Looking for things to do in Panama City, Panama? Whether you are going on a cruise through the Panama Canal or escaping to one of its luxurious islands, chances are you are going to visit Panama City for a day or two.
This Panama guide will help you plan your time there.
We first visited Panama City when we were invited to check out all the cool elements of the Hard Rock Hotel downtown.
We didn't know what to expect, but we knew we loved Hard Rock Resorts and cafes and thought it would be a cool introduction to Panama City.
Panama City Guide
Our first time in Panama City, we spent a week exploring everything it had to offer. Recently, we returned to Panama with Uncruise to sail to Costa Rica from Panama.
We were excited to revisit this ultra-modern city in Central America.
Enjoy these must-see attractions in Panama City and extra travel tips to help you make the most of your stay!
1. Panama Canal – Miraflores Locks
The obvious choice for first-time visitors to Panama City is to check out the Panama Canal.
The closest locks to Panama City are the Miraflores Locks located less than 30 minutes from downtown.
It is amazing to see the crowds that the locks still attract and even we were a bit giddy when we viewed a cargo ship going through.
The Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic ocean with the Pacific ocean, is one of the Seven Industrial Wonders of the World and when you walk through the fabulous interactive Miraflores visitors center, you'll understand why!
This was not an easy waterway to make.
2. Casco Viejo
The historic city of Panama is a must-visit. It reminded us of Old Havana and I can envision it being as beautiful in just a few short years as hotels and corporations transform the crumbling ruins into boutique hotels.
Gentrification is becoming a problem for the local families that lived in this neighborhood rent-free, so I do hope the government takes care of the people who are the heartbeat of Panama City.
But I do also believe in progress, and by turning this UNESCO World Heritage Site into a maze of walking streets filled with boutiques, cafés, and restaurants, it will help everyone in the long run.
Dating back to 1673, Casco Viejo is worth visiting on a tour to learn of all the buildings, cathedrals and history of the area.
Things to see in Casco Viejo
- Panama Canal Museum
- Historic Society of Jesus
- Independent plaza
- Metropolitan Cathedral
- Iglesia San Felipe Nativity Scene
- Church of San Jose – Gold Altar
Take a walking tour of Casco Viejo to see all the main sites and attractions. Check out this city tour with GetYourGuide
3. Panama Viejo
Not to be confused with Casco Viejo, Panama Viejo is a fascinating tour through abandoned ruins of the original city.
The highway once ran directly through these historic monuments, but thankfully, it was diverted before it all disappeared.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating back to 1519, Panama Viejo was the heart of the economic power of trade, religion, and commerce.
The city was in use until 1671 when the Spaniards sacked the city themselves before moving to what we know today as Panama Viejo.
Panama was the first European settlement on the Pacific Coast and became a strategic location for mining gold and silver.
There are several walls and facades remaining and they are doing regular restoration.
The most impressive ruin is the Cathedral – Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción where you can climb up the bell tower for a panoramic view of Panama City.
4. Balboa Avenue
Avenue Balboa is Panama City's downtown neighborhood with skyscrapers lining the waterfront. This ultra-modern waterfront neighborhood is a fun place to hang out for the afternoon.
There's a paved walkway for cycling or walking. You can walk all the way along the 3km route to Casco Viejo.
We stopped in at five-star hotels for a cocktail and for rooftop views of the bay.
5. Amador Causeway
This incredible 6km stretch of road houses some of Panama's top attractions. It's located 20 minutes outside the city and offers excellent views of Panama.
It is here, that you can enjoy some fun in the sun paddle boarding, hanging out at the pool bars or do some shopping.
You can also hop on the aqua bus here for a view of Panama from the water.
6. Centro Artisan Market
Located at the Amador Causeway, this huge Artisan Market is a great place to shop for your souvenirs.
I've picked up many a necklace from here, but you can also get masks, jewelry, Panama hats, and other nick nacks here.
For another great shopping experience check out the pedestrian mall at the end of Avenida Central.
7. Bridge of the Americas
It is from the Amador Causeway that you can see the Bridge of the Americas. This massive bridge spans the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal.
It was built by the United States in 1962.
What is so unique about this bridge? It connects the landmasses of North America and South America.
8. Sunset at the JW Marriott 65 Floor
Another residential neighborhood popular with ex-pats is Punta Pacifica. It's about a 20-minute walk from Balboa Avenue, or you can take an Uber or taxi for a reasonable price.
The JW Marriott has a huge Casino attached to the main floor. If you go here, take the elevators up to the 65th floor to the bar overlooking the infinity pool.
It's one of the best sunset views in the city!
9. Sunset at Hard Rock Hotel
Another excellent spot for sunset is the “Bits Rooftop Lounge” at the Hard Rock Hotel.
The Hard Rock offers excellent views of the unique modern architecture of Panama.
The Float Pool Bar was our favorite view of the city with different vantage points overlooking the infinity pool.
10. Marvel at El Tornillo
Definitely the most unique building in Panama City is the spiral skyrise of El Tornillo.
The best view we found of it was from the Hard Rock pool bar, but we also went for a walk to check it out up close.
There isn't a lot around there, so we suggest viewing it from afar instead.
11. Buy a Panama Hat
Here's a fun fact. Panama Hats are not made in Panama. Panama Hats originated in Ecuador and are still made there.
The Panama Hat got its name when President Roosevelt was photographed wearing one while visiting the Panama Canal.
The name stuck and even though they are not made here, they are very popular.
In Casca Viejo, you can find many Panama Hats on sale at shops. Victor's is the most popular spot for purchasing a hat.
What we loved about buying a Panama Hat in the shops, is that there is no bargaining. You can buy high quality or cheaper imitations ranging from $25 – $200.
Enjoy our Video Tour of Panama
Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the Biomuseo explores the biodiversity of Panama. It's unique location bridges North and South America.
It's also a pretty cool and funky building!
13. Ancon Hill
For one of the best overhead views of Panama, Ancon Hill is a great stop. It is included in many Panama City Day Tours, so if you don't have transportation, chances are you'll be able to see it if you book a tour!
Where to Stay in Panama City
Hard Rock Hotel – The Hard Rock Hotel is one of the most recognizable hotels in the city and it is in an excellent location close to the waterfront and Balboa Avenue.
It is also connected to the Multicentro Mall for some duty-free shopping. Check out our review here.
Bristol Hotel – We enjoyed our stay at the Bristol Hotel and found it to be an even better location than the Hard Rock. It didn't have the amenities of the Hard Rock though if you are looking for a full service hotel.
Instead, it is a good luxury choice for a couple of days of sightseeing. We loved the breakfast.
JW Marriott – We didn't find this area to be ideally located as it is away from most of Panama's top attractions. But the hotel is luxurious with full amenities and an excellent view of the city.
Central Hotel Panama – Casco Viejo is probably the best location to stay in Panama if you want to be in the heart of the action.
Most nightlife has moved to this area and it is near plenty of shopping and culture.
Panama City Day Trips
14. San Lorenzo Fort
Checking out the San Lorenzo Fort was a part of our UnCruise itinerary and I am so glad we had the chance to see this!
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Panama, this former Spanish military fort was a strategic location for the gold trade.
Located on a beautiful clifftop the ocean and Chargras River views are extraordinary.
Plus, it is a well-preserved fort dating back to the 1500s.
15. Gatun Lake
As part of the UnCruise land extension for their Panama to Costa Rica cruise, Gatun Lake is an excellent way to see Panama wildlife such as iguanas, crocodiles, monkeys, toucans, and sloths.
16. Agua Clara Visitor Center
This Panama Canal expansion is located at Gatun Lake and is an interesting trip to the small town of Colon City.
This lock was made to accommodate larger ships to sail through the Panama Canal.
There is a projection room, restaurants, and a walking trail to try to spot wildlife.
You Can visit Colon, Agua Clara and San Lorenzo Fort on a day tour with Get Your Guide from Panama City.
17. San Blas Islands
San Blas Island has gained in popularity since the Netflix series Money Heist featured the beautiful and secluded white sand beaches of the San Blas Islands.
San Blas Port is located 2.5 hours outside of Panama City and from here you'll take a Pangas boat to the islands.
If you have more time, we suggest spending a night or two on the island, but day tours are offered from downtown.
Panama City Fast Facts
- Panama uses the USD currency. It is $1 – $1.
- When shopping at markets, it is fair to bargain, but when going into shops, prices are fixed.
- Uber is available in downtown Panama City. When taking taxis be sure to negotiate prices first.
- The main international airport of Panama City is Tocumen Airport
- Panama is a good walking city and we felt safe walking around during the day. Use caution when walking at night.
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