Panama City Panama

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA

Things To Do in Panama City

Top 7 Attractions in Panama City

1. Amador Causeway

Panama City Causeway fishing platform
Covered Observation/Fishing Pier on Amador Causeway

The islands have small hotels and motels, a strip mall, a number of restaurants, a marina and a great wine store. You can rent pedal bikes for 2, 4, or 6 people. There are always taxis driving by and asking if you need a ride. Make sure you agree on a price before you get in the taxi. There are also regular public buses and Uber is all over Panama City. 

2. Milaflores Lock

Panama City Milaflores Lock
The Milaflores Lock is the western set of locks on the Panama Canal. It consists of two chambers that lift or lower the ship 54 feet. The United States signed a treaty with Panama to build the canal after the French failed. Construction began in 1906. They spent $500,000,000 ($9 billion today) to build the 51 mile canal joining the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The Panama Canal was opened on August 15, 1914.  The interesting and interactive 4-level museum with viewing platforms  of the lock along with an IMAX show narrated by Morgan Freeman are located right at the locks. Click here for admission cost and hours of operation   Budget Tip: Buy a combination Milaflores Museum and BioMuseo for $30 and save $6 per person. If you are not interested in the museum, just go to the restaurant and you can see the locks from the comfort of your table. Spend the admission fee on your lunch buffet that is $35. You can get to Milaflores in a variety of ways; public bus, the Hop-on Hop-off bus, taxi, Uber or private car. Click here for my photo journal of Milaflores Locks.

3. Casco Viejo (Antiguo)

Casco Viejo, Casco Antiguo and San Felipe are names for the same place. It is old Panama City that was constructed in 1673 after the burning of the original Panama City – Panamà Viejo. 

Over the years the old town fell into disarray. In 1997 it became an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Investors began buying up the old buildings with the idea of restoring them. There are many buildings at any time being restored.

There are now new and trendy boutique hotels, restaurants, roof bars, chic shops for clothing, home decor, art, and souvenirs.

Click here for my photo journal of Casco Viejo.

4. BioMuseo

Panama is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. The Frank Gehry designed interactive museum was built to show the diversity of the land. It does an awesome job of that. 

Frank Gehry’s wife is Panamanian and he donated the architectual design to the country of Panama. The cost of the museum was $95 million when it opened in 2013.

Take your time, allow at least 2 hours. It is located at the beginning of the Amador Causeway. The museum is separated into different sections that all do a wonderful job of educating museum visitors about Panama’s biodiversity. 

Click here for my photo journal of BioMuseo

5. Tobago Island

Tobago Island is a popular day trip for local people.Tobago comes from the indigenous people’s word, abago, meaning’ “plenty of fish”.

A one hour ferry leaves the end of the Amadore Causeway 4 times a day and 5 times on weekends. The cost for a round trip is $24 and they take credit cards. See here for more information.

Make sure you bring cash as there are no ATMs on the island and most beach activities require cash. It has a small sandy beach where you can rent an umbrella and chair for $5 per person. Cold drinks are available and there are small beach restaurants along the way from the dock to the beach.

The town on Tobago is San Pedro and was established in 1524 by Padre Hernando de Lugue, the dean of the Panama Cathedral who funded Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro in their quest to conquest the Inca Empire in Peru.Click here for my photo journal of Tobago

6. Panamá Viejo

The original Panama City began in 1519 making it the oldest European built city on the Pacific. A 100 years later there were 5000 people, 500 houses, a hospital and the cathedral. There were a number of fires over the years, an earthquake that destroyed many of the buildings, and attacks by pirates and indigenous people. In 1671 the city was attacked by the Welsh privateer Captain Henry Morgan and his 1400 men after marching across the isthmus from the Atlantic. The governor ordered all the precious objects hidden and blew up the gunpowder magazines burning the city to the ground. The city was moved to the location of Casco Viejo, an area better protected from marauding attacks.You pass the ruins as you drive from the airport to city central. It was named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1997.

7. Mercado de Mariscos on Cinta Costera

Panama City Fish Market

The seafood market is a must stop if you like seafood. The large white and blue building, a gift from Japan, is located at the entrance to Casco Viejo. Inside are dozens of stalls selling all kinds of fish. Whole fish, filet fish, lagostina (like tiny lobsters), prawns, octopus and much more.

You can purchase your desired seafood and then take it upstairs to the little restaurant and for $10 they will cook it anyway you would like it and serve it with a choice of starch. It really is a wonderful experience.

Outside there is another eating area that houses a dozen canteen restaurants that also serve seafood. You eat outside at tables under the tarp. There is nothing fancy here. The salespeople in front of each canteen are aggressive for your business. I preferred the in-house restaurant.

Click here for my photo journal of Mercado de Mariscos

Personal Tours

For those of you who prefer personal tours, we highly recommend ToursbyLocals There are 74 tours of Panama City given by 12 highly qualified local guides. You should be able to find a tour that meets your needs. Here are some reviews:

Clemente is so passionate about his city and was an incredible source of knowledge. He was able to answer all the tricky engineering questions my husband had about the canal and managed to cram a lot of sight-seeing into our specially tailored tour. We only had 6 hours and I am sure we could have easily filled 2 days. He has managed to convince us that we need to come back and explore more of Panama, and when we do…..he’s the first person we will be asking for advice. Thanks.

Absolutely one of the best tours and guides we have ever had. Knowledgeable, articulate, and everything one might look for in a guide. My wife and I cannot begin to recommend Clemente  highly enough. All-in-all one of the best days “on tour” we’ve ever had.
DALE S.

Panama City is one of the top places to visit in the world

Panama City Restaurants

Mi Ranchita

We ate three nights at Mi Ranchito. The food was delicious and reasonable priced. Each night I had filet of Corvina, a local white fish, with Creole sacue that came with carrots and a local green squash like vegetable. The average entree was $8-12, beer was $2.50, mixed drinks like Margarita’s cost $4 and desserts are $4.

Our average bill for two drinks each, an entree each, a shared dessert with delicious coffee was $50 including a tip of $5. I give this a budget travel two thumbs up.

Tipping in Panama is voluntary by law. Generally the restaurant will put a 10% tip on the check and then the cashier will ask if you want to give the tip.

Lesseps Bistro

We found this delightful traditional French Bistro in Casco Viejo. The traditional menu included onion soup gratinée, Cote d’Entrecôte, Patê, Crème Brulée, a daily Plat du Jour for lunch and dinner and great tasting wine by the glass or 250ml and 500 ml carafes.

The onion soup broth was incredible and it was full of Gruyere cheese all beautifully browned and gooey. It was a meal in itself. I give this a budget travel two thumbs up. 

Restaurante Mercado de Mariscos

Located on the top floor of the Mercado de Mariscos this small restaurant is as fresh as you can get seafood. You can order off the extensive menu or you can go down on the market floor and choose any seafood that you want. 

I went down and bought a pound of Lagostina. The restaurant prepared them for me by splitting the shells, steaming them and then finished them off with a butter garlic sauce and served them as the beautiful aromatic aroma rolled off and surrounded me. With a chilled glass of Chardonnay it was a dream meal.

The cost was $8 for the Lagostina, $10 for the preparation along with a side of Yucca fries and $3 for a glass of wine. This was a astounding two thumbs up. 

The Prime Steakhouse

Wow! They served one of the most delicious steaks I have ever eaten. The Prime Steakhouse in the Sofis Hotel in Panama City serves steaks on hot stones that continue cooking your meat for 20 minutes. Make sure you order your steak one or two stages above what you usually order. It will continue to cook and sizzle as you eat it.

After I finished my 12 oz USDA Choice ribeye steak, I wanted to order another it was so delicious. Service was perfect and the food was top notch. The price of $68 for the two of us including the 7% tax and the 10% tip was more than reasonable for this calibre of steakhouse. I would definitely go back and give it two thumbs up. 

Panaviera Sky Lounge

Locate on the 66th floor of the J.W.Marriot building above the Sun Ocean Casino the lounge gives the best sunset view in Panama City. The “After Office” happy hour is from 5 pm to 9 pm. Special drinks and appetizers are on for half price. The lounge is open from 4 pm to 2 am. We got there right at 5 pm and were able to get one of the three tables along the wall of the small infinity pool and looking out over western Panama City and the Pacific Ocean. The lounge was full by 6 pm so get there early for the sunset. After the sunset the ambiance of the glowing white acrylic tables and the city lights is wonderful. The service, drinks and food were first rate and I give Panaviera two thumbs up.

Travel Gear You May Need For Your Trip to Panama City

When planning a trip there are always important things that you need to take. For tropical countries like Panama it is important to have sun block, hats, water bottles, sun glasses, water bottle and a first aid kit. It is so convenient to just order from Amazon and have them delivered to your door. Click on any item and you will be able to browse on Amazon. You get a great selection, competitive prices, and super convenience. We get a small commission that goes to supporting our website. Thank you for your support!

Panama City Casco Viejo

Find the Best Answers to the Top 4 Panama City questions

  1. Is Panama City worth visiting?
  2. Is Panama City safe?
  3. How can you have a cheap vacation in Panama City?
  4. When is the best time to go to Panama City?

Is Panama City Worth Visiting?​

The new Panama City is full of skyscrapers reaching to the sky. The investment in buildings is phenomenal. There are new shopping areas, hotels, residential high rises, office buildings all along the ocean. It is worth a trip just to see the amazing architecture in the new Panama City and also in the old Panama City, the Casco Viejo, where a complete sympathetic building restoration is taking place. 

Throughout Panama City there are wonderful restaurants. We ate at five of them in our 9 days in Panama City. You could easily eat every meal out in a different ‘rave about’ restaurant in a week stay. The tourist prices are reasonable by our standards. Dinner for $20 with a drink, a great dinner for $50 with wine, lunch for $15. 

We cooked most of our meals. The grocery stores are large and modern and full of fresh produce and fish. The Mercado De Mariscos, the local fish market, is a must visit. There is so much fish, you can easily eat a different dish every meal for a week. The fish is abundant and the prices are wonderfully low. I bought 8 fresh lobsters for $20. If I wasn’t cooking fish, I was eating it in the restaurants. 

Panama City is  located just north of the equator so it is warm and humid all year round. It has a tropical park in the city where you can see monkeys and sloths if you are lucky. It is surrounded by water and there are several small islands that you can go to for a day trip to the beach. 

You will not need to pack any warm clothes – perhaps a wrap. I wore sandals, shorts and a light shirt all the time. A light hat is prudent to keep the intense sun off your head. There is lots of UV rays at that latitude. Don’t forget the sun block. I would recommend getting a place with a pool and near the ocean for the breezes like the place we rented. 

There is lots to see and do in Panama City. There is a soccer stadium with regular games, large music concerts, Carnival in February , there are modern shopping malls, many of the large hotels have casinos and nightclubs, and there are walking paths along the ocean shore. There are wonderful open air rooftop lounges in various locations. 

There is more than enough to do for a week’s vacation in this wonderful modern looking city. The international airport is located only 20 minutes from the city center. It is a hub for South America so there are lots of different airlines that land here. Panama is trying to attract visitors and offer two programs aimed at retirees and airline passengers passing through on their way to somewhere else. 

I would not hesitate to back to Panama City. It is a longer flight for us on the western side of the continent. Residents on the eastern side are very close and a couple of hours in a plane takes you to this remarkable city.

panama city panama view of ocean and mountains
View from our condo on the Pacific Ocean

Is Panama City Safe?

Panama City is considered a world center and is generally safe. Officials warn of kidnappings from time-to-time so use your travel common sense. Don’t be where you shouldn’t be. Leave flashy jewellery at home. Do not walk to a destination or back at night, use a registered taxi. 

Do not accept tour guide services from anyone other than an established company like Tours By Locals. Make and bring a copy of your passport. Purchase a phone or SIM card – they are cheap in Panama City. 

Driving is hectic and can be dangerous. The streets are difficult to navigate with one-way streets and no grid pattern. Traffic in the early morning or late afternoon will have you sitting for an hour or two. Do not do any travelling during this time period.

I have driven in Panama City on non-rush hour times and I was fine. As long as you have a GPS you will be fine. I used my iPhone Maps and it knew all the streets and road alerts. When I drove our rental car from the hotel to the Hertz drop-off it took less than 15 minutes. Coming back we had to take a different route because of the one-way streets and it took an hour. Same distance but 45 minutes longer because of our indirect route and congestion.

We used the Hop-on Hop-off bus for a 24 hour period and used it to travel around Panama City. We went to a lot of different parts of the city. There are parts of the city that I would not go into because there is nothing there for tourists and who knows what awaits you there. That is the same all over the world. In our 9 days travelling around Panama City, we never felt threatened or uncomfortable at any time.

When is the Best Time to Go to Panama City?

The best time to visit Panama in general is between December and March. This is the driest time of the year. It is best to go early in the dry season. January and February are great months. The lush vegetation is still green and as the dry season continues the lush green turns dull as the plants deal with the lack of rain. The rainy season is from April to November. There is rain each day but it usually builds up during the day and rains for an hour in the late afternoon. I would stay away in November as it is the rainiest month and there are a lot of National holidays driving up the prices of accommodations. 

Panama City Panama sign

How to Have a Cheap Vacation in Panama City

Our Budget for 9 Days​

I was pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive hotels are in Panama City. We rented a large suite at the Zen Best Western for $84 a night through Booking.com. It was a newish hotel with well trained staff, a roof top pool and lounge and a hot breakfast buffet for two in the restaurant with coffee service to the table. Our room was about 700 square feet with a large bathroom and walk-in shower. The room was spotless with quality commercial carpet, beds and furniture, heavy drapery, luxury bedding and towels, and a large digital TV.  The hotel is in the heart of the entertainment and hotel area and within walking distance to many restaurants, boutique shops, casinos, parks, and evening entertainment.  We only stayed the night before we flew home from Panama City at the end of our month in Panama. We checked in at noon and had the use of the full facilities for the entire day. We left at 9 am the next morning.
Panama City Zen Best Western rooftop pool

The condo we rented for our stay was through AirBnB. It was managed by a professional property manager who knew how to look after his clients. We had some issues and they were dealt with immediately. 

Travel Tip: In Panama, I would highly recommend finding a property that is  managed by a professional. We had issues in Anton Valley, two hours away from Panama City, without a professional property manager and we ended up having to leave. (You can read about that on this page.) The locals I talked to, told me, ‘Things happen in Panama’. It means that it is common for things to go wrong with the plumbing and electrical. It can be impossible to deal with these problems on your own and you need someone who is going to take care of the problem for you. 

The cheapest way to travel is to rent a place longer than a night or two. It takes time to find the right place that meets your specifications. You do get better at finding them the more you travel. You develop a sixth sense about where to look. I always look first for a property that offers a weekly discount. Our condo manager offered a 20% reduction in price for a weekly discount.

This trip I needed accommodation with two bedrooms and two baths, air conditioning, a cooking kitchen and a pool that we would be sharing with another couple. This was our first long trip together. Previously we had only gone away on weekend trips. We also wanted a place big enough that we were not stepping over each other and we were able to get away for some alone time. The price for the condo was $1000 for 7 nights. We split the cost so our share was $500. But we ended up only paying $350! Read on for the details on how that happened.

The condo is located on Isla Naos which is the first of four islands connected to Panama City by the Amador Causeway. Our condo was located on the west side of Isla Naos all by itself looking out to the Pacific with Tobago Island in the distance. We could not hear any traffic noise, city noise or any noise of any kind. Just the sound of the wind blowing across from the Pacific Ocean and the odd bird. All the ships entering and exiting the Panama Canal motored right in front of our building. It was amazing! At night, there was a ship city out in the harbour all lite up as they anchored to wait their turn to go through the canal.

panama city ship heading to Panama canal

We were on the pool deck level of the condo complex. The complex was three  6-story buildings and had two pools with a large cement deck that wrapped around the buildings. The complex was about 30 years old and had been in a state of disrepair but money was being poured into it and our condo and pool areas were well looked after. There was work going on in other areas of the complex.

On the 2nd day, workman began to drill right above us as they removed a large tile area on the next level. It was only suppose to happen for a day but it ended being 3 days. Fortunately, it was when we were out exploring Panama City so we were only exposed to it few hours in total. The property manager immediately refunded us one night rent.

The 3rd day our new fridge stopped working. The manager let us put our groceries in the fridge of the unit next door as he had his service guy come out and fix it the next day. He refunded us another night’s rent. 

Budget Bonus: Our share of the condo ended up only costing $350  for the week or $25 per person per night. Would you rather stay here or a hostel?

Panama City, Panama, condo deck with pool

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Personal and Travel Insurance

World Nomad Insurance 

We never leave home without travel insurance. We want travel insurance from a company that is experienced with local and world travel and gives us the best rates possible. For budget travellers it is important to get the best rates possible and we have found World Nomad Insurance the best in the industry. 

World Nomad Insurance is an affiliate of ours and we earn a small commission if you book with them from our website. This does not cost you a penny more.

Flights to Panama City

Scott’s Cheap Flights

Budget travellers are always looking for the deals. Scott’s Cheap Flights is always looking for those unbelievable prices for us that make travelling on a budget doable. If we had to pay full fare or even discounted fares, we would not have travelled to a tenth of the places that we have over the years. We use Scott’s Cheap Flights and other smaller speciality websites to find those lower than rock bottom prices.

Budget Tip: We flew from Calgary to Panama City return for $350 each on a combo flight with United Airlines to Denver and Panama Airlines to Panama City and the reverse on the way home.  

 

Accommodations in Panama City

Owned by Expedia, I find that HotWire has the absolute best last minute price for hotel rooms. I have saved over 50% more that other sites. Click on the link to see what they have to offer.

Hotellook Searches All Booking Sites For The Best Rates

Important Travel Trip

Always check with the hotel property before booking through 3rd party booking websites like Expedia or Booking. You may get a better deal than on the booking website. We have also found that there is a noticeable difference in how we are treated at the front desk if we booked directly or through a 3rd party booker. 

For example: In Da Nang, Vietnam, we were interviewed by the hotel staff and they gave us a quote for the week. They could not match the Booking.com price by a few dollars a night. But, as the interview continued, we found out that their price included daily massages for two and a free cocktail each night. For about $70 for the week we got 14 massages, 14 cocktails, and free daily laundry that we would not have gotten if we had gone through Booking.com or any other booking website.

AirBnB​

Who hasn’t heard of AirBnB. The original idea was an automated website for travellers looking for cheap accommodations in other peoples’ houses. Rooms went for $10 a night. It has transformed into one of the leading vacation property rental in the world. We have rented through AirBnB numerous times but have never found a good budget deal.

We use it when there were no other online booking options available. It seems like that a lot of the people are on the site just to make money first and supply a service second mostly from inexperience in the sophisticated tourism trade. There is a lot of selection but there are a lot of quick buck amateurs that charge outrageous rates for 2nd rate accommodations. Unfortunately, there are a lot of novice and large group travellers that continue to reinforce this type of business dealing. In addition, the rate you see on the listing is not what you pay. There are cleaning fees, website fees and taxes that add another 30% to the listing price. It is a case of buyer beware.

Having said all that, we have been happy with the properties that we have rented but it required a lot of time searching, looking at listings, reading reviews and weeding out properties that do not meet our criterion. As a customer I should be able to gather the appropriate information quickly. It is another case of service not matching the fee charged.

VRBO and Booking.com Accommodations

Official Panama City Resources

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