Often compared to Miami, Panama City is Central America’s most glamorous, cosmopolitan capital, blessed with year-round sunshine and refreshing coastal breezes. The country’s most famous attraction, the Panama Canal, is just outside of town. This 48-mile (77-kilometer) feat of engineering can be viewed from the banks, but for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, book a full or partial canal cruise through the Miraflores Locks. Be sure to reserve ahead—private canal tours often fill up months in advance. Shimmering skyscrapers and luxury hotels dominate the downtown area, but a history tour reveals the city’s colorful past as a Spanish treasure port and buccaneer hideaway. UNESCO-listed Casco Viejo (Old Town) holds 17th-century colonial landmarks such as the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Palacio de las Garzas, the Church of St Francis of Assisi, and the National Theatre. Sample some fresh, local ceviche and a microbrew, perhaps topped off with Panamanian coffee and a taste of raw chocolate. Head to Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador) for fantastic harbor and skyline views, as well as high-end shopping. Check out Biomuseo, Frank Gehry’s first building in Latin America, and stick around Amador if you like the nightlife—it’s home to the city’s trendiest clubs.
Places to visit in Panama City
The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal. You just can’t leave here without seeing one of the most significant accomplishments in Panama’s history.
You can visit the Miraflores Visitor Center, which is about a 20-minute drive or cab ride (also accessible by Metro Bus) from Panama City and there’s an interactive museum and viewing deck where you can watch the locks in action as large cargo and cruise ships pass through the Miraflores Locks.
Operating Hours: Monday – Sunday (holidays included) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m
Tickets: $15 for visitors | $10 for students | $3 for Panama residents
If you want to skip the museum you can also go for dinner. Make a dinner reservation at the Atlantic & Pacific Co. restaurant (this is at the Miraflores locks, same place as the museum) and request to sit on the balcony so you can see the boats. Don’t go for lunch because it’s an overpriced buffet but the dinner is excellent, and entrees are $20-$25.
Artisan´s Market 5 de Mayo
Stock up on souvenirs at this covered market behind Ancon Hill. Packed stalls sit side-by-side selling all manner of textiles and knick knacks. Most are run by Kuna women so you’ll see a lot of colourful molas (embroidered textiles) as well as other indigenous crafts such as woven baskets from the Wounaan and Embera Indians. Prices are marginally cheaper than in Casco Viejo.
What is interesting about the market is that the vendors and artists come from all over Panama, allowing you to explore the diversity of Panama’s ethnicities, regions, and traditions in one little place. Many of the vendors are also the artisans, meaning that you can sometimes ask them to personalize a bag or other souvenir for you if they’re not too busy.
The easiest way to get here is to take the Metro to the 5 de Mayo station (exit towards 3 de Noviembre) and then take a left. It’s located between a row of pink containers under the overpass.
Casco ViejoCasco Viejo Panama City’s historic quarter is known as the Casco Viejo (pronounced CAS-coh Bee-EH-hoh; also called the Casco Antiguo, which translates as “old shell”). It’s spread over a small point in the city’s southeast corner, where timeless streets and plazas are complemented by views of a modern skyline and the Bahía de Panamá. The Casco Viejo’s narrow brick streets, wrought-iron balconies, and intricate cornices evoke visions of Panama’s glorious history as a major trade center. A stroll here offers opportunities to admire a beautiful mix of Spanish colonial, neoclassical, and art nouveau architecture.
Interspersed between these are condemned buildings where a few local families live that proudly blast their music all day, with their windows and doors wide open, and a good view of what they are watching on their large flat screen TV.Simply strolling through the streets and taking in the scenes a great way to spend the day. While you’re here you can also do activities like take Spanish lessons, learn to dance Salsa, and of course, visit these historic sites.