar, restaurant, and boutique hotel located in Casco Viejo. They offer live musical performance daily as well as sunset views. 

The food was great and the fruit salad…. we mean, sangria, was refreshing. ⁣ 

 

Casa Casco

Casa Casco - what to do in Panama City Panama
This rooftop terrace in the Casco Viejo neighborhood was a great place to grab a drink and see the sights all at once. Look out over the square below or out to the rest of Panama City.

Casa Casco is a 5-story building featuring 3 different types of restaurants, a club-disco, and the rooftop bar. Their drink menu was a picture book of each drink and Samantha got the Sassy Pineapple (basically a jazzed up version of a pina colada)!

4. Panama Viejo

Panama Viejo - what to do in Panama City Panama
In between all of the boozing and rooftop views in Panama City, we made a little bit of time to see the historical sites too, including Panamá Viejo, or Old Panama City.  

Located about 15 minutes northeast of today’s Panama City, Panamá Viejo was founded in the early 1520s as the first permanent European settlement on the Pacific Ocean and served as the hub for commerce, hospitals, schools, and religion.  

The city eventually gained more inhabitants and started flourishing for 150 years as it was an important base for gold and silver. 

However, in 1671, Captain Henry Morgan destroyed the city, along with 1,400 men, and it never recovered. The resulting fire and destruction forced the Panamanians to rebuild their city just to the west on what is now current-day Panama City.

Panama Viejo - what to do in Panama City Panama
Still standing today amongst the Panamá Viejo archaeological site is the cathedral tower which you can climb to get a good glimpse of the surrounding settlement and the current Panama City skyline in the background. 

The Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción is a popular place to visit since it has stayed very intact throughout the years, but there’s also a bell tower where you can look at the skyline, numerous houses of the wealthiest residents, the city’s hospital, and much more.  

During our visit, we were lucky enough to see a variety of animals (mostly birds) but also some iguanas. 

Today, Panama Viejo is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site, and you can go visit it to see the historical ruins that used to make up the city. If you’re a history lover and you’re wondering what to do in Panama, definitely add this to your list!

5. Taboga Island Panama

Tabogo Island - what to do in Panama City Panama
If you’re a beach lover, Taboga Island, or the Island of Flowers, is one of the best things to see in Panama. The island is a true vacation getaway, with a crystal-clear beach surrounded by palm trees, flowers, pastel homes, beachside bars and hotels, and much more. 

Taboga Island is only located about 12 miles away from Panama City, so getting there is easy. The best way is to head to the Amador Causeway, a long road that reaches the Pacific Ocean and connects Panama City to nearby islands. Ferries leave from here daily, most notably, the Taboga Express Ferry, which departs 4-5 times a day and only takes 30 minutes to reach the island. 

Tabogo Island - Panama
With just one road and no traffic to speak of, Taboga Island is a pleasant getaway for locals and tourists to escape the hectic Panama City rush.  

However, back in the late 1600s, it wasn’t always so pleasant.  In 1671, Captain Morgan (yes, that Captain Morgan) used Taboga Island as one of his bases during his attack and victory in Panama City.  When he heard that city residents were fleeing to Taboga Island for refuge during his attacks, Captain Morgan sent his pirates back to the island in search of more treasure.  

So Panamanians have always been fleeing to Taboga Island, just for very different reasons! 

The Island of Flowers is full of fun things to do, one of them being hiking. One popular hike on the island is Cerro de la Cruz, which offers stunning views of the pastel town and the blue waters. The hike only takes about an hour round trip, so it’s perfect for those just looking for a short hike to check out the island.

Tabogo Island - Panama
Spending time at the beach is, of course, one of the most popular things to do on the island. You can either sunbathe on the chairs next to the beach or take a dip into the water and go snorkeling or scuba diving (you can rent gear at the Taboga Tour Center). 

Fishing is another way to enjoy your time. There are plenty of good fishing spots throughout the island and you can even go on tours with local fishermen (visit the Cerrito lodge if you’re interested in this). 

6. Metropolitan National Park

Metropolitan National Park Panama
Metropolitan National Park is the only wildlife refuge in the city and, even though it’s in the middle of the city, you’ll still feel like you’re in the middle of the forest due to its impressive size (573 acres), and abundant wildlife, making it one of the most unique things to see in Panama. 

In fact, there are 14 kinds of amphibians, 36 kinds of snakes, 45 kinds of mammals (including sloths), 227 kinds of birds, and 284 kinds of plants, with some of them growing over 100 feet tall. There’s even a new butterfly farm with over 1,600 species of butterflies!

panama hike - Metropolitan National Park
The park is a great place to hike as well, with five different trails to choose from. One popular hike is the Mono Titi Road which leads you to the top of Cerro Cedro where you can see stunning views of the city. Each hike offers a different experience, length, and level of difficulty. 

The Visitor Center offers brochures and trail guides but if you need a little something more, guided tours are sometimes available, but remember that you’ll need to book them in advance.

7. Bridge of the Americas

bridge of the americas - panama
The Bridge of the Americas is a 5,000-foot long bridge that connects North and South America. The bridge was built by the US in 1962 and has greatly increased traffic through the canal ever since then and has increased world trade. 

The bridge is located in Balboa, which is only about 15 minutes away from Panama City. To get there, you can simply take a bus or taxi. Keep in mind that the bridge can sometimes be crowded, but you can still get plenty of good photos from a distance. If you do get on the bridge, you can get some views of the city and the water below as well. 

What to see outside of Panama City 

1. San Blas Islands

Sam Blas Island Panama
Located about 2.5 hours from Panama City, you’ll find the San Blas Islands, which is an archipelago made up of 365 islands. The islands are owned by the indigenous Guna people and they take care of their land very well, making the San Blas islands extremely clean and untouched with a more local vibe.

So, we highly recommend these islands to anyone who’s wondering what to do in Panama but wants to avoid big touristy spots. 

As for accommodation, there are bungalows, huts, and campsites; however, one of the most popular options is to stay on a sailboat, which allows you to travel around to different islands all while getting views of the clear blue sea the entire time. Some boats even have paddle boards, snorkeling gear, and other equipment that you can have fun with in between island hopping. 

Activities on the islands include windsurfing, scuba diving, sailing, surfing, and snorkeling. You can take a river tour as well, where you can see various kinds of wildlife. And of course, you can just lay on the beach or in a hammock and relax!

By the way, don’t forget to try the food which is usually seafood made with local spices. 

 

2. Soberania National Park

Soberania National Park Panama
If you’re wondering what to do in Panama, we highly recommend visiting Soberania National Park which is located about 40 minutes away from Panama City, near the Panama Canal. 

The park covers an astounding 55,000 acres and is full of wildlife and nature everywhere you look, including rainforests, animals, plants, waterfalls, rivers, and streams.

The park is especially known for its bird species, 525 to be exact, and some of them are even quite rare, like the red-bellied woodpecker, ground cuckoo, harpy eagle, and much more. There are also 105 species of mammals living in the park, including various kinds of monkeys and sloths. 

Soberania National Park is also a great place to go hiking, as there are a few different trails depending on what you want to see. On Pipeline Road, you’ll see plenty of birds, while on Plantation Road you’ll see waterfalls and tropical plants, and on Camino de Cruces you can explore the history of Panama and how the trail was used to send goods to Spain.

Overall – what to do in Panama City, Panama

Overall, we believe that Panama City is underrated for a vacation destination. It’s full of beaches, wildlife, and history that you won’t see anywhere else on earth, all while being fairly affordable and not overly crowded. Because of this, the things to see in Panama are endless.

You can go to one of the city’s many historical sites, take a dip in the beautiful Pacific Ocean, see hundreds of species of wildlife at one of the city’s national parks, and much more.

If you need a break from nature and want to experience something more modern, Panama City has got you covered as well since there are many modern hotels, restaurants, art galleries, and thriving nightlife. No matter what kind of vacation you’re looking for, you’ll never have to wonder what to do in Panama. 

Ready to visit to Panama City? Read hotel reviews on TripAdvisor then book your room here!
But where do we personally recommend? TRYP by Wyndham is our hands-down favorite.

Don’t forget to pick up a Panama guidebook for your other adventures.
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We are Samantha & Chris and we are Boozing Abroad (literally). Both stateside and overseas, we are connecting people with local cultures through local booze!

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