1. Take a City Tour
The best way to get to know Panama City is to take a City Tour . Plan ahead by booking a Tour Operator or ask your hotel about a tour.
Most Panama City tours include the "three" Panama Cities: the ruins of the 16th century original city Panama Viejo or "Old Panama", the Spanish colonial city called Casco Viejo, and the modern skyscraper city. The Mega attraction, the Panama Canal, is included in most city tours.
Barefoot Panama offers a very complete tour of the city, the Panama Canal, and Amador Causeway at an excellent price.
You can also see the city taking a hop-on-hop on a colorful double decker bus with City Sight Seeing City Sightseeing Bus Tour or on the amphibious Aqua Bus—an exciting tour which takes you right into the bay at two points. Aqua Bus.
What you'll see on a City Tour: The Ruins of Old Panama City, Casco Viejo and the Panama Canal
Founded in 1519, Panama City was the first city founded on the West coast of the Americas. All the loot stolen from Peru went through here. This made it the target of the English pirate Henry Morgan who destroyed it in 1671. A new colonial Panama City, Casco Viejo was built in 1673. Today it's a the vibrant historical sector.
Finally you'll visit one of man's greatest accomplishments— The Panama Canal at the Miraflores Locks and its accompanying museum.
Visit our Panama City destination page for more info.
2. Panama Canal 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 and a short film on the building of the Canal. An outside terrace gives you 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. This meal will be a highlight of your Panama City experience. Call 232-3121 to make a reservation. Make 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. A vibrant. colorful neighborhood, it's recently undergone a renaissance- restored hotels and restaurants in handsomely restored buildings lie side by side with crumbling old buildings. Casco Viejo is a ocean promontory- enjoy sea breezes and sweeping ocean and Panama City bay views. It is also now Panama City's hottest night life sector. Enjoy a great selection of restaurants and nightlife spots some with 360 views bay and city views. If you want to enjoy Latin culture, don't miss Habana, a salsa dance spot featured in an episode of the Bachelor.
Casco Viejo was also featured in the James Bond Quantum of Solace film.
If your coming to to Panama for tourism, we recommend staying in one of Casco's boutique hotels or hostels.
You can hire a Tour Operator or you can enjoy the area's sights using one of the walking tours in the PanamainfoGuid app, Lonely Planet or Frommers Guide.
Many foreigners are also choosing Casco Viejo as a place to live. Experts like Arthur Frommer of Frommer's Guides, have noted that Casco Viejo is on the way to becoming one of most beautifully restored Spanish colonial cities in the New World.
French and Spanish historical architecture, 17th century churches, a French monument to the 22,000 Frenchmen who died building the Panama Canal, an electric nightlife scene, savory cuisine, and the city's best souvenir shops. For special jewelry go to Reprosa. For a refreshing snack try Granclement—an old fashioned French ice-creamery. In the evening, Casco Viejo transforms into a thrilling night life scene. For more complete info see our Casco Viejo destination Page.
4. Bike or stroll on the 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. Read More.
5. 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. For gourmet Panamanian cuisine, go to Sal Si Puedes at the Bristol Hotel.
6. 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)
7. Enjoy the Nightlife
At nightfall Panama City becomes a nightlife hotspot. Casinos, clubs, and bars with exquisite views and venues come alive. Enjoy creative tropical drinks and sensual Latin music and dancing. Panamanians enjoy dressing to the nines, so be sure to bring something that will make you shine. The best nightlife spots in Casco Viejo is the famous Habana Salsa Dance Floor and several roof top venues with bay views. Calle Uruguay in the financial district, has an English pub, restaurants, and bars and clubs with DJs that rival Miami's. The breezy Zona Viva nightlife complex on Amador Causeway has a strip of clubs. Rana Dorada, a small micro-brewery in El Cangrejo and Casco are for beer lovers. For more info check out our Nightlife page.
8. Shop for Souvenirs and Native Handicrafts
Panamanian native handicrafts rival Mexico's in their beauty and creativity. Leave Panama with an authentic handicraft made by one of Panama's seven living indigenous tribes. The most popular 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 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 to find souvenirs: The most complete selection is in the Artisans market on Amador Causeway— highly recommended. In Casco Viejo we recommend the Galeria de Arte Indigena—just off the French Plaza. For jewelry in Casco, go the gorgeous Reprosa store. In downtown Panama City, Gran Morrison variety store has a large selection, plus the best selection of books about Panama.
9. Visit the Frank Gehry Biodiversity Museum
Set on scenic Amador Causeway, this museum is another stunning Gehry architectural triumph. Inaugurating in January 2014, you can take a pre-opening tour. State-of-the art exhibits are by the famed Bruce Mau. The $90 million ocean-front project features interactive exhibits about how the emergence of the isthmus of Panama changed the ecology of the world forever and Panama's present eco-wonders. Read More.
10. 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.
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.
More Things to Do in Panama City
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.
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.
Check Out Our Top Ten Things to Do Near Panama City
Day trips from Panama City are right out of the pages of National Geographic. They include a visit to an authentic indigenous village, seeing monkeys cavorting on Monkey Island or sunbathing on an idyllic tropical Island. For more info go to: Top Ten Day Trips from Panama City.