Ready to discover one of the hottest urban destinations in Central America? Panama City awaits! The vibrant capital city of Panama offers tons to explore, from picturesque colonial architecture and breathtaking views to fun activities and delicious street food. Whether you are looking for a beach getaway or an adventurous escape, read on as to discover all the fun & unique things to do in Panama City, Panama…
What to do in Panama City
Explore the archaeological site of Panama Viejo
The ruins of Panama Viejo are a must-see for any visitor to Panama City. The first European city on the Pacific Coast, Panama Viejo was burnt to the ground and plundered in 1671, 150 years after it was founded.
The ruins tell the city’s tragic tale. Wander around Panama Viejo and climb the old tower to gaze upon the beautiful views beyond. The cathedral, monasteries, and municipal buildings offer insight into the lives of the early settlers. Visit the modern museum to check out its cool artifacts and three-dimensional models of the destroyed buildings.
Panama Viejo is a large site, but there’s a trolley bus that shuttles visitors to places of interest, so there’s no need to sweat it out in the tropical heat.
Sip Geisha Coffee at the Bajareque Coffee House
Geisha may be the most expensive coffee on earth, but this award-winning green coffee bean is one of the finest the world has to offer. In Panama, where it’s grown, it’ll cost you half of what you’ll pay if you find it served anywhere else in the world. And there’s no better place to try it in the Panamanian capital than the Bajareque Coffee House.
Originating in Ethiopia, Geisha coffee is now grown high up in Panama’s tallest mountains near the town of Boquete. The coffee is smooth, fruity, and non-acidic. It must be enjoyed black, with no milk or sugar!
The barista at the Bajareque is a skilled coffee brewer who’ll demonstrate the art of coffee making and serve you the coffee with a pastry of your choice. While you’re there, buy a few bags of Geisha coffee to take home with you!
While away the hours at the Mercado Artesanias de 5 de Mayo
If you’re looking for a local shopping experience, spend a few hours browsing at the Mercado Artesanias de 5 de Mayo. As it’s located in a slightly shabby part of town, there are few tourists. You’ll get a truly authentic market experience here.
The prices at Mercado Artesanias de 5 de Mayo are reasonable, and you’ll have the chance to chat with some of the local crafters selling their wares in the market. Rest assured, they’re authentic, as you can watch some of the artisans hard at work.
Traditional painted ceramics, baskets, and colorful handmade fabrics jostle for space with dolls in traditional costumes.
Enjoy the nightlife in Casco Viejo
Close to Panama City’s noise and chaos, the old quarter of Casco Viejo is quiet and organized. Once a den of gangsters, the area has become chic and trendy in recent years and is a must-see whether you have 24 hours in Panama City or a week.
The cobbled streets are lined by lovely Spanish colonial buildings restored to their former beauty. These buildings now house bars, art galleries, hotels, and restaurants.
Casco Viejo is quiet during the day, but in the early evening, the area comes alive with people and music. Rooftop bars offer lovely views of the surrounding areas as you sip cocktails in the warm tropical climes, and the pavement cafes ring with laughter and song.
Take a boat ride to Gatun Lake in the Gamboa Rainforest
Experience the wildlife on a series of small islands in Gatun Lake in the Gamboa Rainforest. There are over 500 bird species, a variety of monkeys, iguanas, and sloths in the jungle. Boats regularly bring tourists to the islands to see the monkeys.
Follow this with a hike through the rainforest to get a close-up view of the local plant life. You can also take a trip to a nearby indigenous Indian village where you’ll learn about the culture, lifestyle, music, and dance of the local people.
Marvel at the engineering of the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is one of the most impressive engineering marvels in the world, connecting the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. A must-visit attraction along the canal is the Miraflores Locks, located just outside of Panama City.
At the Miraflores Locks, travelers can witness first-hand how ships are raised and lowered through a series of three chambers, each filled with millions of gallons of water. It’s fascinating to watch, especially if you can catch large cargo ships passing through.
Visitors can also explore the Miraflores Visitor Center, which offers panoramic views of the locks and canal. The center includes a museum with interactive displays, historical exhibits, and a 3D movie on the construction and operation of the Panama Canal.
Spend plenty of time at the observation decks for a closer look at the lock chambers and watch the locks in action. Don’t forget to stop by the souvenir shop to pick up some unique Panama Canal memorabilia.
Spend a night in El Valle de Anton
High in the mountains of Panama, situated in the highest inhabited volcanic crater in the world, you’ll find the town of El Valle de Anton. Occupied for thousands of years by indigenous people, the area has its own unique ecosystem in the cloud forests of the area.
Climb to the top of the crater, and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding landscapes. The area has a zoo and an orchid garden, and on Saturdays, there’s an arts and crafts market where the local Indians sell their colorful crafts and fabrics.
Here, you’ll find hot springs, butterfly farms, horseback riding trails, and even a brewery. It also offers some challenging hikes up the caldera sides. El Valle de Anton deserves a place on your Panama City sightseeing list.
Relax in the tranquil beauty of the San Blas Islands
The beautiful San Blas Islands are a fair way off from Panama City, but if you’ve got some leeway on your Panama itinerary, it’s worth planning a couple of days on the snowy-white palm-fringed beaches of one of these unspoiled paradise islands.
One of the most beautiful places to visit in Central America, these 360 tropical islands are autonomous. They’re run by the indigenous Kuna people, who’ll host and feed you. Spend the day snorkelling in the clear, warm waters or take a boat ride to one or more of the other islands.
The San Blas Islands can be reached by small aircraft, or if you have more time, you can charter a boat and visit several islands along the way. You’ll enjoy an adventure-filled trip of sunshine, sea sand, and the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea – one of the best Panama City attractions.
Where to stay in Panama City for sightseeing
In a city as sprawling and notorious as Panama City, choosing where to stay can sometimes be a challenge. Although Casco Viejo is a favorite for sightseeing, I wouldn’t recommend it as the best place for accommodations on the city. Even with the area improving its act in recent years, the neighborhoods surrounding it (particularly San Miguel, Santa Ana, and El Chorrillo) aren’t without their problems.
For most travelers, I’d put up Obarrio & El Cangrejo in the city center as the best areas to stay in Panama City. Both are safe and offer a great accommodations selection at less inflated prices than touristy Casco Viejo. Here are a few of the top choices for hotels:
- Eurostars Panama City: This stylish hotel in the center of town offers excellent amenities that betray its budget-friendly price point. Sweat out empanadas in the Turkish bath & sauna or relax to 27th-floor views over the city at the outdoor pool.
- Hyatt Place Panama City Downtown: An incredible choice for mid-range travelers, this central hotel pulls out all the stops to make your stay great. Besides the outdoor pool, guests will love the vistas over the financial district from the outer rooms.
- Global Hotel Panama: This delightful 4-star hotel in central Panama features spacious modern rooms and a fantastic outdoor pool overlooking the city.
- W Panama: The city’s most splurge-worthy hotel, this 5-star delivers exactly what you’d expect from the W brand. The hip & stylish Fabulous King Rooms and their private balconies with views over the Panama skyline are well worth the extra cost.