Panama City is a metropolis that blends the old with the new. Its historic city center sits alongside a modern skyline that features towering skyscrapers. The city also has a lush green landscape, which can be enjoyed by hiking up one of its hills to take in the views of the surrounding jungle leaves. It’s an ideal starting point to explore Panama, and you can easily find enough fun things to do and places to see for a two-day visit. Here are some tips on the best things to do in Panama City.
How to get to Panama City?
For many people, Panama City is the starting point of a trip through Panama. If you are traveling overland from Costa Rica to Panama, you will probably end your journey in Panama City and most likely travel from El Valle de Anton to Panama City.
From El Valle de Anton to Panama City
Is Panama City safe or dangerous?
Unlike many other capital cities in Central America, Panama City is generally a safe city. Just like in any major city in the world, there are good and bad neighborhoods, but you won’t feel unsafe here, especially during the day. However, it is recommended to use Uber or a regular taxi after sunset if you don’t have a local SIM card. This is because good and bad neighborhoods are sometimes located close to each other, and as a traveler, you may not always know where it’s safe to walk around in the evening.
What to do in Panama City?
These are the best things to do in Panama City.
Explore Casco Viejo
San Felipe neighborhood is the heart of the old city center of Panama City, but it’s better known as Casco Viejo. Walking through this neighborhood is enjoyable because it still has an authentic colonial feel, thanks to the fact that a large part of the area is designated as a monument. This means that the old facades with their cast-iron balconies must remain as they are, while the inside can be completely renovated. The streets are adorned with beautiful murals, and you’ll find plenty of good restaurants and trendy rooftop bars. It’s a lovely contrast to walk through these old streets and have a view of the modern skyline of Panama City on the other side of the boulevard. Finish your walk with a good cup of coffee and some tasty treats from Casa Sucre Coffeehouse or one of the many other excellent cafes in Casco Viejo.
Walk along the Cinta Costera
Cinta Costera is a delightful green boulevard that stretches along the entire coastline of Panama City. Local joggers, roller skaters, and other sports enthusiasts enjoy this spot, but it’s also perfect for a relaxing stroll or bike ride with a beautiful view. Every few meters, you can find street food vendors, some even with music. You might even spot a raccoon here. The ice cream man is never far away, and the breeze provides some relief, but it’s best to avoid Cinta Costera between 11:00 and 16:00 as it can get very hot in the afternoon. Therefore, the best time for a nice walk is at sunset. The low light gives the skyline of skyscrapers a golden color that creates a magical moment.
Tip: You can rent bikes in several places in the center of Panama City. On the boulevard itself, you can also rent scooters or a fun bike trailer with a sunroof.
Tasting Ceviche at the Mercado de Marisco fish market
On the Cinta Costera boulevard, you’ll find Mercado de Marisco. It’s a fish market with a collection of small food stalls where you can enjoy freshly caught fish. You can try all sorts of fish dishes, but in my opinion, it’s the perfect place to taste a delicious fresh ceviche. If you’re not familiar with it, ceviche is a Peruvian dish made of raw fish marinated in lime, pepper, and garlic. The lime juice “cooks” the fish slightly and enhances its flavor. Be prepared for the fact that someone at every stall will try to lure you in. You can check out all the stalls first to see what you like best, but they’re all quite similar. Don’t forget to take a look inside the warehouse where they sell the fresh fish. There are bins full of fish and shellfish being cleaned by the men.
Drink a cocktail at a rooftop bar
If you’re looking for a fun place to grab a drink in Panama City, head to one of the many rooftop bars. They have a great atmosphere and offer beautiful views while you sip on a cocktail. Two popular rooftop bars are Tantalo Kitchen & Roofbar and LAZOTEA Restaurant & Rooftop. The Selina Hostel also has a lively rooftop bar with a pool, which you can visit even if you’re not staying there. On weekends, it’s usually even more fun because they often throw parties.
Wildlife spotting in Metropolitan Natural Park
Metropolitan Natural Park is known as the lungs of Panama City. This small rainforest oasis in the heart of the city is best combined with a visit to the Panama Canal since it’s located along the way. There are several short hiking trails here that introduce you to Panama’s rich flora and fauna.With a bit of luck, you can spot wildlife such as deer, agoutis, and the stubborn coatis that are anything but shy. Walking through the park, you forget that you are actually in the middle of a big city. After an hour of hiking, you’ll reach a beautiful viewpoint where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city and nature. The Metropolitan Natural Park is open from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm and has a small entrance fee.
Tip: There is another hill in Panama City that you can climb to a viewpoint, called Ancon Hill. The route itself is less exciting as you walk up the road, but the view is equally beautiful and, in my opinion, even better for photography. If you walk to the other side of the top, you can even see a part of the Panama Canal in the distance.
Visit the world-famous Panama Canal
When you think of Panama, you naturally think of the Panama Canal, and that’s why you shouldn’t miss a visit to this impressive engineering marvel. The world’s largest cargo ships pass through these locks every day, crossing a height difference of 27 meters through multiple transition processes. The best place to see all of this up close is at the Miraflores Visitors Center, where you can learn all about the history, operation, and importance of the Panama Canal. Your entrance ticket includes two parts. There is a cinema room where you can watch an impressive IMAX 3D documentary in which Morgan Freeman tells you about the history of the Panama Canal. You can also go up to the observation deck to see the Panama Canal in action.
Tip: It is recommended to plan your visit in the morning around 8:00 am or in the afternoon after 2:00 pm, as this is when the ships pass through the canal. The staff can often tell you exactly when the next boat is coming. The film is also shown at certain times, so check which activity you want to do first so that you can be on the deck on time when the boat passes by.
Hoe does transportation work in Panama City?
Getting around Panama City is easy and affordable. You can either use the efficient metro network or go with a taxi. Uber is an excellent option, with fares often costing just a few dollars. It’s a safe way to travel, and you can check the average cost of a ride, which can be handy if you need to negotiate with a regular taxi driver. If you want internet access on the go, consider buying a local SIM card from one of the many phone shops. The metro is also a reliable and cheap option, with only one line in Panama City, making it easy to get from point A to point B.
Best restaurants in Panama City
Panama City has a variety of great restaurants where you can taste different cuisines and enjoy the atmosphere.
The Vegan Shack – A cozy little place where you can have a delicious vegan breakfast or lunch. All dishes are prepared with fruits and/or vegetables. Take a book from the bookcase and relax on the couch while enjoying your coffee or meal.
Mahalo Cocina y Jardin – A casual restaurant and bar with healthy international dishes. You sit in a lush green garden and enjoy the cozy atmosphere.
Mahalo Snack Shack – Another nice location of Mahalo where they serve slightly faster bites that are still extremely tasty.
Nomada Eatery – This is a fun restaurant with an international cuisine where you can also play games and have fun.
Casa Catedral Restaurante – For a special experience, you can visit this restaurant, located in an old cathedral. They specialize in Mediterranean fusion dishes and have some vintage cars on display. It’s also a great place to have a drink and sometimes there is live music.
Where to stay in Panama City?
Panama City is a massive city with over a million residents, and you may be wondering where the best place to stay is. The city is divided into an old and new section. Casco Viejo is the historic center and the oldest part of Panama City. This area is beautiful with its colonial buildings and being located right by the sea. It’s a lovely place to stay, but hotel prices here are much higher than in the rest of Panama City. The newer section is the business district where you’ll find many skyscrapers, and hotel prices are significantly lower here. Both Casco Viejo and the business district are safe areas to stay in Panama City. However, it’s still recommended to take a taxi after sunset when going anywhere. Below, I recommend some of the best accommodations in these neighborhoods.
Our favorite places to stay in Panama City
Bodhi Panama City is a fantastic and affordable hotel in a quiet location in Panama City. The rooms come equipped with air conditioning and comfortable beds. The hotel features a nice pool, and breakfast is included in the price. If you’re looking for a more lively and social atmosphere, Selina Casco Viejo is a great choice. The hotel has a large rooftop bar with a pool and live music in the evenings, making it an ideal place to meet other travelers. Just keep in mind that you may be able to hear the music from your room. For a more luxurious stay, Best Western is highly recommended. The hotel offers spacious and luxurious rooms, and an infinity pool on the 15th floor that provides a brilliant view of Panama City.
|Bodhi Panama City
||Selina Casco Viejo