Incredible Panama Itinerary

panama sign on avienda balboa panama city panama

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I was seriously shocked after visiting Panama for so many reasons. I think it’s truly a hidden gem that you could easily spend weeks in and offers a huge variety of things to do. Our 8 Day in Panama itinerary was so perfect.

Honestly, I initially chose this Panama itinerary because it was an awesome warm winter getaway. I found a really cheap flight with Spirit Airlines. I paid about $400 round trip for the flight and was really excited to explore my first country in Central America. I was also pumped when my mom and aunt agreed to come along with me. This was truly a special trip!

After finding such a cheap flight and doing a little research about how much there is to do on a Panama vacation, I had to buy my ticket! I was honestly really happy with everything we did and I want to share my itinerary for 8 day in Panama itinerary with you.

harbor with boats on cinta costera panama city panama

Panama Itinerary Costs:

Flight: $400 (see how I find such good deals here)

Hotels: $471 (per person with three people)

Food/Activities: $90 + tips and alcohol

Uber/Transport: $85

Total Costs: $1046

Notes:

What to Pack: Panama is near the equator and warm year-round. We were there in December/January and it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit daily. Clothes for warm weather and not getting a sunburn are key. If you want my full packing guide, you can subscribe and gain access to all my planning documents, including my Panama itinerary packing guide!

Getting Around: We found that Uber is a really cheap and efficient way to get around the city. There is a strong bus and public transit system in Panama that is easy to use as well and can be found simply using Google Maps.

Language: In the city, it was very easy to communicate with people without knowing Spanish. Menus are not available in English and this was the toughest part of the city. However, as we left the city communication was more difficult, especially in San Blas. Having Google translate downloaded was helpful.

Currency: The official currency in Panama is the Balboa. One Balboa is the exact same value as one US dollar. Panama officially recognizes the US dollar as official currency (because of the history of the US and the canal). If you have US currency or a US credit/debit card, use it without an international fee.

Day 1 – 2 Panama City

We started our trip with a few days in Panama City visiting the new side of the city. We chose to do this because we knew we wanted to stay at a larger chain hotel along public transit (and get our barrings/get used to a different country).

I’m honestly so glad we did this! It allowed us to see the city as a non-tourist and see what life in downtown Panama City is like. We also LOVED the hotel we stayed at. We stayed at the Best Western Zen with an incredible view of downtown. The hotel’s rooftop pool was the best way to end each day and we didn’t regret being there on New Year’s Eve. Plus, this place was only $100 a night and is available for as low as $80 (when it’s not NYE!).

Iglesia Del Carmen free

We started our first day later after relaxing eating a large and delicious hotel breakfast. We walked from our hotel past Iglesia Del Carmen. The church is newer but is really important to downtown and easy to walk past as you head downtown.

Cinta Costera free or $4 bike rental

The walk continued to Cinta Costera where you can get amazing views of downtown. Walking past the city skyline was awesome. You can rent bikes along the walkway for as low as $4 a day and the walkway goes all the way from downtown to Casco Antigua/Casco Viejo. It was extremely hot the day we were there and there were lots of vendors outside selling shaved ice and cold drinks. We sat by the harbor for a bit trying not to sweat too much honestly and kept walking just a bit more. We chose to stop at the famous Panama sign and head to Panama Viejo.

Panama Viejo $16

Viejo simply means old in Spanish. Panama Viejo is the old city. It is a settlement founded in 1519 and was the first permanent European settlement on the Pacific Ocean. Today you can visit a museum and archeological site of ruins of the city. There are two museums you can visit within the grounds and contain ruins from before the settlement giving an idea into pre-Spanish Panama.

The archeological site is huge and there is a tram that takes you from stop to stop throughout the site. The ruins are really unique because you are free to walk through them and read about them as you walk. There is a great city tower you can climb up for a great view as well. I loved this area because it was honestly pretty empty and quiet leaving you to imagine what it would be like in the 1500s.

Panama Canal $20

This could be a post all in itself! I’ll put it into three main categories to give the most important info.

Getting there: Local buses run consistently to the Mira Flores locks. We took an Uber and it cost $6 to get there from the city center. If you choose to view the locks in Colon, you are able to take the train there for the day.

Locks to Visit: The closest and easiest part of the canal to visit from Panama City is the Mira Flores Locks. They also have a ton of things to do there so I highly recommend visiting these. Especially if you only have a few days in Panama City.

What’s there: We found the museum pretty informative and interactive. It gave a lot of insight into the history of the canal and how different countries became involved.

When to Visit: The Mira Flores Locks Visitors Center opens from 8 am – 6 pm daily (last tickets are sold at 5:15). Ships come through early in the morning, before 9 am, and in the afternoon, after 4 according to the attendants at the museum. We came around 9:30 and all the ships had gone through for the day already. We decided to come back around 2:30 to visit the museum then get a spot to view ships. This ended up being a very good decision.

We spent an hour going through the museum and then stood outside to wait. It got extremely crowded and people in the back could barely see by the time the ships were coming close. We stood on the top tier of the observation deck and waited for about 30 minutes before ships came. We chose a spot in the shade (very good decision) because it gets so hot. Seeing the canal in action was very special! The same locks are still being used today that were there in 1908 when the canal opened.

Metropolitan Park $4

Metropolitan Park is the only wildlife refuge within a city in Central America and is unique for many reasons. If you are lucky, you’ll see birds, sloths, deer, aguttis, reptiles and more. We only saw a few animals during our hike and decided to head back half-way through because of time.

If you are headed into the rainforest, this is something you could skip, but I am glad we supported the conservation efforts of the city and took some time to see something different!

Day 3 – 4 San Blas

There are so many things I would change if I could redo my trip to San Blas! It’s incredibly beautiful and unique. There’s so much I can say, but I’ll give an overview to start.

San Blas is a group of Islands off the coast of Panama that includes 365 islands. The Guna Yala people live on just 49 of the islands, most are too small to live on. Because of this, it is difficult to visit on your own. We used a transport company through our AirBnB to get us there and back, but I do not recommend doing this. Instead, rent your own car and get there yourself. We wasted to much time waiting on cars and it was an extremely frustrating experience. Renting our own car would have been much better.

Boats leave daily for the islands, but there is not a real schedule. Get there before 9 am as boats come just once or twice a day. Ask your accommodation for all the details on the specific island you are going to. The boat ride there can be a very choppy one. The boats are very small and often break down. This is exactly what happened as the boat was halfway through the trip. It had to stop on a local island to get it fixed. The trip felt never-ending to get there. I highly recommend more than one night if you choose to go to San Blas.

San Blas Island accommodations are really interesting. Most are backpacker style and include food/water while there. This is because the islands are typically a 45 min boat ride out. Bringing anything with you can be fairly difficult. Given all this, there are a few options. Airbnbhostels, and tours are available. If you only have a few days, I recommend a tour. It will cause the least amount of stress and while tours are a few hundred dollars, the stress will be far less with a tour group.

If you want more San Blas info, here is my full post about San Blas including what it’s like getting there and on one of the many islands.

Day 5 – 6 Jungle Land

This was my favorite part of the trip! Jungle Land was an incredibly unique experience. It’s honestly not like anything I’ve ever done. Jungle Land is the only floating lodge in Central America, is located on the Panama Canal, and is all-inclusive. We worried about nothing while we were there because they are all-inclusive. This was wonderful! We had all meals, activities, alcohol, and services included. Some of the things we did were kayaking, hiking, SUP, waterfall jumping, night safaris, and bird watching. I loved every single one. While they do day trips, an overnight experience gives you the opportunity to experience so much more.

We loved how they made the experience so personal and interesting. During our two night stay, we saw so many different animals like monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, birds, snakes, fish, capybaras, and more. We also road on a boat next to the giant ships we saw at the MiraFlores locks in Panama City which was so unique. People pay just for this experience! They catered to our needs and made sure we had all the experiences we hoped for. It was truly a dream to have this amazing experience.

You can read my full post about the Jungle Land experience here.

Day 7 – 8 Casco Viejo/Casco Antiguo

This is the perfect way to end your Panama itinerary. Casco Viejo and Casco Antiguo are the same place. Casco Viejo is full of interesting history, shops, restaurants, and rooftop bars. I loved seeing all the beautiful old buildings and walking the streets. It is an interesting mix of old and new with a ton of development happening from outside the country. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a more expensive part of the city. Keep this in mind when booking your trip.

sunset amador causeway panama city

We stayed at an adorable Airbnb right in Casco Viejo. It had an amazing view of the water by Amador Causeway and a beautiful little courtyard (construction was going on next door but didn’t affect us at all). We were able to walk to everything from here and had a wonderful time. Seriously recommend this spot to stay at! View is in the photo above.

New to Airbnb? Here is $40 off your first stay!

During your two days here, there is a ton to do. Below are some highlights.

  • For cool souvenirs check out an area known as lover’s lane (along Casa del Soldado) and grab a mojito at Maisa while you stroll.
  • For awesome tacos and drinks, try out Tacos La Neta.
  • Rooftop to enjoy a sunset at? Tantalo has a beautiful rooftop that overlooks the old and new city.
  • See the many cathedrals, ruins, and do the free walking tour (using the city signs as a guide).

For more, check out my must-sees in Panama City.

This Panama itinerary ended up being perfect. The trip was seriously an amazing one. I loved my time there and highly recommend it to anyone who wants the perfect mix of cities, history, beaches, and relaxation. I know you’ll have a great time with this 8 day Panama itinerary too!