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Panama City is where the jungle meets the city – everyone knows about the Panama Canal or Panama hats but there are truly so many more discoveries and things to do in Panama City.
Huge areas of Panama City are home to lush rainforests and a wide array of native wildlife meaning you can get close to nature – whilst Casco Viejo’s old buildings ooze colonial charm with rooftop bars that give a stunning view of the modern metropolis that is the ‘new’ Panama City.
Take a trip to Taboga Island, walk up Ancon Hill or dig deep into the area’s rich history with a trip to Panama Viejo, Panama City’s very first settlement – or simply spend a day eating super fresh ceviche at the harbor.
Here is our guide to all the best things to do in Panama City in Panama in 2023:
Table of Contents
Things to do in Panama City
1. Discover the charm of Casco Antiguo / Casco Viejo
Our number one thing to do in Panama City is to explore Casco Antiguo / Casco Viejo and wander the San Felipe streets, soaking up the atmosphere and multi-coloured murals.
Casco Viejo is quite compact so you really don’t need a map – just admire all the architecture (colonial), cafe-hop your way around the old streets and yearn longingly at the beautiful balconies that most apartments seem to have.
Here in Casco Viejo, you can also see the home (well, from afar) of Panama’s president, whose Palace of the Herons residence can be found overlooking the ocean.
Casco Antiguo dates back to the 1670s, after explorer Henry Morgan set ablaze the original Panama City and everyone relocated. The ruins of the original settlement – Panama Viejo, can still be visited to this day and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
2. Take the Ferry to Taboga Island
Just a short 30 minute ferry ride from Panama City, a trip to Taboga Island feels like a little slice of tropical island paradise.
As you approach Taboga Island by ferry or boat, the first thing that catches your attention are the brightly coloured dwellings dotted on the hill-side, then the sandy palm-tree lined beaches.
Also known as the ‘Island of Flowers’, Taboga Island is also famous for its tropical fruit including pineapple and mangoes.
It is easy to take the Panama City to Taboga Island ferry – the Taboga Island Express ferries depart from the Amador Causeway harbor in Panama City every day. There is a ferry four times a day on weekdays, with an extra service on Saturdays and Sunday.
See Taboga Island in style: All-Inclusive Taboga Island Catamaran Cruise >
3. Ancon Hill
No trip to Panama City is complete without a hike up Ancon, one of the best free walks in Panama City.
Ancon Hill AKA (‘Cerro Ancon’) dominates the surrounding skyline and is easy to spot (especially from the Bridge of Americas / Puente de las Américas) due to the massive Panama national flag that flies from the summit.
Ancon Hill offers vistas of Panama City from the top (including a panoramic view of the famous Panama Canal). It used to be an American Government military base before reverting back to Panama’s control in the late 1970’s.
Legend also states that this was where Captain James Morgan also planned his destruction of Panama’s old city in 1671, due to the unobscured views of the landscape.
Although it can get unbearably hot on the hike up (take plenty of water as there are no shops on the trail), we’d rate this as one of the top things to do in Panama City – if you can, start early (Ancon Hill is opened up daily from 5:30am).
Before tackling the hilly walk, check out our full guide to tackling Ancon Hill >
4. Mi Pueblito
Mi Pueblito is an outdoor village featuring replicas of indigenous Panamanian and colonial buildings, with several working exhibits you can walk around and interact with.
We found Mi Pueblito incredibly pretty here and it felt like walking onto a movie set. The recreated town square was immaculately kept and you could imagine a historical drama being filmed here.
There are lots of recreated rooms to visit including the church and traditional lodgings including a working kitchen.
In 2023, Panama City’s Mi Pueblito is hosting various folklore festivals and traditional Panamanian celebrations .As of summer 2023, Mi Pueblito is free admission.
5. Eat at El Trapiche Restaurant
Fantastic food at affordable prices isn’t hard to find in Panama City. One of the best known traditional Panamanian restaurants loved by locals and tourists alike is El Trapiche.
El Trapiche is authentic and affordable with most dishes costing around $5 to $10.
We’d recommend the sancocho chicken soup (amazing), their mixed meat combinacion hojaldre (sandwich) and their Fiesta Panameña platter for a delicious mix of local specialities. We stayed with friends from Panama City and this was there go to place, suitable for breakfast lunch or dinner.
As of 2023, El Trapiche has five locations in Panama City including Albrook Mall, Via Argentina and the San Francisco district.
You might like – The ‘Real’ Panamanian Private Food Tour >
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6. Ride the Red Devil!
One of the best known forms of transport is the famous Diablo Rojo (Red Devil) buses, that constantly whizz around Panama City and its environs.
Panama City’s Diablo Rojo buses are privately run (which also means they are unregulated) but a way of life in the downtown area.
Very cool to look at and usually bedecked with bright colors and transfers, unless you speak some Spanish, we’d recommend going with local friends.
7. Casco Viejo Metropolitan Cathedral
If you visit just one church whilst in Panama City, make sure it is the Metropolitan Cathedral, one of the most beautiful and most interesting things to do in Casco Viejo.
Easy to spot from Independence Square by its looming twin towers, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santa Maria in Casco Viejo is famed for its spectacular centerpiece marble altar and stained glass windows.
After over a century of construction (builders, eh!), this Roman Catholic Casco Antiguo cathedral was finally consecrated in 1796 – for the best views, admire the building from the Plaza de la Catedral.
8. Visit a Panama City Rooftop for a drink (or three)
Panama City is renowned for its rooftop bar scene – so after a long day of ticking off your ‘things to do in Panama City’ list, reward yourself in one of the many rooftop bars in Casco Viejo (ideally to see in sunset across the ocean).
Some of the best rooftop bars include:
There are lots of rooftop bars to choose from in Casco Antiguo from but one of the most popular is Tantalo where beers and cocktails are cheap as and DJs play magical sundowner sessions.
Tantalo also has wonderful views of the city skyline – make sure you arrive early at Tantalo to get a seat overlooking the sea to enjoy the sunset and watch the birds (including vultures!) circle in the sky.
Selina Casco Viejo Panama City
A hostel rooftop bar with good DJs, a tacoria and another Casco Viejo rooftop pool – Selina Hostel can get very busy at night. Given its central location in Casco Antiguo, this is one of the most affordable and best places to stay in the old town too.
Storx’s Sky Lounge (temporarily closed in 2023)
One of the best rooftop bars in Panama City, Storx’s sky lounge has amazing views of downtown and the Amador Causeway – this is a sublime sunset spot (and their cocktails are strong as!). If you aren’t careful, you’ll be carried away by the Storx!
9. Panama Canal
The most famous landmark in Panama City is a 100 year old engineering marvel and located a 20 minute drive from the city. An adult ticket to the Miraflores visitor center costs $17 and includes entry to the viewing deck to view large cargo ships pass through the locks.
It also includes museum and gift shop entry, access to a coffee shop and a Panama Canal Movie at the IMAX theater cinema that shows a short 5 minute film on loop in different languages.
An engineering marvel often referred to as the 8th wonder of the world, the Panama Canal is a top thing to do in Panama City, even if you aren’t into boats or shipping.
As the Panama Canal is a little far out from downtown, you will likely need to hire a car or join a tour to see it.
You might like
- Private Tour of the Historic Center of Panama and the Panama Canal
- Half Day City and Panama Canal Tour
- Panama Canal Tour and Gatun Lake Ecotour
10. Panama City Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
If you fancy something a bit more sedate than the Red devil buses mentioned earlier, you can also peruse Panama City on an open top tour bus.
The flexible ticket allows you to hop-on-and-off all day to see sites such as the Bio-Museum, a close-up view of the Bridge of the Americans plus the colonial charm of Casco Antiguo.
Further afield, you can also use this hop-on hop-off bus to visit the Panama Canal, the 8th wonder of the world.
11. Amador Causeway, Panama City
In our eyes, the jewel of Panama City, Amador Causeway is a man-made road that interlinks and joins two former islands to the mainland.
With beautifully manicured lawns, palm-tree lined avenues and views of both the glimmering city building and outlying islands like Taboga, this is a perfect place for a short hike in Panama City with city views; well worth the walk.
You might like – A Slingshot Tour of Amador and Casco Viejo in Panama City >
12. Metropolitan Natural Park
Opened in 1988, the Metropolitan Natural Park is a little way out of the main Panama City area (but still part of the urban mix), so you may need to resort to using a car or an Uber taxi here.
Upon arrival at Panama’s Metropolitan Park, register with the park staff in the main office building and pay a small park admission fee – as of 2023, the entrance fee for Panama’s Metropolitan Park is $5 for foreign visitors.
There are five main hiking trails at Panama’s Metropolitan Park, all around 5 km in total (so relatively easy to cover although some are uphill and a little strenuous).
Our favorite is the Mono Tití trail, ascending to the top of Cedar’s Hill and offering some incredible views of Panama’s downtown highrises and tall buildings – we saw sloths and monkeys on this route.
Metropolitan Natural Park is home to almost 300 types of trees, 250 species of birds and over 50 species of mammals, plus countless reptiles and amphibians.
You might like – Lake Gatun Wildlife Tour from Panama City >
13. Cinta Costera, Panama City
The pride of Panama City, Cinta Costera is a wonderful walkway that stretches along the coast in the heart of the city, running from Paitailla to El Chorrillo. If your accommodation is in downtown or Casco Viejo, this is one of the nicest ways to see the shoreline in Panama City.
Given the heat, we would recommend you finish at the Mercado de Mariscos (fish market) and reward yourself with some refreshing ceviche (raw fish cured in lemon juice) and a cold beer.
From body poppers to roller-skaters, joggers to street food carts, you’ll see all walks of life along Cinta Costera.
You might like – 5 Easy Walks in Panama City >
14. Gamboa Rainforest Reserve
The most well known ‘rainforest experience’ in Panama City, Gamboa can be found about an hour’s drive (depending on traffic) out of the downtown area, smack back between the city and the coastal city of Colón.
Incorporating a huge hotel complex (complete with large swimming pools and several restaurants and bars), visitors often spend several days at Gamboa Rainforest Reserve relaxing and trying out the various back to nature experiences.
15. Soberania National Park, Panama City
Huge areas of Panama City are home to lush rainforests and a wide array of native wildlife – one of the most popular gorgeous green spaces to visit here is the 55,000 acre Soberanía National Park, near to the banks of the Panama Canal.
There are lots of excursions and tours available in and around Soberania National Park. Our favorite trip from the National Park was the ‘Lake Gatun and Panama Canal Experience’, where we headed out on the water in a small boat to see what life there was in the rainforest skirting the lake (we saw monkeys) as well as getting up close to some of the huge ships that were entering the Panama Canal.
You might like – our guide to Panama City’s Rainforest Walks and Activities >
16. Casco Viejo Fish Market / Mercado de Mariscos
Across the road from Casco Viejo but included on the official Casco Viejo website (so good enough for us), stopping at the fish market for a cold beer / juice and a cup of ceviche with crackers is a Panama City culinary rite of passage.
Whilst the Mercado De Marisco Cinta Costera itself is more aimed at trade and food kitchens, the hustle of Mercado de Mariscos can be a little overwhelming at first, as competition amongst stalls is fierce.
As you first approach the fish market, vendors from each stall run towards you clutching their menus (which are more ‘battered’ than the fish), trying to get you to eat at their particular stall.
They can be hard to shake off at times so be confident and firm in your convictions. If in doubt, try to see where the locals go. We had ceviche many times at Mercado De Marisco Cinta Costera and never had any ill effects – best served cold (the same goes for the beer too!).
You might like – Guide to cheap eats and inexpensive restaurants in Panama City >
17. Panama Rainforest Discovery Center
Less well known and built up than the previously mentioned Gamboa Rainforest Reserve, Panama Rainforest Discovery Center strips it back to basics, so it feels like it is just you and nature.
Accessible via a long dusty road (a 4 x 4 is recommended), we visited Panama Rainforest Discovery Centre early one morning at 8am (it opens from 7am) and were the first to arrive – kinda cool when you have an entire rainforest to yourselves!
Upon arrival at Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, you pay your admission fee ($30 USD per foreign adult, $12 for local adults).
18. Paseo Esteban Huertas
Just up the steps from France Square, you’ll discover possibly our favorite free thing to do in Casco Viejo. The old town wall and walk known as Paseo Esteban Huertas. the views of the Pacific Ocean and Panama City are unparalleled.
Better still, the Paseo Esteban Huertas is bedecked with beautiful bright pink / red flowers (‘bougainvillaea’) meaning it is one of the most colorful places in Panama City.
Here, there are dozens of souvenir stalls with traditional linen, cheap as fridge magnets and other tourist tat (some nice stuff, some not so nice). The prices along Paseo Esteban Huertas were some of the cheapest in the whole of Casco Viejo.
You might like – A Private and Exhilarating Jungle ATV tour of Panama City jungles >
19. Bio Museo
Designed by famous architect Frank Gehry and celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2024, you may get a sense of deja-vu when visiting Bio-Museu. Given its colorful exterior, it is one of the most photographed and Instagrammed buildings in the city.
Inside, this top Panama museum is a blend of science and art that celebrates the country’s natural history and biodiversity across permanent exhibitions and temporary installations.
Outside the Bio Museo, you’ll find a botanical garden and a seating area with views of the Amador Causeway.
Nearby the Biomuseo, you can also visit the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Punta Culebra Nature Center, where you can get up close with Panama’s native animals and birds.
Biomuseo (Museum of Biodiversity) which is $18 admission as of 2023.
20. Pose with the various Panama Signs
Take this as a ‘sign’ – there are lots of Panama signs to pose with, whilst exploring the city.
From the colorful Panama sign on Cinta Costera to the rainbow stylings of Taboga Island (we wonder if they floated the sign out to the island?!), this is one cheesy must do!
As well as a souvenir selfie snap, you can find miniature Panama signs in gift shops to take home as a lasting reminder.
21. Contadora Island
Contadora Island is an easy hour and half ferry ride away (or 15 minute flight) from Panama City. Located in the Pearl islands region, Contadora boasts some beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters.
Visiting the island can be done as a day trip or you can stay overnight at one of the hotel resorts. Ferry ticket prices are a bit expensive so keep an eye out for discounted tickets on Oferta Simple (a discount buying website based in Panama).
Taboga island is also lovely and a little closer to Panama City if you are pushed for time and it is a bit cheaper to get to.
22. Panama Viejo
Panama Viejo is a UNESCO world heritage site and the first settlement of Panama City. It was abandoned in the mid-17th century and relocated to where Casco Viejo is located today.
It is a 20 minute drive out into the suburbs to reach the site, and the entrance fee is $15 to walk through the ancient ruins and visit the museum (prices correct as of 2023).
You might like – Ocean to Ocean Panama Canal and Jungle Tour >
23. Craft Beer Bars in Panama City
The craft beer scene in Panama City isn’t huge but there are a few brewery bars worth checking out
La Rana Dorada
A great craft beer bar/brewery located in Casco Viejo, with a cool interior and awesome tunes. They also serve food but have a limited menu of simple dishes such as fish and chips, and pizzas.
La Rana Dorada is very popular and it will be hard to find a table on the weekends, but visit on a weekday from 12pm to 6pm and you can enjoy happy hour prices!
One of the pioneers of the local craft beer scene, Brew Stop have several top taprooms across Panama selling USA brewery beers including locations at Panama Pacifico (a new build residential area), San Francisco and Marbella.
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24. Pride Parade
Love is love! If you are visiting Panama City in June, Casco Viejo comes alive with the annual Pride Parade.
Growing in size and popularity each year, World Pride Panama (celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2024) takes place around Panama City’s historic Casco Viejo area.
Panama City is always vibrant and colorful but even more so at this time of year, as the city becomes awash with color, marking the start of a huge LGBTQ celebration.
People from all nationalities and every walk of life take part, with thousands taking part in the parade, with even more watching and supporting from the sidelines.
25. Other Things to do Near Panama City in Panama
El Valle de Antón
El Valle is a beautiful town high in the mountains of Panama and located inside the crater of an extinct volcano.
There is plenty to do in Elle Valle de Anton for a day trip. Enjoy the waterfalls, the hot springs, a brewery, a gorgeous arts and crafts market, the zoo “El Nispero” and the Orchid Centre.
You can take a bus from the Albrook Terminal in Panama City to El Valle de Anton – the journey to El Valle de Anton takes under 3 hours.
San Blas Islands
Accommodation in Panama City
There are lots of accommodation choices in Panama City from budget to high end – we’d recommend you stay in the downtown area, near Cinta Costera or Casco Viejo.
Hotels in Panama City include:
Selina Casco Antiguo, Casco Viejo
Modern hostel with private rooms, free Wifi, cinema, on-site bar, rooftop terrace and pool and comfortable common areas. Check out prices and availability for Selina Casco Antiguo
Boutique hotel with 24-hour reception, free Wi-Fi, tapas restaurant and rooftop bar. Check out prices and availability for Tantalo Hotel
Plaza Paitilla Inn
Cheap and cheerful hotel with direct access to the Cinta Costera walkway, and across the road from Multicentro mall. Check out prices and availability for Plaza Paitilla Inn
American Trade Hotel
Luxury hotel located in the historic center with an outdoor pool, gym, restaurant and a jazz bar. Some rooms have a balcony overlooking the street. Check out prices and availability for American Trade Hotel
Central Hotel Panama, Panama’s first ever hotel
Located across from the Metropolitan Cathedral, this is Panama City’s first ever luxury hotel. The colonial style architecture is characteristic of many of the hotels in the area but still retains the top spot (although that may soon change with the 2023 opening of the 5* Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo). Check rates and availability for Central Hotel Panama
Riu Plaza Panama
Located in the business district, Riu Plaza Panama is a 5* luxury hotel offering stylish rooms and fast Wi-Fi. It features an outdoor pool with a hot tub – nice! Check rates and availability for Riu Plaza Panama
InterContinental Miramar Panama City
We stayed at the InterContinental Miramar Panama City for one night during a wedding and had a fantastic room with great views of the ocean and Cinta Costera. The rooms and the pool were large and the buffet breakfast was pretty good. Apparently the InterContinental Miramar Panama City does an amazing Sunday brunch too. Check rates and availability for InterContinental Miramar Panama City
Other Panama City blog posts
- 5 Easy Walks Around Panama City
- Panama City budget travel guide
- Top things to do in Casco Viejo in Panama City
- Panama City travel guide – things to do for first time visitors
- Panama City Pride Parade Central America
- Exploring Ancon Hill and Mi Pueblito in
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