Panama City is a huge hub of tourism in Central America and a beautiful city with so much to do. These are the top 10 things to do in Panama City, Panama (plus 2 bonuses!).
We spent a few weeks in Panama City when visiting and fell in love with the charm of Casco Viejo, the beautiful wildlife, the kindest people, and the amazing food! There is plenty to do and we still have a list a mile-long of things to do. However, you cannot miss these top things to do!
We’ll cover the best things to do in Panama City, Panama, unique things to do in Panama City, Panama, Casco Viejo hotels, Panama City, Panama travel, and more!
This post is all about the best things to do in Panama City, Panama.
Things to Do in Panama City, Panama:
1. Explore Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo is the star attraction of Panama City and for good reason. This quaint colonial town along the Pacific Ocean is rich in history and holds a UNESCO Heritage Site status. Its cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, gorgeous churches, walkability, and delicious food will be sure to lure you in as it did us. We loved wandering through town looking at all the historical buildings and sitting in plazas people watching. We stayed right in the heart of Casco Viejo and loved that everything was so close.
A few of the top historical sites are:
- Arco Chato
- Paseo de Las Bovedas
- Iglesia de San Jose – Golden Altar
- Panama Metropolitan Cathedral
Visit the Panama Canal
Of course, you cannot visit Panama City, Panama without seeing the Panama Canal. The best place to visit the canal (without taking a cruise through the canal) is the Miraflores Visitor Center. It was closed for much of 2020 and 2021 so be sure to check before you visit. The Visitor Center has a great viewing platform of the locks. There is also an IMAX movie about the canal and a museum. If you want to skip the visitor center or it’s still closed, we headed up the road to a small parking lot (location linked) along the canal. We couldn’t see as much as the viewing platform but it was a good alternative with everything going on. We also drove over the Puente Centenario bridge which is gorgeous in of itself. This gave us a great view of the Miraflores Locks from above.
Oldest Cafe in Panama
This stop is a must if you are looking for awesome history and good food. Coca-Cola Cafe is the oldest cafe in Panama City and has been operating since 1875. Its corner location makes it a busy stop and for good reason. The food is local and of good value and the whole staff seemed so friendly! We order a chicken dish and we loved it!
Sunset Rooftop Bar
The rooftops come alive around sunset with gorgeous views in every direction. Many places get very busy in the evenings since the weather is so nice and the sunsets are so colorful. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time if you really want to head to a specific restaurant. Even in February of 2021, we had difficulty getting a table. In Casco Viejo, head to CasaCasco for an upscale restaurant and pitchers of Sangria. Its location is perfect for 360-degree views. You can also try Tántalo Hotel & Rooftop and Salvaje Restaurant & Rooftop in Casco Viejo.
Dine at the Fish Market
The Mercado de Mariscos is the best place to stop in and get a taste of local life and the freshest seafood. If you enter the market, you will find stalls with local fishermen and families selling fresh-caught seafood. You can purchase something here to make at home or just admire all the craziness and smells. Anything from fish to stingrays and plenty of shellfish. On the outside of the market (to the right of the door in the photo above), you’ll find a ton of restaurant stalls selling meals from fresh-caught seafood. From what we saw, they all looked extremely similar so I would just follow the crowds. If any stall is busy, go there to get the best of the best!
Explore the Cinta Costera
The Cinta Costera is much more than a pathway along the water. You’ll find tennis courts, basketball courts, outdoor gyms, and plenty of street food and vendors along the way. The walkway connects the new city to the old city along a 1.5-mile pathway. Its location makes it perfect for a morning or evening walk as it is directly along the Pacific Ocean. Recently completed in 2009, it is well maintained and fairly popular. This is also the main destination for Carnival just before Lent (March or April) with plenty of stages and events happening along the water.
Venture Down the Amador Causeway
This pathway is 8.3 miles in total (out and back) on a beautiful causeway with water on both sides. This is just at the entrance of the Panama Canal so you’ll see tons of boats heading into the canal. The path is used for walking or running as well as a vehicle path. All along it has sprawling views of both Casco Viejo and the skyline of Panama City. The end of the pathway leads out to a trio of islands (Flamenco Island, Perico Island, and Naos Island). There are plenty of restaurants and shopping as well as a resort and marina.
Hike to Cerro Ancon
Getting up into one of the hills surrounding a city is always a great idea for the unique views it provides. Luckily there is a nearby hill with an easy hike to the top at Cerro Ancon. It starts on a paved path from a neighborhood and heads up some stairs to the start of the path to a gorgeous overlook of all of Panama City. You can hail a cab (or just use Uber) to take the 10-minute drive to Mi Pueblito as a drop-off point. Walk past the guard’s hut and up the hill. It takes about 30 minutes to head up and is a bit steep. Once you get to the top you’ll see the large Panama flag that flies over the entire city.
Admire the Panama Canal Admin Building
During our tour with Barefoot Panama, we stopped by the Panama Canal Admin Building. It’s really a beautiful building with a fountain out front representing the 3 locks of the Panama Canal. This spot is usually a gathering spot in the summer for concerts and movies. You sit on the large hill and there are small vendors with food. A cool fact about the building is that is built on a hill from the dirt originally from the canal. Not only is the dirt directly from the canal but it is the exact height of how high a boat will travel vertically while going while going through 3 locks of the Panama Canal.
Check out the Bio Museum
When we chatted with the locals, many people recommended the Biomuseo as a great spot. This colorful building can be seen from Casco Viejo. It was designed by Frank Gehry (architect of the Guggenheim Museum and Walt Disney Concert Hall) and is a real source of pride for the local community. Its museum focuses on the country’s vast biodiversity from plants to animals and fruits. It looks like a gorgeous stop and definitely one we will have to visit next time!
Hidden Bonus: See Boats Line Up for the Panama Canal
This honestly happened by accident but is one of my favorite things about flying into Panama City. A few minutes before landing at Tocumen Airport you’ll fly over the Pacific Ocean just in front of the start of the Panama Canal. Here you’ll be able to see from your plane window dozens of boats waiting their turn to pass through the Panama Canal. The average waiting time for a boat is 48 hours and there are tons of them! It’s such a unique perspective of the boats and I always try to get a window seat flying into Panama because of it.
Bonus: Day Trip to Taboga Island Beach
Isla Taboga (known as the Island of Flowers) is located just off the coast of Panama City. It’s a quick 20-minute ferry ride on Taboga Island Express out to the island past the boats in line for the canal. Once you get to the island there are a few beautiful beaches, perfect to get away from the city. Playa Honda is the preferred beach (to the left of the pier) with golden sand and nicer facilities.
If you are looking for an easy, planned day trip, check out Barefoot Panama for an all-inclusive package including transportation, lunch, beach chairs, and a short tour around the area.
> Check out this in-depth Taboga Island Travel Guide from CK Travels for more details!
Best Hotels in Panama City, Panama:
There are a ton of adorable boutique hotels in Casco Viejo and a fair share of ritzy, upscale high-rises in the heart of Panama City. These are just a few of our favorites in Panama City.
American Trade Hotel – The American Trade Hotel is a popular boutique hotel in the heart of Casco Viejo. It has been renovated into a gorgeous hotel with restaurants and balconies overlooking Plaza Herrera.
Casco Viejo Apartment – There are plenty of local apartments and suites located throughout the city that are available for rent. The prices are anywhere upward of $50 for a 2-bedroom apartment usually with fully stocked kitchens and balconies. This was our option of choice and we LOVED it!
JW Marriott – The JW is an iconic part of the Panama City skyline and you can see it from Casco Viejo. The sailboat-shaped building has since been covered by a growing skyline but is still visible. This hotel is gorgeous both inside and outside.
Santa Maria – Santa Maria is a bit of an escape from city life. Located a few miles outside the city on a golf course. You get a great resort vibe and a quick ride into the city to explore the sites.