Backpackers Guide to Panama City

Panama City is the most cosmopolitan capital in Central America, located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. The city is a vibrant metropolis with a dense skyline of high rise buildings, in contrast to the peninsular of Casco Viejo, a thriving colonial neighbourhood. Panama City is a gateway to tropical and rainforest escapes, day trip to sandy beaches (Pacific or Caribbean), the Panama canal and lush rain forests of howler monkeys, toucans and sloths.

Things to do in Panama City

Explore Casco Viejo: Casco Viejo is the historic district and cultural gem of Panama City, built by Spanish colonialists around 1673. The vibrant and colourful neighbourhood is filled with homes, churches, cathedrals, museums, restaurants and shops. Spend a day exploring the streets and admiring the architecture build through many different historic phases. Come back at night to enjoy a great selection of restaurants and nightlife spots.

Take a walk along the Broad walk: Connecting Casco Viejo to Panama City, I highly recommend taking a stroll along this Boardwalk as it offers amazing views of the Panama City Skyline and Casco Viejo bay area.

Panama City broadwalk at night

Panama Canal:The Panama Canal is one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering. Many visitors choose to explore the canal by visiting the Miraflores Locks Museum. The museum has a wealth of information on the construction of the canal and has a video explaining how it was developed and its plans for future growth. From the restaurant located at the top floor of the museum, visitors can watch transiting vessels in the canal below. It is possible to take a full canal crossing, but this takes 4 – 8 hours so most visitors choose to watch from Miraflores locks. Entry is $15. Don’t miss it.

Amador Causeway: Located at the Southern End of Panama Canal and stretching three kilometers into the Pacific Ocean, Amador Causeway is great place to watch ships exiting and entering the Canal. You also get great views of Panama City. There is a path connecting the causeway to the mainland that is ideal for biking. I took this photo of Panama City from Amador Causeway.

Things to do in Panama City

Ancon Hill: Offers one of the best views of Panama City. Nestled amongst the jungle, however still in the middle of the city, it gives you the best of both worlds. I highly recommend this.

San Blas Islands: If you didn’t just arrive on boat through the San Blas Islands, I highly recommend organizing a tour of the San Blas Islands from Panama. Although slightly expensive, I would say it is worth it. Look at my photo below and decide for yourself! I would recommend a 3 day tour.

Things to do in Panama City

Isla Taboga: Isla Taboga is located about 20 kilometers from Panama City and is a popular place to escape to from the city. On Isla Taboga you can relax on the Sandy beaches, ride jet skis or take a fishing charter. First settled by the Spanish in 1515, Isla Taboga has a charming village with the second-oldest church in the western hemisphere, a few narrow streets with a few restaurants and great views to Panama City from the top of the Island.

Cathedrals, Churches and museums: Are popular attraction in Panama City. I didn’t visit any so cant make recommendations other than doing a Google search to find the best ones.

Albrook Mall: One of the biggest malls I have ever been in. If your in the mood to shop, I would recommend Albrook Mall. If you don’t want to spend money, I would not recommend Albrook mall, as you will undoubtedly see something you want to buy but don’t need.

Recommended length of stay

I recommend staying in Panama City for 2 nights. You can see everything within 2 full days so if you are short on time, 1 night would even be enough. You could easily spend up to 5 nights, I just personally prefer to spend my time outside of the city in other places around Panama such as Boquete and Bocas Del Toro.

Getting to and around Panama

If coming Internationally, you will fly into Panama City Airport. From the airport you can get a taxi to Panama City or Casco Viejo for around $10.

A popular way to get to Panama from South America/Colombia is sailing through the San Blas Islands. This costs between $375 and $550 and goes for 4 nights and 5 days, all-inclusive. This is the same cost as flying from Colombia to Panama so if you are coming from Colombia I recommend this option. The San Blas Islands are amazing.

In Panama, I found that most things are within walking distance. If it isn’t within walking distance you can take a bus for 50 cents of get a taxi for a couple of dollars.  Always agree on a price first and know the right amount that you should be paying for that distance. The taxi drivers in Panama City were terrible, YOU MUST make sure you agree on a price before you hop in, and if they are saying it’s more than it should be, walk away.

Where to stay

I recommend staying in Casco Viejo, the old town in Panama City.

Luna’s Castle: Is popular amongst backpackers and renowned for its party scene. I didn’t stay here but I walked past and checked it out. It was in a great location.

I stayed at Hostel Villa Vento Surf: Located in the banking district of Panama City, so not the most scenic location.  It was a 40-minute walk along the Broadwater to Casco Viejo. This hostel had a pool which is why we booked here, but would have preferred to stay in Casco Viejo as it was much more scenic and central.

Search for cheap accommodation options here.

See more from Panama here. 

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