All the best: Top Ten Things to Do and See in Panama City
1. Take a City Tour
The best way to get to know Panama City is to take a City Tour. You can do this on your own by hopping on a colorful City Sight Seeing double decker bus. Or you can go with with a tour operators. Most hotels can arrange a tour for you. Panama City tours include the “three” Panama Cities: the ruins of the 16th century original city Panama Viejo,, the Spanish colonial city Casco Viejo, and the modern skyscraper city. The Panama Canal also is included in most city tours.
What You’ll See on a City Tour:
The Ruins of Old Panama City: Founded in 1519, Panama City is the first city founded on the West coast of the Americas. All the loot stolen from Peru went through here making it the target of English pirate Henry Morgan who destroyed it in 1671. A new colonial Panama City, Casco Viejo was built in 1673 and today is Panama City’s vibrant historical sector. Finally, you’ll visit the Panama Canal at Miraflores Locks with an adjacent museum. One of man’s greatest accomplishments— The Panama Canal.
You can take a city tour on the Two-Decker City Sightseeing Bus Tour bus or on an amphibious bus that takes you into Panama Bay twice during your tour.. Aqua Bus.
2. Panama Canal Miraflores Visitor Center
The place to see the Canal is at the Miraflores Visitors Center at the Miraflores Locks. Just 20 minutes from downtown Panama City, your visit will be more interesting than you think. The Center features a museum with interactive exhibits and a short film on the building of the Canal. An outside terrace gives you close-up views of ships transiting through the locks. Visitor Center admission is $10. Most tour operators include the Canal on their Panama City tour.
3. Casco Viejo, Panama City’s Historical Sector—a UNESCO World Heritage Site
A stroll through Casco Viejo, the 341-year-old Spanish colonial sector built in 1671 is a must-do.. Enjoy sea breezes and sweeping ocean and Panama City bay views. Casco Viejo showcases Panama’s Spanish Colonial and Canal-Era history. Minutes from downtown, it’s the top nightlife destination. Handsome historic buildings hold a variety of hotels, nightclubs and fine restaurants many with stunning 360 views of the Panama bay and the city.
Casco Viejo was featured in the James Bond Quantum of Solace film.
If your a tourist, we recommend staying in one of Casco’s boutique hotels or hostels . Experts like Arthur Frommer of Frommer’s Guides, say that Casco Viejo is becoming one of most beautifully restored Spanish colonial cities.
You can hire a Tour Operator or you can enjoy the area’s sights using one of the walking tours in the Panama info Guide app, Lonely Planet or Frommers Guide.
Casco Viejo Highlights:
French and Spanish historical architecture, 17th-century churches, a French monument to the 22,000 Frenchmen who died building the Panama Canal, the city’s major nightlife scene, a variety of excellent restaurants,and the best souvenir shops.
For special jewelry go to Reprosa. For a refreshing snack try Granclement—an old fashioned French ice-creamery. For more complete info see our Casco Viejo destination Page.
4. Bike or Stroll on Amador Causeway
A causeway is a road over water. The road of Amador Causeway was built using rocks excavated from the Panama Canal. It connects four small islands and serves as a breakwater at the entrance of the Canal. Dazzling views of Panama City’s skyline and the entrance to the Panama Canal make it a scenic place for open-air activities. There are paths to walk, bicycle or jog.
Bicycles rent for just $5-10 an hour. There are restaurants for a variety of budgets and the best souvenir market. in the city. Most restaurants have ocean, city or Canal views. TGIF at the Country Inn and Suites has the best views- watch ship going to and from the entrance to the Panama Canal as you dine.
5. Dine Out: Panama City- In the Top Ten Latin American Cities for Dining
Panama City’s Restaurants are rated by Trip Advisor as one of the Top Ten Best Latin American cities for restaurants. As an international crossroads, Panama City restaurants offer a great variety cuisines for every price-range. Most restaurants are located in the business district, historic Casco Viejo, or the Amador Causeway.
Try typical Panamanian dishes- ceviche, carimanolas, arroz con pollo, sancocho soup and hojadras ( fried dough sprinkled with sugar.) Enjoy Panamanian cuisine and a folkloric dance show
6. Rainforest in the City: Ancon Hill and the Metropolitan Park
A Nature Hike With City and Canal Views: Ancon Hill
There’s no better way to see Panama’s past, present and future live than to take a hike up Ancon Hill where you’ll have a bird-eye’s view of Casco Viejo, modern Panama City and the Panama Canal. The paved path is through the rainforest- youl”ll likely spot some wildlife like sloths and birds. Take this hike in the morning to avoid the scorching midday sun and afternoon tropical showers. It takes about 1.5 hours back and forth. You can take a taxi to the entrance and ask the driver to come back for you in a couple of hours.
Metropolitan Park Eco Tour
Panama City has the only Rainforest in the world within the city limits of a metropolis. The park is just a 20-minute drive from anywhere in the city.. The hike to the summit is an easy 45 minutes walk.. Enjoy panoramic rainforest and city views. Tour Operators offer guided nature tours of the park—if possible go with a nature guide who will point out sloths, exotic birds and explain about life in a tropical rain forest.
At the Metropolitan Park – the Canopy Crane Tour: The Canopy Crane tour by Ancon Expeditions takes you up in a crane used by the scientists of the Smithsonian Institute to research the rainforest canopy and experience nature as close-up as it gets. An eco-experience plus spectacular views of the city, bay and Panama Canal. (Tel: +507-269-9415)
7. Enjoy the Nightlife
At nightfall Panama City becomes a nightlife hotspot. Casinos, clubs, and bars come alive. Enjoy tropical drinks, sensual Latin music and salsa dancing.
Panamanians enjoy dressing to the nines, so be sure to bring something that will make you shine. Most nightlife spots in Casco Viejo. Roof top venues like the bar at Tantalos Hotel have bay views. Beer loves will enjoy Rana Dorada, a small micro-brewery in El Cangrejo and Casco, . For more info check out our Nightlife page.
8. Shop for Souvenirs and Native Handicrafts
Panamanian native handicrafts rival Mexico’s in beauty and creativity. Leave Panama with an authentic handicraft made by one of Panama’s seven living indigenous tribes. The most popular souvenirs are “molas” – intricate reverse appliqué embroidery sewn by the women of the Kuna Indian tribe. Other handicrafts include the hand-woven baskets of the Embera Indians of the Darien jungle—similar to baskets woven by Navajo Indians—and tagua nut sculptures, which are tiny figures skillfully carved from the tropical tagua nut.
For a special jewelry gift, visit the Reprosa jewelry store and Rainforest Design cameo jewelry. Reprosa has shops in the Business District and in Casco Viejo.and Costa del Este. Its jewelry collection includes reproductions of Pre-Columbian Indian art, reproductions of Spanish colonial jewelry and collections inspired by Panama’s flora and fauna. You’ll find a nice gift for every budget. (Tel:269-0457)
Rainforest Designs are stunning cameo jewelry with rainforest motifs carved by the Wounan Indians. They can be found at the Marriott Hotel Gift Shop,
Where to find souvenirs: The most complete selection is in the Artisans market on Amador Causeway- highly recommended… In Casco Viejo we recommend the Galeria de Arte Indigena—just off the French Plaza.. For special Panama jewelry in Casco, go to Reprosa store.in Casco and downtown Panama City, Gran Morrison variety store on Via Espana has a large selection of souvenirs plus the best selection of books about Panama.
9. For History Buffs: Panama Viejo- Ruins of the Original Panama City
It may be on your city tour- Panama Viejo (Old Panama) was founded in 1519 by the Spanish. It was the first city on the West coast of the Americas and served as a the gateway city for the Spanish conquest of Latin America. All the loot sacked from the Inca empire in Peru came through here. Once a thriving city of 10,000, today’s extensive ruins are the result of an attack by English pirate Henry Morgan in 1671 which, along with a fire, leveled the city. There is a small museum. Best to go with someone who speaks Spanish, because the exhibits are mostly in Spanish.
How to Get Around Panama City
You can take a tour with a tour operator or go with City Sightseeing. Board their hop-on-hop-off emblematic red double-decker buses which take you to the all major tourist attractions for just $29 for the day. You can also get a taxi. Negotiate the price before you start. You’ll find the rates very reasonable. Easy Travel and Barefoot specialize in private city tours.
10. More Things to Do in Panama City
Over seven million dollars are gambled each day at Panama City’s casinos, making it one of the region’s top game destinations. Some of the best casinos are at the Sheraton, The Marriott, and the El Panama Hotel. The Veneto Wyndham Grand Hotel comes closest to a Las Vegas-style casino and also has $700,000 prize poker tournaments.
For more Nightlife info see our page: Panama City’s Top Nightlife Spots.
It takes just 30 minutes from downtown Panama City to get to the Summit Radisson Resort to play golf on a designer course nestled into the jungle. The course is near the Canal and you can arrange transportation with your hotel. Tel: 322.4000. For more information visit our page on Golfing in Panama.
Check Out Our Top Ten Things to Do Near Panama City
Day trips from Panama City are right out of the pages of National Geographic. They include a visit to an authentic indigenous village, seeing monkeys cavorting on Monkey Island or sunbathing on an idyllic tropical Island.