What are the best things to do in Panama City, Panama? There are plenty of things to see but in this article, I will give you some of the best of Panama City!
Panama is a tropical country connecting the North and South American continents via the Isthmus of Panama.
Panama City is the capital and largest city in the state of Panama and is located halfway between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It is famous for Panama Canal and the Old Town which is the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Founded in 1519 by Pedro Arisa De Avila, Panama City, has plenty of historical attractions.
If you are visiting Panama City very soon but have not yet booked the accommodations, I suggest reading my blog on where to stay in Panama City to know more what are the best neighborhoods to stay in Panama City.
Now, let’s get into the detail of the best things to do and see in Panama City, Panama:
- 21 best things to do in Panama City, Panama
- Panama Canal
- Casco Viejo (Old Town)
- Historic Panama Viejo
- Plaza Bolivar
- Plaza de Francia and Paseo de las Bovedas
- Amador Causeway
- Biomuseo (Museum of Bio Diversity at Panama)
- Soberania National Park
- Monkey Island
- Hard Rock Hotel Rooftop Bar
- Avenida Balboa and Cinta Costera
- Plaza de la Independencia and Catedral Metropolitana
- Panama Canal Museum
- La Iglesia del Carmen
- Botanical Gardens at Parque Municipal Summit
- Mola Musem
- Pearl Islands
- San Blas Islands
- Taboga Island
- El Valle de Antón
- Food tour
21 best things to do in Panama City, Panama
1. Panama Canal
Known as one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World, the Panama Canal, or Canal de Panamá in Spanish, is the most famous sight in Panama.
Panama Canal is an 80 km artificial waterway connecting from Panama City on the Pacific coast to Colon on the Caribbean coast.
The United States government built the canal and opened it in 1914.
If you want to see ships pass through the locks, you can check out Miraflores Locks, Gatun Locks, Pedro Miguel Locks, and Agua Clara Locks. To pass through the canal, each ship will take about 8-10 hours.
Miraflores Locks is the popular one because it’s closest to the city, where you can also find the beautiful Miraflores Locks center and museum to learn more about the Panama Canal History.
Agua Clara Locks is the newest locks on the Atlantic side of the Canal in Colón. It also has Agua Clara Visitor’s Center.
There are four national parks including Soberanía, Camino de Cruces, Chagres, and Portobelo, to protect the Canal’s watershed.
Around Lago Gatún and the banks of the Río Chagres are Emberá communities that welcome visitors.
2. Casco Viejo (Old Town)
Casco Viejo, also called Casco Antiguo, San Felipe, or The Old Quarter is the historic district and cultural center of Panama.
Established in 1673 by the Spanish, after the Pirate Henry Morgan attacked and destroyed the original Pacific settlement (Panama Viejo) in 1671.
Casco Viejo is packed with narrow cobbled streets, colonial architecture, old churches, squares, and museums.
Casco Viejo is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site. Many Spanish colonial buildings are transformed into boutique hotels, apartments, rooftop bars, and restaurants.
Plenty of historical attractions in the neighborhood that you can easily explore on foot.
Highlight sights are the Arco Chato, Plaza Mayor, Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, Panama Canal Museum, Museum of Panama’s History, Mercy Church, and Saint Joseph’s Church.
Here, you can also find the Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo and Iglesia y Convento de la Compania de Jesus. The ruin of the Santo Domingo church built by Dominican friars, a stone archway at Arco Chato is a great place to take photos!
Many of the main attractions are centered around Plaza Bolivar, also known as Plaza de San Francisco.
You can also have Plaza Francia at the southern end of Casco Viejo which lead to Paseo las Bovédas.
3. Historic Panama Viejo
Located on the seafront outskirts of the city, Panama Viejo is the ruins of the original Panama City.
Panama Viejo was the first European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas which is founded in 1519 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias de Ávila.
It was an important position for the shipment of gold and silver back to Europe.
It was abandoned after Henry Morgan’s pirates attacked in 1971 and its residents move down the area that is known as Casco Viejo today.
In this archaeological site, you will find Old Panama Cathedral, City Hall, churches, abbeys and convents, and a hospital. You can climb to the bell tower of the Cathedral and admire the views of the Panama City skyline.
If you want to learn more about the history, head to the Museo De Panama Viejo to see what the city look like in the 16th century.
Historic Panama Viejo has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1997.
4. Plaza Bolivar
The lovely square of Plaza Bolivar is named after Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan military leader who played a central role in the South American independence movement.
There is the monument statue of Simon Bolivar here. Plaza Bolivar is also known as Plaza de San Francisco, where you can find Iglesia San Francisco de Asis.
Nearby stand the National Theatre and the National Palace of Government and Justice.
Plaza Bolivar is packed with several restaurants, cafes, and eateries. You can grab a coffee or a meal at outside patio tables.
5. Plaza de Francia and Paseo de las Bovedas
Located in the Old Town, Plaza de Francia was built as a tribute to the French effort to build Panama Canal.
You will see a monument for the Cuban doctor, Carlos Finlay, who found out how the mosquitoes transmitted yellow fever to help the US builders of the canal to reduce the disease’s cases.
Around this French quarter stand the French Embassy, the National Institute of Culture, and Las Bóvedas.
Plaza de Francia leads to the Paseo de las Bovedas, a beautiful walkway where you can view the waterfront and the ships waiting to enter the Panama canal.
You can buy souvenirs from vendors along the street, part of the street is under a covered arch.
6. Amador Causeway
Amador Causeway is a 6 kilometer stretch of road that extends out into the Pacific Ocean where the Panama Canal meets the Pacific sea.
It is named after the first President of Panama, Manuel Amador Guerrero.
Amador Causeway is where you can catch ferries to Pearl Islands and Taboga Island.
There are plenty of activities, you can paddleboard in Panama Bay, cycle along the causeway, ride scooters and segway.
There are several Panamanian restaurants for dining, the Centro Artesanal for shopping along the boardwalk.
Culture vultures can visit the Punta Culebra Nature Center managed by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and visit the famous Biomuseo, or Museum of Bio-Diversity at Panama, which was designed by Frank Gehry.
7. Biomuseo (Museum of Bio Diversity at Panama)
Located at the end of the Amador Causeway in Panama City, Biomuseo is the world’s first biodiversity museum.
It was designed by Frank Gehry, the world-famous architect, and first opened in October 2014.
This 4,000 square meter encompasses eight galleries, a temporary exhibitions space, a shop, and a cafe.
You will see a 2.4-hectare botanical park which also hosts a number of the outdoor exhibit.
8. Soberania National Park
Located a short drive from the city center, Parque Nacional Soberanía is the most accessible national park from Panama City. it is a perfect destination for a day trip!
This 55,000 acres Soberania National Park sits near the shore of the Panama Canal, stretches from Limón to Lago Gatún.
The park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts with 400 species of exotic birds, and more than 105 species of mammals.
You can visit the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center and climb the observation tower via a spiral staircase. Its top deck is fantastic for bird spotting, and opportunities to see sloths.
There is a wide range of hiking trails in this forest. If you love birds, check out the Pipeline Road where you can spot the most bird species.
The Plantation Road trail is an 8-mile gentle path where you can view interesting tropical plants like cocoa, rubber, and coffee trees; waterfalls, and wildlife.
The historic Camino de Cruces was built in the 16th century for the Spanish to carry gold between the two oceans. It connects Old Panama City to the port of Venta de Cruces on the bank of the Chagres River. This 10km road is the most difficult trail!
For a bit of relaxation with natural swimming pools, beautiful trails, and picnic areas, families can head to the El Charco Trail in Gamboa which is only 1 mile away from the Municipal Park Summit.
9. Monkey Island
Located inside the Panama Canal, Monkey Island is in the middle of Gatun Lake. It’s a tiny little island covered in wildlife, foliage, and wild monkeys!
There are four types of monkeys including Mantled Howler Monkey, White-Faced Capuchin Monkey, Tamarin Monkey, and the Lemurine Owl Monkey.
10. Hard Rock Hotel Rooftop Bar
Hard Rock Hotel Rooftop Bar is one of the popular nightlife destinations in Panama City.
This is the highest located nightclub in all of Latin America, on the 62nd floor of the Hard Rock Hotel in central Panama City.
From here, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the entire Panama City. Hard Rock Hotel Rooftop Bar has a vibrant atmosphere, with both chic and stylish indoor and outdoor lounges.
11. Avenida Balboa and Cinta Costera
Avenida Balboa is more than 3 km road running along the Pacific. It is named after Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a Spanish explorer, and conquistador who cross the Isthmus to the Pacific Ocean in 1513.
This avenue is an important financial district for Panama and Central America. You can find the Arts Tower, Rivage, YOOPanama, Bisca Financial Center, Torre Waters, and Torre Megapolis.
La Cinta Costera, or Coastal Beltway, is a beautiful waterfront boulevard. There are bike lanes, running trails, and green space for outdoor exercise.
12. Plaza de la Independencia and Catedral Metropolitana
The historic Plaza de la Independencia is also known as Plaza Mayor or Cathedral Plaza. It was the site where Panama declared its independence from Colombia in 1903.
On the square stands one of the largest and oldest churches in Central America, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Panama, or the Metropolitan Archcathedral Basilica of Santa María la Antigua.
The cathedral was built from 1688 to 1796 with Baroque architecture style. In 2002-2003 it underwent a massive restoration project.
13. Panama Canal Museum
Panama Canal Museum is also known as Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panamá in Spanish.
You can find interesting artifacts from the construction, plans, photos, and learn about the history of the construction of the Panama Canal.
It is housed in the former headquarters of the French Canal Company and the United States Isthmian Canal Commission contractors.
14. La Iglesia del Carmen
The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmen is one of the most beautiful and most visited churches in Panama.
Located on Via Espana in the heart of the city, La Iglesia del Carmen is the only Gothic architectural style building in the country.
The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Mount Caramel.
Panama has estimated 80 percent of the population are Roman Catholic, and the rest are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.
The Roman Catholic religion was brought to Panama when it was colonized by Spain.
15. Botanical Gardens at Parque Municipal Summit
Founded by the Panama Canal Company in the early 1900s, the Parque Municipal Summit botanical gardens were an Experimental Farm Summit, a place to study tropical plants.
Later, the Panamanian government managed the park and opened it to the public.
The 250 hectares of Zoological and Botanical Gardens Summit today has about 15,000 exotic plants and more than 40 species of animals that are on the verge of extinction.
Park’s admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children. There is a restaurant with seating areas for children.
16. Mola Musem
Located in the Old City, Mola Musem, MUMO, is also known as Museo de la Mola in Spanish.
The Mola Museum displays about 183 molas, all made by Guna women.
17. Pearl Islands
Located off the Pacific coast in the Gulf of Panama, Pearl Islands or Islas de las Perlas by locals is an archipelago that includes around 250 small islands.
Isla Del Rey is the largest island while Contadora Island is a tourist favorite with many beautiful white sand beaches, great resorts, hotels, an Airport, and Saboga Island.
To visit Pearl Islands from Panama City, you can take a 15 minutes flight to Contadora Island or catch the ferries from Punta Pacífica or the Amador Causeway.
The Pearl Islands became even more popular among tourists after the exposure on the television show, Survivor, on CBS.
There are many watersport activities such as snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing, and paddle boarding.
You can do whale watching around its season between July and October.
18. San Blas Islands
Located in the Northwest of Panama facing the Caribbean Sea, San Blas Islands, also known as the islands in Guna Yala, is an archipelago with 378 islands in an area of about 100 square miles.
The Gunas are the residents of the San Blas Islands. They are known for crafting the famous Molas, a traditional textile.
The molas, which recreate the Guna vision of a colorful and mythological world, make incredible, one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
19. Taboga Island
To go to Taboga Island, or the Island of Flowers, you can catch Taboga Island Express ferries from the harbor in Amador Causeway. It $20 round trip.
Located in the Gulf of Panama on the Pacific side, it is great for day trips from the Panamian capital.
On the island, you can hike to its summit called Cerro de la Cruz, and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding.
You can explore this colorful and historic Spanish-founded town on foot. You will see St. Peter’s Church (Iglesia de San Pedro), the second oldest church in the Western hemisphere.
The harbor has several f restaurants and hotels, the perfect place to grab a meal and drink.
Taboga Island has beaches such as Playa Restinga, Isla El Morro, Playa Honda, Playa Diablo, and Playa de la Isla Taboga.
20. El Valle de Antón
Located 120 kilometers from Panama City, El Valle de Antón, or Anton Valley is the second largest inhabited volcano crater.
Located 600 meters above sea level, El Valle has a pleasant climate, great for hiking.
There are many hiking trails around including La India Dormida Trail, a 45 minutes trail to the top with the sunset views point.
Cerro la Gaita trail is an hour-long trek where you pass wooden stairs with stunning views of the mountain and the San Carlos Lake.
If you are an adventurous hiker, you can check out the Cerro Gaital, which is the toughest trail!
Other interesting places to visit are Cerro Gaital waterfall, Los Pozos Termales hot springs, Nispero Zoo where you can find the Panamanian golden frog.
There is a market on Sunday where you can buy artisanal crafts, traditional mola, sombreros pintaos which are traditional Panamanian hats.
21. Food tour
As a UNESCO creative city for Gastronomy, Panama City is home to a diverse food scene with is a mix of Hispanic, African, Indigenous, and Afro Antillean.
Panama is a haven for foodies, you will find the best Geisha coffee, organic chocolate, local craft beers, seafood market, and ceviche.
San Francisco neighborhood is a perfect place for foodies and nightlife. with many food trucks!
You can try ceviche at the Mercado de Mariscos (Fish Market)
If you are a chocolate lover, you can take a tour of the Panamanian chocolate workshop.
There are plenty of things to do and see in Panama City, I hope you find something interesting to do for your next trip to Panama’s capital city!