Updated: Apr 17, 2022
Panama City, the capital of Panama, is a modern city framed by the Pacific Ocean and man-made Panama Canal. Casco Viejo, its cobblestoned historic center, is famed for colonial-era landmarks like the neoclassical Palacio Presidencial and bougainvillea-filled plazas lined with cafes and bars. Visiting the modern side as well as the historic Casco Viejo is a must while in Panama.
I was so impressed with Panama City! After reading some blog posts about it, I was really unsure what to expect. People talked about few English speakers and really vague things to do while there. This left me wondering what it would really be like so after my visit, I want to hopefully provide some clarity about this city (based on my experience of course!). Here are my must-sees in Panama City and all the details about each spot that you need to know.
PS It’s really easy to get around (thanks to Uber being SO CHEAP) and the people there are very friendly. They take US currency everywhere and so you can travel stress-free with no international exchange fee if you are from the US. It’s also pretty cheap and beautiful. If you’re considering a trip to Panama… do it!
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Want a hotel with an amazing rooftop pool? Check out the Panama City Best Western Zen Hotel. Affordable and incredible views.
1. Casco Viejo/Casco Antiguo – free
This is definitely one of your must-sees while in Panama City! Here is a misconception I want to clear up – Casco Viejo and Casco Antiguo refer to the same area. Viejo means old and this area is a UNESCO world heritage site that is totally worth visiting. I saw both online and thought they were a different spot – it’s all one area known by different names!
The area is known for its colorful buildings and interesting, awesome restaurants. You can spend a whole day here going through shops, walking around looking at buildings, and eating delicious food.
I highly recommend staying in this area too for a full experience. For cool souvenirs check out an area known as lover’s lane (along Casa del Soldado) and grab a mojito at Maisa.
For awesome tacos and drinks, try out Tacos La Neta. There are several cathedrals to view, amazing streets to walk down, and rooftops to enjoy a sunset at. Tantalo has a beautiful rooftop that overlooks the old and new city.
We stayed in Casco Viejo for two nights on our trip and I am so glad we did. Our AirBnB had a beautiful terrace overlooking Amador Causeway with an excellent sunset view. The room was adorable and we loved staying there. The location was perfect right in the center of Casco Viejo/Casco Antiguo.
2. Panama Viejo – $15
If you are interested in history, Panama Viejo is a must! It also offers amazing views of the city with a really awesome contrast of new and old. Signs explaining different ruins are in English and you are free to walk around the entire area. It’s located along the water and there are lots of great views of the city. A tram will take you throughout the long section of ruins and there is a museum if you are interested in learning more.
Don’t get fooled by Google when getting there. Google put the entrance at the very end and when we got there, it was completely closed. Get your directions to the visitors center and museum – Museo De Panama Viejo.
3. Walk or Bike Cinta Costera – free or $20 for full-day bike rental
Cinta Costera is an area of downtown Panama that provides amazing views of the city. You can walk or bike along the water and take in the beauty of the city. There are vendors selling shaved ice to keep you cool as you walk or ride the city. Bike rentals are cheap and they offer traditional bikes, tandems, and covered double bikes. To rent a bike, visit Get One Bike located at Calle Lateral 30 Este, Avenida Balboa.
4. Visit a Rooftop Pool
I was really impressed with the beautiful architecture, rolling hills, and beautiful sunsets in Panama City. A rooftop pool is the best place to enjoy one of these sunsets.
We spent three nights at the Best Western Zen in Panama City and could not recommend this amazing rooftop more. You can stay here for as low as $70 a night, but also you are able to purchase a day pass for the hotel pool as well. The full bar offers a bunch of specialty cocktails for a reasonable price ($7 or less) and you’ll get awesome views.
Book a stay or call +507 301-3333 for information about day passes!
5. Eat Panamanian Food and more
Before going to Panama, I tried to research different foods that Panama was known for. I came up pretty empty-handed when looking on the internet. So instead, I waited until I got to Panama and asked our concierge at the hotel. I found out that Panama is known for its seafood and ceviche. The spot that’s known for this cuisine is El Trapiche.
El Trapiche is a local chain with three different locations that serve up traditional dishes from Panama. The food was pretty good and I’d recommend it for seafood dishes. They did not have an English menu so prepare by having you Google translate ready.
There is a lot of good food in Panama City that is not traditional Panamanian food and we were honestly more impressed with other places like Tantalo or El Caribe which serve up delicious food that isn’t necessarily Panamanian cuisine, but it definitely has a different style food.
6. Metropolitan Park
Metropolitan Park is the largest protected area inside a city in Central America. Lots of wildlife and plants can be found inside the park as you hike throughout the area. It is very easy to get to and experience this park. We spoke with people who said they saw sloths and other animals while there, but we only encountered an agouti while there which was very cute and basically a bigger guinea pig.
7. Miraflores Section of Panama Canal
People obviously come to Panama to see the canal. The Miraflores Locks are the easiest ones to see from Panama City. An Uber there is less than $15 from the city center and you will get to experience a museum as well as the canal itself. To see ships go through I read online that you should get there in the morning. This information turned out to be kind of true.
We got there at 9:30 am and all the ships had already been through that morning. We were left with nothing to see until after 3 pm. After asking a few people who worked at the museum we discovered the best times to come are before 9 am or after 3 pm. Hours are from 8 am – 6 pm.
We decided to leave at 9:30 and come back around 2 pm to see the museum then go view the locks. Get there in early because it will get crowded and difficult to see. We waited 30 minutes for the ships to come and it was beyond full by the time a ship was coming through. I recommend going to the highest floor for the best view of the ships. This is technically a little outside Panama City, but really easy to get to and honestly a must in my eyes.
The area around the Panama Canal is all protected land and some of the most beautiful jungle I’ve seen. Jungle Land does day trips and overnight stays at their lodge on Gatun Lake where you can truly experience so much wildlife and beauty. Read more in my full article about a stay at Jungle Land.
So there you have my top things to see in Panama City with some helpful info! There’s honestly a lot of places to visit in Panama anyway so make sure you spend some time exploring outside Panama City too like San Blas or Gatun Lake! I hope that you have a great time visiting this beautiful city. It truly is a hidden gem.
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