Panama City Travel Guide

Getting Oriented

Panama City is a sprawling urban area, stretching for 20 km (12 miles) along the Bahía de Panamá (Bay of Panama), on the Pacific Coast and deep into the sultry hinterland. Most of its attractions and accommodations are within a few miles of one another in the city's southwest corner, near the Panama Canal's Pacific entrance. The eastern edge of the canal's entrance—because Panama snakes west to east, the canal runs north from the Pacific to the Atlantic—is defined by the former American Canal Zone, which includes the Calzada de Amador (the breakwater connecting several islands to the mainland) and the neighborhoods of Balboa, Albrook, and Cerro Ancón, a forested hill topped by a big Panamanian flag that is a landmark visible from most of the city. To the east of Cerro Ancón is the busy Avenida de los Mártires, which was once on the border between the Canal Zone and Panama City. To the east of that former border lie the slums of Chorrillo and Santa Ana, both of which should be avoided; the Plaza Cinco de Mayo (where the country's congress is located); and the Avenida Central pedestrian mall, which runs southeastward into the historic Casco Viejo.

Avenida Balboa, one of the city's main east–west routes, runs along the Bay of Panama between the Casco Viejo and modern Paitilla Point. It runs through an attractive waterfront promenade called the Cinta Costera. The neighborhood along its western half is sketchy, so you should only stroll the Cinta Costera to the east of the Balboa monument. Avenida Balboa ends at Punta Paitilla, with its Multicentro shopping mall, skyscrapers, and private hospitals. There it branches into the Corredor Sur, an expressway to the international airport, and the inland Vía Israel, which eventually turns into Avenida Cincuentenario, and leads to the ruins of Panamá Viejo.

The main eastbound street to the north of Avenida Balboa is Avenida Justo Arosemena, which runs east from Plaza Cinco de Mayo and flows into Calle 50 (Cincuenta, also called Calle Nicanor de Obarrio). The main westbound route is Vía España, a busy boulevard lined with banks and shopping centers that curves south to become the Avenida Central, which in turn becomes a pedestrian mall at Plaza Cinco de Mayo, after which it curves eastward to become the main avenue in the Casco Viejo.

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