1. Take a City Tour
A good way to get to know the capital is to take a City Tour with a tour operator—see the link below and/or ask your hotel if they offer any excursions around town. Panama City Tours include a visit to the "three" Panama Cities: the ruins of the 16th century original city locally known as Panama Viejo or "Old Panama", the Spanish colonial city called Casco Viejo, and the modern skyscraper city. You'll also want to see the Panama Canal which is included in some city tours. Panama City was the first city on the West coast of the Americas and over four centuries it was a major crossroads for the Spanish empire, making it the target of famous pirates and the home to one of man's greatest accomplishments— The Panama Canal.
You can take a city tour on the Two-Decker City Sightseeing Bus Tour bus on an amphibious Aqua Bus or the Panama Trolley. Ask your hotel for tour information, contact a Tour Operator, or visit our Panama City destination page for more info.
2. Visit the Panama Canal at the 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 as well as a film on the building of the Canal. There's an outside terrace for close-up views of ships transiting through the locks. Visitor Center admission is $10.
Recommended: Have lunch at the Miraflores Restaurant on the terrace overlooking the locks as ships pass through. People tell us this meal was the highlight of their Panama City experience. Call 232-3121 to make a reservation and be sure to ask for a table on the terrace.
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. Casco Viejo showcases Panama's Spanish Colonial and Canal-Era history. It has undergone a renaissance in the last decade: beautifully restored hotels and cafe's are nestled against crumbling unrestored buildings that are home to some of Panama's most vibrant residents. Casco Viejo is a small promontory, so you'll enjoy sea breezes and ocean and bay views. There's a good selection of restaurants and thrilling nightlife spots with 360 views of the city landscape.
Casco Viejo was featured in the James Bond Quantum of Solace film and an episode of the Bachelor—check out Havana night club where the Bachelor and his prospects danced the night away.
Many foreigners are choosing Casco Viejo as a place to live. Arthur Frommer of Frommer's Guides, writes that Casco Viejo is on the way to becoming one of most beautifully restored Spanish colonial cities in the New World. You can hire a Tour Operator or you can enjoy the area's sights by using one of the walking tours in the Lonely Planet or Frommers Guide.
Highlights: Stunning French and Spanish, 17th century churches, 16th century dungeons, a French monument to the 22,000 Frenchmen who died building the Panama Canal, an electric party scene, savory cuisine, and the city's best souvenir shops. For jewelry and huacas we recommend Reprosa and for a refreshing snack the Granclement—an old fashioned French ice-creamery. In the evening, Casco Viejo transforms into a thrilling scene for a night-out. For more complete info see our Casco Viejo destination Page.
4. Enjoy the Nightlife
When the sun dissolves into Panama's yacht-sprinkled bay and the moon throws its light over the city, Panama's capital become a completely different scene. Casinos, clubs, and bars with exquisite views light up the city. They offer creative tropical drinks and sensual Latin-American music. Panamanians enjoy dressing to the nines, so be sure to bring something that will make you shine. There are good locations all over town. Calle Uruguay, an area of the city's financial district, has an English Pub, restaurants, and bars and clubs with rooftop vistas and DJs that rival Miami's. The breezy Zona Viva nightlife complex in Amador has a strip of clubs. LiBar in San Francisco and Rana Dorada, a small micro-brewery in El Cangrejo, are also fun spots at the heart of the city. By far the most popular area is Casco Viejo, however. Host to an organic, East-Village-style uprise, the glittering nightlife and romantic lighting of the area draw crowds from all over the world. For more info check out our Nightlife page.
5. Go out to Amador Causeway
Dazzling views of Panama City's skyline and of the Panama Canal make the Amador Causeway a scenic place for open-air activities. The stretch unites four small islands and was built using rocks excavated from the Panama Canal. It also serves a functional purpose as a breakwater to the entrance of the Canal.
Swept by pleasant sea breezes, there are bicycle and jogging paths (bicycles for rent for just $5-10 an hour!), restaurants for a variety of budgets, souvenir shops, a duty-free shopping complex, a cruise port, and a yacht marina. The restaurants are designed to make the most of the ocean and Canal views. TGIF at the Country Inn and Suites has an especially nice set-up. While dining, you can glimpse the Panama Canal and ships passing under the Bridge of the Americas, once the only strip that connected North and South America.
6.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.
We recommend that you try the local delicacies including ceviche, carimanolas, arroz con pollo, sancocho soup, hojadras. You can also try the Panamanian dishes while also enjoying folkloric dancing at either Tinajas or Los Diablicos. In Panama City, good seafood is available virtually everywhere. Bucanero's on the Causeway has especially succulent seafood as well as greek cuisine, giving it both a continental and Panamanian feel.
7. Try Your Luck- Casinos
Over seven million dollars are gambled each day at Panama City's casinos, making it one of the region's top destinations in this area. 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.
8. Rainforest in the City: Ancon Hill and the Metropolitan Park
A Nature Hike With Views: Ancon Hill
There's no better way to see Panama's past, present and future 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 path is lined by thriving rainforest and should be explored in the morning to avoid the scorching midday sun and afternoon tropical showers. It takes about 2 hours to get to the top. You can take a taxi there 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 Metropolitan National Park is around a 15-30 minute drive from anywhere in the city and you can hike up it's slopes to enjoy panoramic rainforest and city views. . Tour Operators offer guided nature tours of the park—you will need a professional guide to explain the tropical flora and fauna.
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. A eco-experience plus spectacular views of the city, bay and Panama Canal. (Tel: +507-269-9415)
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.
10. Shop for Souvenirs and Native Handicrafts
Panamanian native handicrafts rival Mexico's in their beauty and creativity. Don't leave Panama without an authentic souvenir made by one of Panama's seven living Indian tribes. The most popular handicrafts are "molas," intricate reverse appliqué embroidery sewn by the woman 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. Its jewelry collection includes authentic reproductions of Pre-Columbian Indian art, reproductions of Spanish colonial jewelry and collections inspired by Panama's flora and fauna. There is a 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 else to find souvenirs: In Casco Viejo we recommend the Galeria de Arte Indigena—just off the French Plaza—and for jewelry the beautiful Reprosa store.
Coming soon: Frank Gehry's Biodiversity Museum
Frank Gehry's Biomuseo is on the Amador Causeway in Panama City. It is scheduled to make its much anticipated debut in 2013, but you can already do a architectural tour of the meticulously designed structure. Bruce Mau, a celebrated genius, did the galleries and Edwina von Galand's the landscaping. The $90 million ocean-front project will feature interactive rain-forest-like gardens and biosphere gallery exhibits. It is one of many reasons to visit Panama City's Amador Causeway.
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 tourism attractions for just $29 for the day. Also check out the Panama Trolley which also goes to all the major Panama City Attractions for 28$ a day.
More Things to Do in Panama City
For History Buffs: Panama Viejo- Ruins of the Original Panama City
It may already 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 serving as the gateway city for the Spanish conquest of Latin America. All the loot sacked from the Inca empire 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, but go with someone who speaks Spanish, because the exhibits are mostly in Spanish.
Check Out Our Top Ten Things to Do Near Panama City: Make some day trips right out of the pages of National Geographic to Indian villages and monkey island, to watch whales and more. Check them out in our article Top Ten Day Trips from Panama City.