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Panama City Travel Guide

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  • Photo: Alfredo Maiquez / Shutterstock

Plan Your Panama City Vacation

Founded nearly five centuries ago, Panama city is steeped in history, yet much of it is remarkably modern. The baroque facades of the city's old quarter appear frozen in time, while the area around Punta Paitilla (Paitilla Point) is positively vaulting into the 21st century, with gleaming skyscrapers towering over the waterfront.

Panama City is home to races, religions, and cultures from

around the world. Whereas the high-rises of Punta Paitilla and the Área Bancária (banking district) create a skyline more impressive than that of Miami (really!), the brick streets and balconies of the Casco Viejo evoke the French Quarter of New Orleans. The tree-lined boulevards of Balboa are a mixture of early-20th-century American architecture and exuberant tropical vegetation. The islands reached by the nearby Calzada de Amador (Amador Causeway) are full of bars and restaurants and a marina.

The city's proximity to tropical nature is astounding, with significant patches of forest protected within city limits on Cerro Ancón (Ancón Hill) and in Parque Metropolitano, and the national parks of Camino de Cruces and Soberanía just to the northwest of town. You could spend a morning hiking through the rain forest of the Parque Metropolitano to see parrots and toucans, then watch pelicans dive into the sea while sipping a sunset drink at one of Amador Causeway's restaurants. There are plenty of spots in and around the city to view massive ships moving in and out of the Panama Canal.

An array of restaurants, an abundance of shops and handicraft markets, and a vibrant nightlife scene round out Panama City's charm. Panama City can also serve as a base for a bunch of day trips, including Panama Canal transit tours, a boat ride to Isla Taboga or Isla Contadora, a trip on the Panama Canal Railway, a day exploring the colonial fortresses, beaches, and coral reefs of Portobelo, or hikes through various rain-forest reserves.

Included in Panama City's colorful contrasts are many of the unfortunate aspects of urban life in the developing world. It has its fair share of slums, including several around must-see Casco Viejo. Traffic is often downright terrible, and the ocean along its coast is very polluted. Crime is a problem in some neighborhoods. Be careful where you walk around alone, especially at night. The city as a whole is quite safe, especially the downtown area, where you'll find its bustling hotels, restaurants, and bars.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. The Panama Canal. Fifty miles long, the interoceanic canal is literally Panama's biggest attraction. There are half a dozen spots in or near the capital from which to admire it. The Calzada de Amador, the Balboa Yacht Club, and the visitor center at Miraflores Locks all offer impressive vistas of the "big ditch."
  2. Casco Viejo. The balconies, brick streets, and quiet plazas of the historic Casco Viejo have a European air, and the neighborhood's ancient churches and monasteries stand as testimony to the country's rich colonial history. Though much of it is dilapidated, the neighborhood has some of the city's nicest restaurants and bars.
  3. Calzada de Amador Stretching 3 km (2 miles) into the Pacific to connect three islands to the mainland, the Amador Causeway has panoramic views of the city's skyline, the canal's Pacific entrance, and the Bay of Panama, as well as a good selection of restaurants and bars—all of them cooled by ocean breezes.
  4. Day Trips. Panama City is close to some of the most accessible rain forests in the world; jungle trails are a short drive from most hotels. In addition to boat trips on the Panama Canal or wildlife watching on Gatún Lake, you can visit an Emberá Indian village; go white-water rafting, fishing, kayaking, or hiking through the jungle; ferry out to the island of Isla Contadora, or Isla Taboga; or visit the Caribbean fortresses of Portobelo, where the history is complemented by beaches and coral reefs.

When To Go

When to Go

Unlike the rest of the country, Panama City hardly has a low season, because the bulk of its visitors are business travelers. Most tourists...

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Check historic weather for your trip dates:

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