Your Ultimate Panama City Travel Guide

Your Ultimate Panama City Travel Guide

Panama City! As a top travel destination in Central America, Panama City offers a vibrant mix of culture, cuisine, history and adventure. This comprehensive travel guide will provide tips and recommendations to help you make the most of your upcoming trip to this tropical paradise.

About the Author: I'm Justin by name, an avid world traveler and Panama enthusiast. I've spent extensive time exploring Panama City and the surrounding region. With my local expertise and passion for travel, I'm excited to share insider tips to help you plan your perfect Panama City getaway!

Table
  1. When to Visit Panama City
  2. Getting to Panama City
  3. Where to Stay in Panama City
  4. Getting Around Panama City
  5. Top Things to Do and See in Panama City
    1. Casco Viejo
    2. Panama Canal
    3. Panama Viejo
    4. Biomuseo
    5. Causeway
    6. Metropolitan Natural Park
    7. Panamá la Vieja
  6. Best Day Trips from Panama City
    1. Panama Canal Transit
    2. Portobelo & San Lorenzo Forts
    3. El Valle de Antón
    4. San Blas Islands
    5. Gamboa Rainforest
  7. Where to Eat in Panama City
    1. Fresh Ceviche
    2. Local Favorites
    3. Upscale Dining
    4. Trendy Casco Viejo
  8. Shopping in Panama City
  9. Panama City Nightlife
  10. Staying Safe in Panama City
  11. When to Book Your Trip

When to Visit Panama City

With a tropical climate and warm weather year-round, any time is a good time to visit Panama City. Here is an overview of the seasons:

  • Dry season (mid-December to April) - The dry season offers hot, sunny days with little rain. High season for travelers, hotels are busy and rates higher.
  • Green season (May to mid-December) - Increased rain during the green season leads to lower prices and smaller crowds. Can still enjoy outdoor activities during rain breaks.
  • Peak season - Late December through early January brings holiday travelers. Book hotels well in advance for New Year's celebrations.
  • Low season - The wettest months of September - November have fewer tourists and better deals.

I recommend visiting during the dry season if you want ideal weather and don't mind higher prices. For a more budget-friendly trip, plan your visit during the green season.

Getting to Panama City

Panama City is easily accessible by air and land:

  • By plane - Fly into Tocumen International Airport (PTY), located just 24 km from downtown. Many direct flights available from major US cities and Latin America.
  • By bus - Take a bus from major Central American destinations like San José, Costa Rica or Antigua, Guatemala. Buses arrive at Albrook Bus Terminal.
  • By car - Drive to Panama City via the Pan-American Highway. Have passport and documents for vehicle importation.

Once in the city, taxis, buses, Uber, and walking provide easy transportation around town. Consider hiring a local guide or driver for convenience.

Where to Stay in Panama City

Panama City offers a wide range of accommodation from luxury high-rises to quaint boutique hotels. Consider these top neighborhoods and types of lodging for your stay:

Recommended Neighborhoods

  • Casco Viejo - Charming historic district with trendy hotels, rooftop bars, and cobblestone streets perfect for walking
  • Marbella - Upscale waterfront neighborhood near restaurants and nightlife
  • El Cangrejo - Vibrant area with casinos, shops, and budget-friendly hotels
  • Causeway - Waterfront location overlooking Panama Bay near attractions

Types of Accommodation

  • Luxury hotels - 5-star properties with gorgeous ocean views, infinity pools, and spa services. Try American Trade Hotel or Bristol Panama.
  • Boutique hotels - Intimate hotels, often in converted colonial buildings. Check out Las Clementinas or Magnolia Inn.
  • Hostels - Shared dorms and private rooms for budget travelers. Luna's Castle Hostel is a top pick.
  • Vacation rentals - Apartments and condos afford more space and amenities. Ideal for longer stays.
  • Eco-lodges - Rustic jungle lodges with outdoor adventures. Try Buenaventura Lodge outside the city.

Make reservations 3-6 months in advance for high season. Off-season you can often book a few weeks out.

Getting Around Panama City

Panama City's attractions are spread out, so taking transportation is recommended versus walking. Here are the best ways to get around:

  • Uber or taxis - Reliable and affordable rides. Have hotel concierge call a trusted company. Agree on fare beforehand.
  • Bus - Cheap public buses connect downtown and suburban areas. Speak Spanish for assistance. Have exact change ready.
  • Metro - Quick, clean, and safe subway system. Covers major attractions downtown.
  • Rental car - Provides flexibility for farther-flung day trips. Reserve ahead for best rates.
  • Walk - Casco Viejo, Causeway, and parts of El Cangrejo are compact and walkable.
  • Bike - Explore shoreline bike paths starting from Casco Viejo. Use caution on roads.

For simplicity, Uber or taxis are recommended for most travelers. The metro is handy for certain downtown trips.

Top Things to Do and See in Panama City

Panama City blends modern skyscrapers with historic charm and natural beauty. Must-see attractions include:

Casco Viejo

This charming UNESCO World Heritage neighborhood showcases Spanish colonial architecture. Wander quaint plazas, rooftop restaurants, and Baroque cathedrals.

Panama Canal

Watch ships traverse this world-famous canal at Miraflores Locks just outside the city. The Canal Museum offers interesting exhibits and views.

Panama Viejo

Founded in 1519, this is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Explore ruins and imagine colonial life.

Biomuseo

Designed by Frank Gehry, this museum celebrates Panama's biodiversity through striking architectural exhibits.

Causeway

Stretching across the Panama Bay, this picturesque 1.5 mile causeway offers unparalleled city skyline views. Ideal for walking, running, biking, and sunset watching.

Metropolitan Natural Park

Rainforest hiking trails, flora/fauna exhibits, and towering canopy observation deck. See sloths, monkeys, toucans and more up close at the Discovery Center.

Panamá la Vieja

Just 15 minutes from downtown, this National Park protects ruins of the original Panama City, founded in 1519. Offers insightful glimpse of the past.

Best Day Trips from Panama City

Make the most of your time in Panama by taking a quick day or overnight trip to these nearby highlights:

Panama Canal Transit

Traverse the 50-mile canal over 9+ hours aboard a cruise ship or small sightseeing vessel. Witness the locks operate up close as you cross the continental divide. Departs from Flamenco Island.

Portobelo & San Lorenzo Forts

Visit Spain's beautifully preserved Caribbean coastal forts via day tour or private driver. Walk the atmospheric ruins and learn about their strategic role protecting plundered treasure.

El Valle de Antón

Just 2 hours from Panama City, scenic El Valle offers cooler weather, crater lakes, and picturesque waterfalls surrounded by verdant mountains and dormant volcanos.

San Blas Islands

This remote Caribbean archipelago features idyllic white-sand islands with crystal waters. Get there via tour, rental car, or small plane.

Gamboa Rainforest

Located an hour from Panama City, this lush rainforest reserve has trails, ziplining, and wildlife. Take an aerial tram ride for panoramic jungle views and river cruises to spot sloths, monkeys, toucans and more.

Where to Eat in Panama City

Satisfy your taste buds during your Panama City getaway. Recommended spots for delicious local flavors include:

Fresh Ceviche

  • Mercado de Mariscos - Casual seaside market perfect for super-fresh ceviche paired with ice cold beer.

Local Favorites

  • René Café - Unpretentious downtown diner serving Panamanian favorites like sancocho soup and hojaldres.
  • Las Bovedas - Hearty portions of ropa vieja, tamales, and other local dishes served in an atmospheric old prison vault.

Upscale Dining

  • Maito - Acclaimed modern Panamanian cuisine expertly crafted with indigenous ingredients. Tasting menus only.
  • Farmed and Dangerous - Farm-to-table restaurant with locally sourced meats and produce. Extensive craft cocktail list.
  • Madrigal - Refined Spanish restaurant in a chic skyscraper. Reserve a patio table with gorgeous night views.

Trendy Casco Viejo

  • Donde José - Creative tapas plates and sangrias in lively open-air colonial mansion.
  • Roots - Israeli-inspired small plates like babaganoush & hummus in a restored 1920's home.
  • La Petite Crêperie - Sweet and savory crepes, great coffee, and artisan cocktails served in boho-chic courtyard.

Shopping in Panama City

Bring home distinctive souvenirs and handicrafts from these recommended spots:

  • Casco Viejo - Boutiques selling handcrafted molas (textiles), carved tagua nut items, art, and high-end Panamanian rum and coffee. Try stores along Calle 53 Este.
  • Mercado Nacional de Artesanías - Large handicraft market with stalls upon stalls of handmade items, souvenirs, and Guna molas. Expect to haggle.
  • Multiplaza Pacific Mall - Upscale mall with international brands like Zara, All Saints, and Tiffany's.
  • Reprosa - For unique high-quality Panama hats made locally from toquilla straw. Master weavers on site.
  • Exedra Books - Impressive selection of English and Spanish books on Panamanian culture, history, food, and nature. Great souvenir option.

Panama City Nightlife

When the sun goes down, experience Panama City's vibrant nightlife:

  • Bars - The bar scene is lively, especially in Casco Viejo. Look for rooftop bars like Tántalo, craft cocktail lounges like La Rana Dorada, and wine bars like Vino Vino.
  • Clubs - Dance the night away at chic clubs like Relic and White House in the San Francisco neighborhood.
  • Live music - Enjoy salsa, jazz, rock, or reggae at spots like Platea in Casco Viejo.
  • Theater/dance - Attend a performance at Teatro Nacional or Danza Panama festival.
  • Casinos - Try your luck at one of the city's many casinos, concentrated in hotels downtown.

Party into the night like the locals do - most clubs and bars don't get lively until midnight. Pace yourself with a disco nap!

Staying Safe in Panama City

Use common sense and take standard safety precautions in Panama City:

  • Research neighborhood safety. Exercise extra caution in Chorrillo, Santa Ana, Curundu.
  • Don't walk alone or display expensive items, especially after dark.
  • Only take licensed yellow taxis or Ubers from official stands. Ask hotel to call trusted companies. Agree on fare beforehand.
  • Don't accept drinks from strangers or leave drinks unattended.
  • Carry limited cash. Avoid ATMs in deserted areas.
  • Don't go to isolated or wooded areas alone.
  • Don't pick up hitchhikers.
  • Talk to hotel staff for their safety tips. Consider hiring a guide in higher risk areas.

Staying alert will let you fully enjoy all that Panama City has to offer.

When to Book Your Trip

Take the following timeline into account when planning your Panama City getaway:

  • 6-12 months before - Book international flights and high season hotels
  • 2-3 months before - Reserve excursions, day trips, rental cars
  • 1 month before - Book low season hotel and make restaurant reservations
  • 2 weeks before - Confirm details and tourist cards
  • A few days before - Check weather forecast and pack
  • Day before - Get currency and confirm airport transfers

Advance planning takes the stress out of travel! I hope these tips help you create your ideal Panama City itinerary. Let me know if you have any other questions. I'm happy to share more local expertise. Have an amazing trip!

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