I had the opportunity to explore the best of Panama from coast to coast, and I was blown away! Though sometimes overlooked as a tourist destination in Central America, there truly is something for everyone in Panama, whether you come for world-famous shopping, the pristine islands of San Blas or for a stroll through Panama City's historic Casco Viejo district. Panama City is the heart of Panama, and the hub of business, culture, nightlife, and cuisine—this travel guide is filled with travel tips to help you plan an incredible trip!
What to Expect in Panama City
Panama City is the heart of Panama, and the hub of business, culture, nightlife, and cuisine!
Language: Like most of Latin America, Spanish is the primary language in Panama City, but because of its legacy as a vital international trade connection, you will also find that there is a multicultural expat population that speaks English too.
Currency: Unusual for a sovereign state, Panama actually has two official currencies, with the US Dollar sharing official status with Panamanian Balboa, pegged at a one-to-one rate, and dollars used for paper money, and Panama mainly produces its own coins.
Credit Cards and Banks: In Panama City itself, a good majority of retailers will accept credit cards, particularly tourist businesses, while ATMs are common around the city.
Climate: Temperatures in Panama City are quite stable throughout the year, with hot days that often rise to thirty three degrees Celsius, and rarely dropping below eighteen degrees. The dry season is fairly short, running from December to April, with the remainder of the year experiences a fair amount of rain.
Getting Around in Panama City
The transportation situation in the city has improved significantly over recent years, with a new metro subway system which opened in 2014, and some of the old buses being replaced by new city buses. Opt for Uber if you can!
Metro: The first line of the metro runs north to south under the city, and is relatively cheap and affordable, with fares at around 35 cents.
Bus: Buses in the city are divided into the local routes with lots of stops that offer fares of 25 cents, or the main corridor buses that run a quicker service along the main north to south and east to west corridor, with fares a little higher at $1.25.
Taxi/Uber: Taxis are also plentiful and affordable in the city, with fares set by the government that depend on the distance that you will be covering. Uber is also a great option, and what I would overall recommend.
Where to Stay in Panama City
When visiting Panama City, there are a handful of neighborhoods to stay in! Depending on your budget, I highly recommend booking accommodations in the Casco Viejo or Marbella areas. In Casco Viejo, you’ll find an old-town, historic charm, and in Marbella, you’ll find more luxury hotels and amenities. If you’re looking for more budget accommodation, check out Obarrio and El Cangrejo.
Here are the top hotels to stay at in Panama City!
This classy hotel is bursting with traditional charm, and has some beautifully decorated rooms with comfortable beds and large bathrooms. A swimming pool provides a nice spot to cool off, while the free wireless internet is a nice modern touch.
The Waldorf Astoria Panama is a tower hotel that can be seen from much of the city! The rooms here are sumptuously decorated and the hotel even has a dedicated driver in the lobby who can take you to nearby locations. Unwind at the hotel bar with their extensive drinks list!
With its sea views and beautiful architecture, Las Clementinas a lovely place to stay. The rooms have local artwork and plenty of space to allow you to relax. The location is excellent for exploring the city’s nightlife and restaurants, plus the terrace area is a great place to unwind.
Where to Eat in Panama City
In Panama, you’ll find a wide range of traditional Latin, seafood, and global cuisines—and Panama City has a little bit of everything! As with any destination, I highly recommend trying some of the authentic, local flavors and getting off the beaten tourist path.
Here are the best restaurants to eat at in Panama City!
Santa Rita Casco ViejoSeafood, Spanish, Argentinean
A true mix of Latin flavors, seafood, and ambiance, you don’t want to miss this place when in Panama City! Located in Casco Viejo, this is one of the highest-rated restaurants so definitely make a reservation beforehand.
Fonda Lo Que HayLatin, Central American
This is one of the best places to have a true Panamanian and Latin foodie experience! The food and service are truly over the top! It gets very busy, but they don’t take reservations, so plan to wait for a little.
Cerveceria La Rana Dorada PubLatin, Pub
Come here for some cold beer and snacks while you’re exploring Casco Antiguo! There’s lots of comfortable seating and great service.
Situated in the heart of Casco Viejo, this restaurant + bar has a rooftop terrace with beautiful views of the Panama city skyline. This place caters to everyone and you will love it. Go around sunset for a drink from on the rooftop bar!
PuntarenasSeafood, Fine Dining
If you like seafood, this Peruvian hotspot is a perfect spot. The service is great and ambiance will impress you (along with the food, of course). Be sure to order the ceviche (you get a generous serving), and the quinoa flan is a must!
Mahalo at Las ClementinasInternational, Brunch
Las Clementinas seemed to be the go-to, casual weekend brunch spot for hip, Panama City locals. With fresh-pressed juices, colorful meals, and a myriad of vegan and vegetarian options, it’s the perfect place to start your day.
What to Do in Panama City
From the ocean to the jungle, Panama is such a special place—you can choose from so many activities! Located on the water, with lots of opportunities for water activities, the country also has a beautiful rainforest, tons of biodiversity, ruins, and deep history to explore.
Here are the top activities to do in Panama City!
The historic area of the city has seen a lot of development over recent years, but you can still see some historic traditional buildings, while there are also plenty of bars and restaurants here. Many of the city’s museums are located in this district, while the theaters here host some of the best operas and musical shows in the region.
The canal is the main reason for the city being what it is today, and to see the ships go by in the canal is an impressive sight. You can reach the area by bus or by taxi, and there is also a visitor’s center at the Miraflores Locks with a great viewing platform and a museum showing off the history of the canal too.
The Chagres is the largest of the rivers of Panama, and is a broad river that flows relatively slowly. Take a cruise or a stand up paddleboard up the river for amazing scenery!
Panama City has not always been set in its current location, and back in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the city was a target for pirates, and after the attack of Henry Morgan, the city elders eventually decided to leave behind the old city and move to the more secure site which you can see in Casco Viejo today.
This colorful building is facing the Pacific Ocean near the end of the canal, and is designed to be a museum of biodiversity. There are eight exhibitions located within the museum itself, and the bold design is actually one that was designed by famed architect Frank Gehry.
This is an island on Gatun Lake which has a huge range of monkeys present, and this trip offers a view of a range of different species including capuchins, howler monkeys and even the sloths and toucans that also live on the island.
A trip to Gamboa offers some fascinating insights into Panama and its history, as the town of Gamboa is a faded colonial gem that has houses and public buildings in various states of repair, while the rainforest is home to a massive range of birds and wildlife, with some lovely walking trails.
The Embera are an indigenous tribe that live in the Panama rainforest, and this day trip from Panama City will offer a fascinating perspective on the country as it was before colonization, and you can enjoy musical performances and an introduction to the culture and traditions of the tribe. Overnight stays in the rainforest are also available.
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