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Best Things to Do in Panama City

The gateway between the Pacific and the Caribbean and the link between the Americas, Panama City is a top destination for both short-term visitors. And the expat-seeking community. Thanks to the warm weather year-round. And the booming business community, people are flocking to Panama City in droves every year. The city’s rich colonial history is juxtaposed by its modern skyline that dots the Bay of Panama, giving visitors a diverse array of options when deciding what to when in this city in the tropics.

Best Things to Do in Panama City

Below is a list of the best things to do in Panama City!

Experience the Panama Canal

The city’s top attraction that all visitors should go and see is the most famous of the bunch, the Panama Canal. Tens of thousands of ships cross the canal every year that cuts straight through the middle of the country. Each ship pays more than $1 million in fees to pass through and will line up in the bay for days waiting their turn.

Best Things to Do in Panama City

The canal has several locks with viewing decks that visitors can tour. The Miraflores Locks are the closest to Panama City, located just 20 minutes from the city center. The ships themselves are some of the largest in the world. And seeing their massive size in person is certainly stunning. Also at this lock exists a museum that showcases the marvel that is this modern engineering achievement with several permanent and temporary exhibits. 

Trek Through the Rainforest

Located just past the Miraflores Locks is a local favorite: Soberanía National Park. Here the notable central location is the Gamboa Rainforest Reserve Hotel. This massive property is built on the old property of an American military base. Complete with abandoned homes from a bygone era.

Here visitors can book a stay if they wish, though most come for the day as the hotel organizes the large majority of tours and other activities in the surrounding national park. These include various hiking excursions, land, and water-based safaris. Plus jungle gondola rides, and zip lining.

Best Things to Do in Panama City

One of your best options is a trip to the Monkey Islands . Where each island is host to a different species. A guided tour will see you zip around the rainforest to observe communities of mantled howlers, white-faced, and Geoffroy’s tamarins. In some cases, they will even come up to your boat in search of a banana or two.

In addition to the monkeys, several other species of birds and bats can be spotted on the tour. And is certainly worth braving the rainstorms that come and go suddenly. A day trip to Gamboa Rainforest Reserve Hotel only requires a 45-minute drive each way to and from the city center.

Get Lost in Casco Viejo

If you would prefer to stay in the city, then your best option is without a doubt Casco Viejo, the Old City. Also known as San Felipe by the locals, this UNESCO World Heritage site is home to a coastal fortress that dates back to the late 17th century. The area boasts intricately carved balconies that overlook its cobblestone roads. And sports several of the city’s top-rated restaurants, bars, museums, and churches.

Best Things to Do in Panama City, Casco Viejo,

Casco Viejo is also easily the most walkable area of Panama City with lots to do and see in a very small area in the city’s southwest. The Panama Canal and History of Panama museums and Tántalo and CascoMar restaurants were some of my favorites during my own visit just a few weeks ago. Whether you prefer gastronomy or history, Casco Viejo has it all. And then some making it a popular place for all types of tourists.

Get Educated at the Ruins of Old Panama

Another must-see is the ruins of the city’s original settlement: Panamá Viejo. Located in the neighborhood of the same name, this site was once a large collection of several homes with multiple towers that looked over the community. These ruins offer a look into life in 16th-century Panama at a time when raids by bands of pirates were a regular occurrence. And wars between French, Spanish and British forces were an ever-present threat.

The site’s nearby museum tells the story of how the community was built and the strategic advantages that influenced its placement on the shores of what now is the east side of Panama City. Entry to the site is 10 USD and a guided tour will cost you a little extra. Though not necessary, the local guides do provide a better context of the peculiarities of Panamá Viejo that is lost on visitors who tour on their own.

Dance the Night Away

Owing to the diversity of its inhabitants, Panama City has contributed heavily to several genres of music that remain popular in the city today. Derived from Spanish folk music, as well as indigenous and afro-Panamanian populations, some of the most heard genres range from Saloma to cumbia to tamborito and jazz with regular performances taking place across the city.

Best Things to Do in Panama City

Some of the more well-known venues include Danilo’s Jazz Club, El Apartamento, and Bohios Alegres. The National Theatre, with its ornate decor that dates back to 1908, is located in Casco Viejo. And hosts dozens of musical as well as cultural events year-round. 

Unwind on the Islas

Amid the hustle and bustle of Panama City, it is a welcome relief to know that an island paradise exists just off its coast In fact, there’s an entire archipelago to explore known as the Pearl Islands. The most visited of the more than 200 islands is Contadora. And Rey is more developed and offers more beach activities such as parasailing and jet skiing.

Best Things to Do in Panama City

If you would prefer seclusion to relax and recharge, Casaya and Casayeta islands are more pristine. And as such offer the greatest variety of sea life to see under the waves. Ferries to the islands leave from Old Trump Tower and the City of Panama (Balboa) ports regularly. And will cost you around 10-15 USD; a trip to these islands can be completed in a day.

Outro

There you have it! A detailed list of some of the best things to do in Panama City. Though certainly not exhaustive, this will hopefully give you a good baseline in understanding what Panama City has to offer travelers. Take a chance on any of these and you will likely find yourself discovering more about this tropical megapolis that will have you wanting to extend your stay.

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