So, you’re thinking about taking a vacation and you’re wondering if Panama City is the right destination for you. Well, let me tell you, Panama City is more than just nice – it’s a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. With its stunning beaches, vibrant culture, and rich history, this vibrant city has something for everyone. Whether you’re a beach lover, a history enthusiast, or simply looking to soak up some sun, Panama City will not disappoint. From the breathtaking views of the Panama Canal to the bustling markets and delicious street food, this city will leave you wanting more. So, pack your bags and get ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime in Panama City!
Overview of climate in Panama City
Panama City enjoys a tropical climate, characterized by warm temperatures throughout the year. The city experiences two distinct seasons – the wet season and the dry season. The wet season in Panama City runs from May to November, with frequent afternoon rain showers and high humidity. During this time, temperatures range from 75°F to 85°F (24°C to 29°C). The dry season, on the other hand, lasts from December to April, offering sunny and balmy days with temperatures averaging between 80°F to 90°F (27°C to 32°C). It’s important to note that Panama City can experience occasional showers even during the dry season, so it’s wise to pack an umbrella or raincoat.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Panama City is during the dry season, from December to April. This period showcases the city at its finest, with plenty of sunshine and little rainfall. The comfortable temperatures make it pleasant to explore the city’s attractions and indulge in outdoor activities. However, keep in mind that this is also the peak tourist season, so expect larger crowds and higher prices for accommodations and flights. If you don’t mind occasional showers and want to avoid the tourist rush, you can consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of May to November. Just be prepared with appropriate rain gear and plan your outdoor activities accordingly.
What to pack
When packing for your trip to Panama City, it’s essential to consider the local climate and the activities you plan on engaging in. Lightweight and breathable clothing made of natural fabrics such as cotton and linen are ideal for the city’s warm weather. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect yourself from the strong tropical sun. An umbrella or raincoat is recommended, especially if you’re visiting during the wet season. If you plan on exploring the outdoors, sturdy walking shoes or sandals are essential. Additionally, it’s a good idea to bring a swimsuit, as there are beautiful beaches nearby. Lastly, be sure to pack insect repellent to guard against mosquitoes.
Historic Casco Viejo
Historic Casco Viejo, also known as Casco Antiguo, is a must-visit attraction in Panama City. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a charming neighborhood with narrow cobblestone streets, colorful colonial buildings, and beautiful squares. You can wander through its alleys, admire the stunning architecture, and visit historical landmarks such as the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Presidential Palace. The neighborhood is also home to numerous boutique shops, art galleries, and trendy restaurants and bars, adding to its vibrant atmosphere.
No visit to Panama City is complete without exploring the world-famous Panama Canal. This engineering marvel connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and plays a pivotal role in international trade. Witnessing the passage of massive ships through the locks is a fascinating experience. You can visit the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center to learn about the history and operation of the Panama Canal through informative exhibits and observation decks. For a more immersive experience, take a boat tour or cruise along the canal to witness its impressive scale up close.
For a leisurely escape from the city, head to the Amador Causeway. This scenic road connects Panama City to three small islands in the Pacific Ocean – Naos, Flamenco, and Perico. The causeway offers picturesque views of the skyline, the Bridge of the Americas, and the Panama Canal entrance. You can rent bicycles or take a leisurely walk along the causeway while enjoying the ocean breeze. The area is also home to restaurants, bars, and shops, making it a popular spot for locals and visitors alike.
Metropolitan Natural Park
Nature enthusiasts will delight in exploring the Metropolitan Natural Park. Located within the city limits, this lush rainforest oasis offers hiking trails, abundant wildlife, and stunning views of Panama City. You can embark on guided tours or explore the trails independently, keeping an eye out for tropical birds, monkeys, and sloths. The park also features an educational center where you can learn about the diverse flora and fauna that call Panama home.
For panoramic views of Panama City and its surrounding areas, head to Ancon Hill. Rising 654 feet (200 meters) above sea level, this natural landmark offers breathtaking vistas from its summit. The hike to the top is relatively easy and takes approximately 30 minutes. Once there, you can marvel at the sprawling cityscape, the Panama Canal, and the lush vegetation that surrounds the hill. It’s the perfect spot for sunrise or sunset photography or simply to enjoy a peaceful moment away from the bustling city.
Biomuseo is a unique museum dedicated to the biodiversity and natural history of Panama. Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the building itself is an architectural masterpiece. Inside, you’ll find a range of engaging exhibitions that explore Panama’s ecological wealth and its impact on global ecosystems. The museum uses interactive displays and multimedia presentations to educate visitors about the country’s rich natural heritage and the importance of environmental conservation.
Step back in time and immerse yourself in Panama’s cultural heritage at Mi Pueblito. This open-air museum showcases three distinct villages representing Panama’s Afro-Caribbean, Indigenous, and Spanish communities. Wander through the colorful streets, visit the traditional houses, and observe artisans practicing their craft. You can also enjoy traditional music and dance performances, taste local dishes, and purchase handicrafts as souvenirs.
Explore the ruins of Panama Viejo, the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. This archaeological site dates back to the 16th century when it served as the first Spanish city in the region. Walk among the crumbling ruins of cathedrals, convents, and houses, and imagine the bustling city that once stood here. The Visitor Center provides historical context and exhibits artifacts unearthed during excavations. Don’t miss the chance to climb the Cathedral Tower for panoramic views of the city and the Pacific Ocean.
The Causeway Islands, located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, offer a mix of recreational activities and natural beauty. Explore three small islands – Naos, Flamenco, and Perico – connected by the Amador Causeway. The islands are home to marinas, waterfront restaurants, and bars. You can rent bicycles or rollerblades to explore the area while enjoying stunning views of the Pacific. It’s an excellent spot for relaxation, waterfront dining, or enjoying a memorable sunset.
Balboa Avenue is the main waterfront promenade in Panama City, stretching along the Pacific Ocean. The avenue is lined with tall buildings, luxury hotels, restaurants, and shops. Take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront, admiring the yachts and sailboats in the marinas. The avenue is also popular with joggers and cyclists, thanks to its scenic views and well-maintained paths. Balboa Avenue comes alive in the evenings, with a lively atmosphere and a variety of dining and entertainment options.
Panama City boasts a range of luxury hotels that offer world-class amenities and exceptional service. These hotels cater to discerning travelers seeking a lavish experience during their stay. Many of the luxury hotels are located in the upscale neighborhoods of Punta Pacifica and Punta Paitilla, offering stunning ocean views and proximity to shopping and dining destinations. These hotels often feature elegant rooms and suites, state-of-the-art fitness centers, rooftop pools, spa facilities, and gourmet restaurants. Some of the renowned luxury hotels in Panama City include The Bristol Panama, The Santa Maria, and The Sortis Hotel, Spa & Casino.
If you’re looking for comfortable accommodation without breaking the bank, there are several mid-range hotels in Panama City that offer a balance between affordability and quality. These hotels often provide well-appointed rooms, friendly service, and convenient locations. You can find mid-range hotels in various neighborhoods, including El Cangrejo and Bella Vista, which are known for their vibrant dining and nightlife scenes. Some popular mid-range hotel options include Hotel Riu Plaza Panama, Eurostars Panama City, and Tryp by Wyndham Panama Centro.
Travelers on a budget can find numerous budget-friendly accommodation options in Panama City. These options include hostels, guesthouses, and budget hotels that offer affordable rates without compromising on comfort. El Cangrejo and Casco Viejo are neighborhoods known for their budget-friendly accommodations, as well as a vibrant social scene and proximity to attractions. These establishments often provide clean and basic rooms, shared facilities, and a friendly atmosphere. Some notable budget-friendly options include Luna’s Castle, Magnolia Inn, and Hostal Villa Vento Surf.
Traditional Panamanian dishes
Panamanian cuisine offers a diverse blend of flavors influenced by its indigenous, African, and Spanish roots. When in Panama City, make sure to try some traditional dishes that showcase the country’s culinary heritage. Sancocho, a rich and savory chicken soup with vegetables, is considered Panama’s national dish. Ceviche, made with fresh seafood marinated in lime juice and served with onions and cilantro, is a popular appetizer. Another must-try dish is Ropa Vieja, a flavorful shredded beef simmered in a tomato-based sauce. For a satisfying breakfast, indulge in hojaldres (fried dough) with salty cheese and coffee.
Given its strategic location between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Panama City is known for its delectable seafood dishes. Fresh fish, shrimp, lobster, and octopus feature prominently on menus throughout the city. Many restaurants offer ceviche, a refreshing dish made from marinating raw seafood in citrus juice. If you’re a fan of fish, don’t miss trying corvina, a local white fish, often served grilled or fried. Another seafood specialty worth sampling is patacones with shrimp, which consists of fried plantains topped with succulent shrimp.
Panama City’s culinary scene is diverse and cosmopolitan, offering an array of international flavors that cater to different palates. You’ll find a wide range of international cuisines, including Italian, Asian, Mediterranean, and American. Whether you’re craving sushi, pasta, tapas, or gourmet burgers, you’ll be spoiled for choice in Panama City. Various neighborhoods, such as El Cangrejo and Obarrio, are known for their international dining options, where both trendy restaurants and hidden gems await you.
Casinos and gambling
Panama City boasts a vibrant nightlife scene, with numerous casinos offering entertainment and excitement for those feeling lucky. The city is home to several world-class casinos that cater to both experienced players and those looking to try their luck for the first time. Many casinos are located within luxury hotels and feature a wide range of games, including slot machines, blackjack, poker, and roulette. Whether you’re into high-stakes gambling or simply want to enjoy a lively atmosphere, Panama City’s casinos provide a thrilling experience.
Dancing clubs and bars
If you’re in the mood for dancing the night away, Panama City offers a variety of clubs and bars where you can let loose to Latin beats, electronic music, or popular hits. Calle Uruguay and Casco Viejo are popular areas for nightlife, featuring a concentration of clubs and bars. Whether you prefer salsa, reggaeton, or techno, you’ll find venues that cater to different music preferences. Many clubs feature live DJs, dance floors, and VIP areas, ensuring a memorable night out on the town.
Live music venues
For those who appreciate live music, Panama City offers an array of venues showcasing talented local and international musicians. From jazz to rock, salsa to reggae, you can find a venue that suits your musical taste. Casco Viejo is known for its vibrant live music scene, with bars and venues hosting performances by both established and up-and-coming artists. The Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis and Teatro Amador are also popular venues that attract renowned musicians and bands. Immerse yourself in the captivating rhythms and melodies of Panama’s music scene for a memorable night out.
Malls and shopping centers
Panama City is a shopper’s paradise, with a wide variety of malls and shopping centers offering everything from high-end designer brands to local boutiques. Multiplaza Pacific Mall is one of the city’s premier shopping destinations, featuring a vast selection of international brands, luxury stores, and a charming ambiance. Metromall Panama and Albrook Mall are also popular choices, offering a mix of local and international retailers, as well as dining options and entertainment. Whether you’re looking for fashion, electronics, or souvenirs, Panama City’s malls have you covered.
Local markets and handicrafts
For a more authentic shopping experience, explore Panama City’s local markets and artisanal shops, where you can discover unique souvenirs and traditional crafts. Mercado de Mariscos, or the Fish Market, is a bustling market where you can purchase fresh seafood, local spices, and even grab a bite to eat. Mercado de Artesanias de Balboa offers a wide range of handmade crafts and artisanal products, including molas (colorful fabric panels), tagua carvings, and Panama hats. Casco Viejo is also home to boutique shops and galleries that showcase local artwork, jewelry, and clothing.
Best beaches near Panama City
Panama City is fortunate to have beautiful beaches within a short distance from its bustling center. One of the most popular beach destinations near the city is Taboga Island, often referred to as the “Island of Flowers.” This charming island offers pristine sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a relaxed atmosphere. Another nearby beach is Playa Bonita, located just 20 minutes from the city, known for its picturesque sunsets and tranquil ambiance. Gorgona and Coronado beaches are also worth visiting, offering white sands, clear waters, and beachfront amenities.
Activities and water sports
When visiting the beaches near Panama City, there are plenty of activities and water sports to enjoy. Snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts can explore the vibrant underwater world teeming with marine life. Jet skiing, paddleboarding, and kayaking are popular water activities that allow you to appreciate the coastal beauty from a different perspective. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can try your hand at surfing or book a deep-sea fishing excursion. Or simply relax on the sandy shores, soak up the sun, and take in the breathtaking views while enjoying a refreshing cocktail.
San Blas Islands
For an unforgettable day trip from Panama City, head to the San Blas Islands. This archipelago consists of over 300 idyllic islands, known for their turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and vibrant Indigenous culture. The stunning beauty of the San Blas Islands attracts travelers from around the world. Spend the day swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing on pristine beaches, and immerse yourself in the local Kuna culture. You can visit Kuna villages, try traditional cuisine, and purchase handmade crafts as souvenirs.
The Pearl Islands, located in the Gulf of Panama, offer a tropical paradise just a short boat ride from Panama City. This archipelago comprises over 200 islands, each with its own unique charm. The islands are known for their stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and abundant marine life. You can snorkel amongst colorful coral reefs, swim with dolphins, or simply lounge on the white sands. Contadora Island, the most developed of the Pearl Islands, offers luxurious resorts, while other islands provide a more rustic and secluded experience.
El Valle de Anton
Escape the city and venture into the lush greenery of El Valle de Anton, a charming mountain town nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano. This picturesque destination is just a short drive from Panama City and offers a refreshing change of scenery. Explore the El Valle Market, where you can find local produce, handicrafts, and souvenirs. Discover natural wonders such as the El Macho Waterfall and the petroglyphs at La Piedra Pintada. Hiking enthusiasts can climb the Sleeping Indian Mountain (La India Dormida) for panoramic views of the valley.
General safety tips
As with any travel destination, it’s important to take precautions to ensure your safety while visiting Panama City. Always be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded tourist areas or at night. Keep your belongings secure and avoid displaying valuable items. It’s advisable to carry a copy of your passport and leave the original in a safe place. Use authorized and reputable transportation options, such as licensed taxis or ride-sharing apps. Stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen and a hat. Finally, familiarize yourself with local emergency numbers and have a plan in case of any unforeseen circumstances.
Areas to avoid
While Panama City is generally safe for tourists, it’s recommended to exercise caution in certain areas. Avoid walking alone at night, particularly in poorly lit or secluded areas. It’s advisable to avoid the neighborhoods of El Chorrillo and Curundu, as they have higher crime rates. Be cautious when using public transportation, and avoid crowded buses during peak hours. As a general rule, it’s always a good idea to research potential risks, check travel advisories, and follow the guidance of local authorities to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.
Airport and getting to Panama City
Tocumen International Airport is the main gateway to Panama City. It is a modern and well-equipped airport, serving both domestic and international flights. Upon arrival, you can take a taxi or arrange for a hotel shuttle to reach your accommodation in the city. Taxis are readily available outside the airport, and the fare to the city center is fixed, so there is no need to negotiate. Alternatively, you can opt for ride-sharing apps that operate in Panama City, such as Uber or Cabify, for a convenient and reliable transportation option.
Panama City has a well-developed public transportation system that includes buses and a metro system. The Metro de Panama is a reliable and efficient way to navigate the city, with two lines that cover different areas. The buses in Panama City are operated by Metrobus and offer a comprehensive network that reaches various neighborhoods and attractions. Although public transportation is affordable, it can be crowded, especially during peak hours. It’s important to keep an eye on your belongings and be mindful of your surroundings while using public transportation.
Taxis and ride-sharing apps
Taxis are a popular mode of transportation in Panama City, offering convenience and flexibility. Taxis can be easily hailed on the street, and most drivers use meters to determine the fare. However, it’s always a good idea to agree on the fare before starting the journey to avoid any surprises. Another convenient option is to use ride-sharing apps such as Uber or Cabify. These apps provide transparency in terms of pricing and allow you to track your route and driver. Using ride-sharing apps can provide peace of mind and ensure a smooth and hassle-free transportation experience in Panama City.