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Most people hear 'Panama' and immediately think of the famed canal by that name. But while the Panama Canal is certainly a sight to see, Panama City offers much more than that piece of history. From its paradisiacal beaches to its bustling restaurant scene, this vibrant city delights visitors. Here are the sights I consider crucial for your first visit to Panama City. I've included bests of the city's history, culture, gastronomy, and beaches.

Good for
  • History Buff
  • Art and Architecture Lover
  • Nature Lover
  • Foodie
  • Peace and Quiet Seeker
  • Beach Goer
  • Like a Local

15 Places

4 City Tips

Print
Map

15 Places

Day 1

Gamboa

Destinations

Panama Canal

Points of Interest & Landmarks

Casco Viejo

Neighbourhoods, Historic Walking Areas

La Casa del Marisco

Restaurants

San Jose Church

Sacred & Religious Sites, Historic Sites

Plaza de Francia

Historic Sites

Tantalo Kitchen

Restaurants

Day 2

San Blas Islands

Destinations

Mercado de Mariscos

Restaurants

Day 3

Panama La Vieja

Ancient Ruins

Cinta Costera

Other Outdoor Activities

Mi Pueblito

Points of Interest & Landmarks

Biomuseo

Speciality Museums

Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador)

Points of Interest & Landmarks

Mi Ranchito

Restaurants

Maria Camila R's City Tips

  • You will find English speakers mainly in very touristic places, while the majority of people in the streets speak Spanish.
  • Two things when taking a cab: You can share a cab with other people going in the same direction, and you may be charged a higher price because you look foreign.
  • Public transport (both buses and cabs) is very deficient in this city. I recommend using Uber when going long distances; it’s not that expensive and it's secure and quick.
  • Panama is a warm weather city, but it has a moist environment. Be sure to take your umbrella and a light jacket to protect you from the rain.
    Day 1
  • Save
    Gamboa
    Destinations
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    With only 30 minutes of travel from the city, you can immerse yourself in a variety of jungle adventures or simply disconnect yourself from the city chaos. Amazing Gamboa is the meeting point between the rainforest and the Chagres River, which feeds Gatun Lake. Located on the Pacific side of the city, pretty close to the Panama Canal, this small town originally served as housing for the Canal employees and their families. Today, it's home to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, which manages the rainforest as a natural reserve and promotes research and responsible eco-tourism.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Hidden Gems
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • This is a great place to go bird watching.
    • I recommend spending the morning here.
    • The aerial tram offers a good view of the area, or you might opt for a guided boat tour.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    • Gamboa
  • Save
    Panama Canal
    Points of Interest & Landmarks
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    The Panama Canal is probably one of the greatest works of modern engineering. Many people do not find it attractive, but it is still an icon of Panama, and a must-visit spot. Built in the early 20th century to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Canal created an important shortcut for ships, and has thus played a major role in world trade and the global economy. The most visited place is the Miraflores Locks, where you will find the Canal Museum, videos that explain its operation, and a viewpoint for watching ships of all sizes inch their way through the canal.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Miraflores is the most visited spot, but there are other locks that you can visit, including the Gatun and Pedro Miguel Locks.
    • You can pay to cross the canal on your own boat, in order to experience the whole process. (I've never done this, but would like to!)
    • In 2007, construction began to expand the canal so that it can accommodate larger cargo ships. This is the largest project since the canal's original construction.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #1 of 162 things to do in Panama City
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Overcrowded 01/12/2016
    • Very fascinating 30/11/2016
    • Panama Canal
    Address:
    Gatun Lake
    Panama City
    Panama
    Phone:
    +507 272-3165
    Other:
  • Save
    Casco Viejo
    Neighbourhoods, Historic Walking Areas
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    Also known as 'Casco Antiguo,' Casco Viejo is Panama's historical and cultural district, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. This is one of my favorite places in the city; there is something about the sea breeze mixed with the magic of history and culture that provides a truly special feeling when walking through those narrow alleyways. You will find beautiful buildings — some undergoing restoration, a few almost in ruins, and others completely restored — and there are many charming restaurants, cafes, pubs, hotels, and craft shops. A nice feature is that Casco Viejo has not only the colonial architecture but also neoclassical and Art Deco buildings, which makes it different from old towns like Cartagena in Colombia or Quito in Ecuador.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Must See
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • This is a good place to explore without a destination in mind. Just put on some comfy shoes, take your camera, and meander. You will be surprised by places that are not precisely the most visited spots.
    • There is not an exact hour to go Casco Viejo — anytime is perfect.
    Plan to stay:
    More than 3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #2 of 162 things to do in Panama City
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • History and Potential Unfulfilled 01/12/2016
    • The nicest thing to see in Panama City 01/12/2016
    • Casco Viejo
    Address:
    Avenida Central
    Panama City
    Panama
    Phone:
    +507 228-9828
    Other:
  • Save
    La Casa del Marisco
    Restaurants (Latin, Seafood, Mediterranean, Spanish)
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    As it name suggests, La Casa del Marisco is truly a 'House of Seafood.' Delicacies of the sea are the specialties at this refined, classic place, that is perfect for anything from a business lunch to a special family celebration. This is a high-end spot, but it's worth the splurge. I recommend it for first-time visitors to Casco Viejo because it provides a good taste of the real atmosphere of Panama City's historic district.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Luxury Traveller
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    Tips
    • The dress code is casual but neat attire. (Don't try to come in beach or athletic wear.)
    • Keep your eyes peeled — you may just spot local celebrities here.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #31 of 762 restaurants in Panama City
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Elegant yet cozy 24/11/2016
    • Excellent restaurant 20/11/2016
    • La Casa del Marisco
    Address:
    Area Bancaria, calle Manuel Maria Icaza
    Panama City
    Panama
    Phone:
    +507 223-7755
    Price range:
    US$25 - US$100
    Other:
  • Save
    San Jose Church
    Sacred & Religious Sites, Historic Sites
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    This small, simple church is one of the most important and ancient places in both Casco Viejo and all of Panama. An exact replica of the church of the same name that once stood in Panama Viejo (Old Panama,) San Jose Church protects the only relic that was salvaged when pirate Henry Morgan ransacked the old city. Legend has it that a wily priest caked the beautiful Altar de Oro (Golden Altar) in mud to disguise it from the pirate, telling Morgan that it had been stolen by another pirate. He even managed to extract a donation from Morgan, who is said to have quipped, ‘I don't know why, but I think you are more of a pirate than I am.’

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • This is one of the sites you must visit when you walk through Casco Viejo; this altar is well recognized not only for its history but for its beauty.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #10 of 162 things to do in Panama City
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Is It True? 29/11/2016
    • Worth a stop. 19/11/2016
    • San Jose Church
    Address:
    Avenida A & Calle 8
    Panama City
    Panama
    Phone:
    2288943
  • Save
    Plaza de Francia
    Historic Sites
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    Before the U.S. built the Panama Canal, the French made an initial attempt to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Situated on the south in of Casco Viejo, Plaza de Francia, also known as 'Las Bovedas,' pays tribute to that attempt — and to the thousands who died (most from yellow fever and malaria) in the process. The square is dominated by an obelisk, with some smaller monuments and 10 panels that tell the history of the Panama Canal construction. In addition to the square's historic importance, there is a beautiful path above the panels, known as 'Paseo de las Bovedas,' which makes a wonderful place to sit and look out over the big Puente de last Americas and the boats waiting to pass through the canal.

    Good for
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Shopping Fanatic
    • Family
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Walking through Paseo de las Bovedas, you will find few craft stands where people sell the famous "molas" (traditional dress of the Kuna Indians) and other traditional souvenirs.
    • Sit on Paseo de las Bovedas to watch the sunset.
    • Don't miss the nine restored dungeons on one side of the plaza. They now house upscale shops, but you can still see original stonework from when they were used by the Spaniards and the Colombians.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #16 of 162 things to do in Panama City
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Excellent Views! 30/11/2016
    • During Your Casco Veijo Stroll 29/11/2016
    • Plaza de Francia
    Address:
    Plaza de Francia
    Casco Viejo
    Panama City
    Panama
    Other:
  • Save
    Tantalo Kitchen
    Restaurants (Latin, Bar, Seafood, South American, Central American)
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    Situated in a boutique hotel in the center of Casco Viejo, Tantalo Kitchen is a lively restaurant and bar that is popular with locals and tourists alike. Take a seat in the dining room to enjoy local art and delicious tapas, and then head up to the roof bar for drinks against a magnificent view of the city skyline.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Trendsetter
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Nightlife Seeker
    Tips
    • If you arrive early, this is a lovely place to sip a cocktail while watching the sunset.
    • Take advantage of the day-long happy hour (every Monday,) when all drinks are half price.
    • If you're looking to party, this is the place.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #12 of 762 restaurants in Panama City
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Large selection of dishes...to share or not to share? 30/11/2016
    • Beautiful ambience and excellent food! 29/11/2016
    • Tantalo Kitchen
    Address:
    Calle 8 y Avenida B
    Casco Viejo
    Panama City 123456
    Panama
    Phone:
    +507 262-4030
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    07:00 - 22:30
    Other:
  • Day 2
  • Save
    San Blas Islands
    Destinations
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    For me, San Blas Islands are a highlight of Panama, a paradise with truly stunning beaches. Located in the Caribbean Sea, the San Blas archipelago encompasses more than 300 islands — all part of the the indigenous Kuna-Yala territory. Although you could easily spend a few days enjoying the tranquility here, you're sure to have a memorable visit, even if you can only stay a day.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Beach Goer
    • Hidden Gems
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Go early in the morning to enjoy the entire day at San Blas. There are many tour options, so look for one that includes three islands and lunch in any of these.
    • Bring your own supply of food and drinks, just in case of emergency.
    • I recommend visiting Isla Perro Grande, where you can explore the ruins of a sunken ship, Isla Perro Chico, the Natural Pool, and Isla Chichime.
    • It is not far from the city (about 3 hours,) but ask advice from someone in the community to easily reach the main port.
    Plan to stay:
    More than 3 hours
    • San Blas Islands
  • Save
    Mercado de Mariscos
    Restaurants (Caribbean, Latin, Seafood, Soups, Central American, Spanish)
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    Situated next to the public pier, Mercado de Mariscos is the city's principal fish market, where you can find really cheap and good seafood. A few years ago this was just the traditional fish market with one restaurant on the second floor, but now you can go outside and find a lot of booths where you can pick up tasty fish and maybe a refreshing beer. Even if you don't want seafood, this is a really important and iconic place to visit, because it's the best place for Panamanian fishermen to sell their products.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    Tips
    • Try some fresh ceviche here!
    • At the booths, ask for pescado frito entero with rice and patacones. Then enjoy city views while you eat.
    • The most common fish eaten by Panamanians is corvina, or you can also ask for pargo rojo — both are really tasty.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #47 of 762 restaurants in Panama City
    • More of an experience than a gourmet meal 16/11/2016
    • If you like ceviche, this is the place 09/11/2016
    • Mercado de Mariscos
    Address:
    Avenida Balboa
    and Calle 15 Este, at Cinta Costera
    Panama City
    Panama
    Phone:
    +507 212-0071
  • Day 3
  • Save
    Panama La Vieja
    Ancient Ruins
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    Panama La Vieja, or Old Panama, was founded in 1519, the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. It was destroyed in 1617 by the infamous pirate Henry Morgan, and in 2003 the ruins were declared World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2003. Close to the ruins is the museum that displays archaeological artifacts and tells about the city's history.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Be sure to wear comfortable shoes to wander around this area.
    • Start at the museum to get a base of understanding, and then take the road that leads to the ruins.
    • Near to the museum, you will find a hall of handicraft sellers — a great place to pick up souvenirs at better prices than in Casco Viejo or other touristic places.
    • Don't miss the cathedral tower, which functions as lookout tower.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #13 of 162 things to do in Panama City
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Panama Vieja, not Casco Veijo 29/11/2016
    • Took a tour 23/11/2016
    • Panama La Vieja
    Address:
    Via Cinquantenaire
    Panama City
    Panama
    Phone:
    5072268915
    Hours:
    Tue - Sun
    08:30 - 16:30
    Other:
  • Save
    Cinta Costera
    Other Outdoor Activities
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    A busy waterfront boulevard and one of Panama's main streets, Cinta Costera is one of the city's most recognized public spaces because of its length and location. In addition to a street for cars, there is a lovely park with a footpath and cycle path bordering the sea, where many people go to exercise or enjoy the view.

    Good for
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • If you want to walk through the entire Cinta Costera, it is best to wear very comfortable shoes — and bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
    • This is a good spot for families, as you will find playgrounds, sports fields, and some areas to sit and relax.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #2 of 82 Outdoor Activities in Panama City
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Great view of the city! 23/11/2016
    • Great park for biking and running 15/11/2016
    • Cinta Costera
    Address:
    Starts near Plaza Patillia Inn and goes to Plaza Bolivar
    Panama City
    Panama
    Other:
  • Save
    Mi Pueblito
    Points of Interest & Landmarks
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    Sitting at the foot of Cerro Ancon (Ancon Hill,) Mi Pueblito is picturesque place that offers a glimpse into the cultures that initially inhabited Panama. Here, you can explore the Caribbean-style homes of the afroantillana (Afro-Caribbean people,) and the thatched-roof huts of Kuna and Emberá Indians. There are also small exhibitions featuring typical costumes, craft vendors, and some restaurants. This is definitely a tourist spot, but it's worth a visit if you're interested in the culture and history of Panama.

    Good for
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    Tips
    • There is a small entrance fee, which includes the company of a guide who will tell you more about the history of Panama.
    • It is open from Tuesdays to Sundays.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #70 of 162 things to do in Panama City
    • Learning experience and very cultural 10/09/2016
    • Mi Pueblito 16/08/2016
    • Mi Pueblito
    Address:
    Off Avenida de Los Martires
    Panama City
    Panama
    Hours:
    Tue - Sun
    09:00 - 21:00
  • Save
    Biomuseo
    Speciality Museums
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    I love the Biodiversity Museum, one of the newest attractions. On one hand, the Frank Gehry building is an amazing piece of architecture. On the other, the museum itself provides a fascinating look into one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Panama's location provides it with unique geographical characteristics, and so much natural wealth, and the museum examines everything from a diorama rainforest experience to the many local species in the isthmus.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Like a Local
    • Friends
    • Family
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • The museum is closed on Tuesdays.
    • Some people may think admission is a bit expensive, but I think is worth it; there are not many places like this in the city.
    • This is an especially great place for families.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #12 of 162 things to do in Panama City
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Frank Gery had an off-day 01/12/2016
    • Bio Diversity - Panama City, Panama 29/11/2016
    • Biomuseo
    Address:
    Amador Causeway
    Building 136
    Panama City
    Panama
    Phone:
    +507 830-6700
    Price range:
    US$11 - US$11
    Hours:
    Tue - Fri
    10:00 - 17:00
    Sat - Sun
    10:00 - 18:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador)
    Points of Interest & Landmarks
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    Amador causeway, which connects the city with four little islands (Naos, Culebra, Perico, and Flamenco) in the Pacific area, was build with rocks that were excavated during the Canal construction. Panamanians come here to get a bit of exercise, walking, cycling, jogging, or skating. Whatever you choose to do, the sea breeze will keep you company, as will amazing views of the Canal and the Panama bay.

    Good for
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • There are a variety of restaurants and bars here too.
    • As Amador is not precisely in the city, but it's about 15 minutes away by taxi or bus.
    • Bike rentals are available if you wish to go for a ride, and this is also a popular place to swim.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #9 of 162 things to do in Panama City
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Amador Causeway 29/11/2016
    • A great place for a long walk! 29/11/2016
    • Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador)
    Address:
    Av Amador
    Panama City
    Panama
    Other:
  • Save
    Mi Ranchito
    Restaurants (Caribbean, Latin, Seafood, Central American, South American)
    See more photos
    Maria Camila R Says:

    Mi Ranchito is one of the traditional restaurants favored by local families. Visit at night to enjoy live music, amazing views of the city lights, and the cool breezes that characterize Causeway Islands. The menu offers a lot of options, but the best are ‘pescado frito entero’ (fried fish) with rice and ‘patacones’ (fried plantains,) or maybe the 'camarones a la criolla’ (shrimp stew.)

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    Tips
    • My favorite appetizer is the “arañitas,” small breaded octopus served with a tartar sauce.
    • Enjoy a local beer with your meal. There are few options, but I recommend 507, Panama, or Balboa.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #28 of 762 restaurants in Panama City
    • Good Location 26/11/2016
    • Nice place! 25/11/2016
    • Mi Ranchito
    Address:
    Isla Naos
    Amador Causeway
    Panama City 0843-0124
    Panama
    Phone:
    +507 228-4909
    Other:
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