Panama City is also smack dab in the middle of some stunning tropical nature, surrounded by the forest on Cerro Ancon and in the Parque Natural Metropolitano. There aren’t too many places in the world where you can wake up in a busy city, stretch, and then spend a morning hiking around the rainforest looking for parrots and toucans. And of course, there’s the legendary Panama Canal. It’s worthwhile to spend some time watching the enormous ships move in.
Nightlife, eclectic dining, handicraft markets, and designer shops…Panama City has it all. Be sure to check out Casco Viejo, a neighbourhood lined with balconies, brick streets, ancient churches, and monasteries. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in colonial times.
Places to Visit in Panama City
- Parque Natural Metropolitano
- Casco Viejo
- Amador Causeway
- Avenida Balboa
- Ancon Hill
- Frank Gehry Biodiversity Museum
Unique Things to See and Do in Panama City
- Watch the ships come in through the Panama Canal
- Visit the Miraflores Locks visitors centre
- Island hopping the islands of Contadora
- Check out the so-called best dining scene in Latin America
- Shop for native handicrafts
- Soak up the nightlife
- See Madonna and the child in the cathedral
Panama City History
Did you know that Panama City’s original site was an Indian fishing village and that the name “Panama” means “many fish”? The old city, Panama Viejo, was founded in the early 1500s. It’s always been an authority in shipping – for centuries, bullion was shipped from the Andean countries northward to Panama City, and then it was carried on to the Caribbean for shipment to Spain.
The new city, Casco Viejo (Old Fortification) was rebuilt eight kilometres southwest of the old city. Things stopped going so well for poor Panama, and eventually the city became part of Colombia. In 1903, Panama declared its independence. In the early 1900s, the United States was responsible for policing the city.
Things looked up when the canal was constructed. Suddenly Panama City was flourishing – cabarets and nightclubs opened, and yes, a few slums. The city now holds two-fifths of the country’s population and largely depends economically on the canal traffic and financial services. You’ll see this for yourself if you walk around the banking district. Other industries include breweries, oil refineries, and factories.
If you want a taste of Central American culture with a little bit of luxury thrown in for good measure, Panama City is the place to do it.
Getting Around Panama City
Getting a rental car isn’t really the best idea in Panama City – most people recommended just hiring taxis. They’re extremely inexpensive, safe, and plentiful. It’s a good idea to confirm price beforehand. A good tip is to forego the taxis in front of your hotel, and flag down a cheaper one in the street.
Taxis are also a fair bit more convenient than walking, as attractions are sprawled out across the city and beyond. Some areas, however, are best to see on foot – like Casco Viejo and Avenida Balboa. The Amador Causeway is also designed for walking, biking, etc.
Buses in Panama City can be confusing, but the city is apparently undergoing a transit overhaul.
Did you know…?
You can watch the sun rise over the Pacific and set on the Atlantic in one day. It’s the only place in the world where you can do this.
Did you ALSO know…?
Panama has more bird species than both Canada and the United States combined.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Panama City
The dry season is definitely the best time of year to visit and takes place from mid-December to mid-April. This is the high season, however, and you’ll find much higher rates for hotels and resorts. Keep in mind that humidity is pretty high year-round.
Visiting Panama City during this time poses a few moderate risks. Sudden, violent thunderstorms can blow in. However, they usually blow out again quite quickly, giving back the sun and the blue skies.
Ready to plan your visit to Panama City? Check out these popular guides and trips.