Panama City stole my heart. I’ve spent a week in the capital of Panama and this city has so much to offer. The old part Casco Viejo, the new part with an amazing skyline, beaches and, beautiful nature where you can see flora, fauna and, wildlife. Hereby I’ll share some must do’s when you’re in Panama City.
Stroll around in Casco Viejo
Personally, Casco Viejo (also known as Antiqua Viejo) is my favorite neighborhood in Panama City. It is a colonial part of where you can see the old Panama. A couple of years ago Casco Viejo was one of the most criminal areas of Panama. It was not safe for tourists, especially at night. At this moment it is one of the safest areas in Panama city and you can easily walk around at night. Stroll around in the narrow streets, passing the colorful buildings and sit down at one of the many restaurants or rooftop bars.
Visit the Archaeological part of Panama City
Not to be confused with Casco Viejo. The Archaeological Panama Viejo and historic district of Panama City is the remaining part of the old Panama City. It is located in the suburbs and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1977.
Have a coffee and catch a glimpse of the Panama Canal
You can’t visit Panama City without visiting the Panama Canal. The canal is more than 81 km long, runs through the isthmus of Panama and connects the Carribean Sea with the Pacific Ocean. The canal is important for intercontinental transport. If the canal wasn’t there, ships from Miami to Los Angelos had to sail around South America for more than 30.000km, now they ‘only’ have to sail for more than 6000km. You can book a tour, but I recommend to drink a coffee at one of the cafes nearby. It saves you money and you can have a perfect view of the boats passing through the canal. Ask locals for the best time to visit the Panama Canal.
Book a day trip to San Blas
A true paradise on earth, the San Blas Islands. The islands are an archipelago of 357 islands located off the Carribean coast. They are part of the Panamian province of Kuna Yala. The trips to San Blas Islands are a source of income for the local Kuna Yala population. You can easily book a day trip from Panama. I advise you to do this with an agency since it is quite a hassle to reach the islands. Expect a bumpy car ride and a fierce sea, but it’s all worth it when you arrive at the islands: palm trees, pearly white beaches, and a clear blue sea.
Walk all the way up to Ancon Hill
Take a taxi to the entrance of the hill. From there you can easily walk up the hill. During the walk, you can see animals such as sloths and plenty of birds. On top of the mountain, you have a beautiful view. On one side you see the skyscrapers of Panama city and on the other side the Panama Canal.
Jungle in Panama city: Metropolitan Park
The park is just outside the city and a perfect spot to escape the hustle from the city and enjoy jungle and wildlife. Visit the park early in the morning. The temperature is quite nice and you have the highest chance of spotting some animals. You can see sloths, goes, turtles, nose bears, raccoons, bird spiders, monkeys, and multiple birds. The trails in the Metropolitan National Park are marked and are well maintained, so you can easily walk with a guide.
Soberiana National Park / Gamboa Rainforest Reserve
The Parque Nacional Soberanía or the Soberania National Park is approximately a 45-minute drive from Panama City. The park is 220 square kilometers and is ideal for bird watching and wildlife watching. Take a guide for this park. It is difficult to reach and on the way, you could get lost. You can book different tours here to get to know the area. We went to the Sloth Sanctuary. They take care of baby sloths that have fallen because their mother will not return and pick them up. It’s too dangerous. In the Sloth Sanctuary, they are cared for and eventually placed back in nature if they are strong and old enough.
Free walking tour
A free walking tour is one of the nicest ways to get to know a city a bit better. There are several free walking tours available in Panama City. A local show you the most beautiful parts and tells you more about the background and history of the city. You pay afterward a small amount of what you thought the tour was worth. We booked a tour via WalkGuru.
Stroll down the Cinta Costera promenade
The Cinta Costera is a boulevard that runs along the coast. It takes you from the old center of Casco Viejo to the new part of Panama City. Here you can see the nice contrast between the old, colonial Panama and the new Panama with the beautiful skyline.
Enjoy the many restaurants, coffee bars and rooftop bars
Panama has a wide selection of fantastic restaurants. For the tastiest and cheap local food, it is best to visit a Panaderia. The larger ones often have a whole buffet where you get a complete meal for 5 dollars. The locals have lunch here at noon. And don’t forget to order some delicious and fresh fish.
You also have many different coffee bars in Panama. The best known and also the most expensive coffee is Geisha coffee. A cup of coffee costs you 10 dollars. Another tasty but more affordable coffee is Kotowa coffee.
Due to the tall buildings in Panama, you have a wide selection of rooftop bars. In Casco Viejo, you have the rooftop bar at Selina Hostel and Gatto Blanco where you have a beautiful view of the skyline. But you can also find various rooftop bars in the new section, such as Best Western Hotel and the Hardrock hotel.
Best places to stay in Panama City
Selina Hostel: an affordable but extremely cozy and clean hostel. They also organize various activities such as a movie night, parties, early morning yoga sessions and a free walking tour.
Best Western Plus Zen Hotel: the hotel with the best value for money. You will stay in the new part of the city. Spacious rooms, a swimming pool and a rooftop bar with beautiful views.
How to travel through Panama City
Public transport: an easy and cheap way to travel through the city. You have to buy a metro card for $2 and charge this card. A ride from A to B will cost you around 25 cents. There is only one metro line so it’s quite easy to travel with.
Taxi: there are plenty of taxis. Just raise your hand and a taxi will stop within a minute. You have to negotiate a price upfront.
Uber: you don’t have to negotiate about the price and the uber will be there within 5 minutes. The prices are really affordable.