What is there to do in Panama City? The capital of Panama, Panama City. Large, wide, diverse and with many activities around the corner you can easily entertain yourself for a day or 3. From the modern business district, to the hip Casco Viejo neighborhood, the Panama Canal and the Metropolitan Park, you won’t be bored in this metropolis. These are the 4 biggest highlights of Panama City.
Casco Viejo, or Old Town or San Felipe, is the most famous district of Panama City. The historic district has a colonial character and many houses are colored. A fun neighborhood to walk through and eventually end up in one of the hip restaurants or bars with rooftop terraces. The local brewery is called La Rana Dorada and serves delicious home-brewed beer. The nicest bars with rooftop terraces are Lazotea, Talento or Bits (Hard Rock Café). Also visit the Coca Cola Café, the oldest café in Panama City that has been welcoming guests since 1883. Walk in to the Panama Metropolitan Cathedral, stroll along Plaza de la Independencia and Plaza Simón Bolívar. More local atmosphere can be found just outside Casco Viejo. Visit the Alcadía de Panama market for fresh fruits and vegetables or fresh meat, or get fresh fish at the fish market near Panama’s Malecón.
Close to the Albrook bus station you will find the Metroplitan Nature Park. A very green park in the middle of the city. Located against a hill, so you have a beautiful view of the city from the lookout point. The park has 5 hiking trails. The longest (to the lookout point) takes 2.5 to 3 hours on paper, but can also be walked in 1.5 hours. In between you can hear and see howler monkeys, spot various birds and walk past a turtle pond. With a little luck, you’ll also encounter the so-called “Jesus lizard,” the helmeted basilisk that can run so fast it runs on water.
The trail is fairly easy and gradually climbs. Only the last part to the viewpoint is a bit steeper. There are 2 vantage points. The first you will find immediately when you arrive, the second can be reached by stairs.
You get to the park by taking the bus from Albrook bus station. Note that the buses do not stop at the entrance and you have to walk a bit along the road, without a footpath. The bus that stops at the entrance does not run very regularly.
The park is open daily from 6:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and costs $4 per person. The park also has a butterfly garden and a café, The Greenhouse Café.
Cinto Costera and Malecón de Panama
Near Casco Viejo and along the waterfront are Cinto Costera and Malecón de Panama. Cinto Costera is a circular road built over the water, giving views of Casco Viejo and the skyline of Panama City. The bridge is about 4 kilometers long and can be entered from both sides. Keep in mind, however, that the south side of the Cinto Costera ends in a less safe neighborhood of Panama City. It is best to avoid this section if you are walking/biking across the bridge. There is a footpath, cycle path and a separate road for autos. Halfway down, you’ll find a utikiewpunt with a number of benches.
The Malecón de Panama is a boulevard that runs along the waterfront of Panama City. Also goes past the fish market, crosses several parks and at the same time gives a view of the city skyline. A lovely place to walk and take in the atmosphere of the city.
The Panama Canal is the most famous canal in the world. Not surprisingly, it’s also architecturally handsome. The largest cargo ships in the world can sail here from the Pacific Sea to the Caribbean Sea or visa versa through multiple locks. During the transition process, a height difference of 27 meters is bridged. Three locks have been built with the largest and newest lock being used only for the largest cargo ships carrying between 5,000 and 15,000 containers.
If you want to visit the canal and witness the transition of the ships, go to the Miraflores Tourist Center. Open daily from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. (tickets available from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.) and it costs $10 for adults and $5 for children. You can make reservations online through a time slot, but it is not necessary. Upon entering, you first walk through a museum that runs from the second floor to the fourth floor. On the fourth floor you will find the observation deck where you can see the transition of the ships. It is recommended to go around 8:00 am or after 2:00 pm because during those times the ships pass through the locks which is spectacular to see.
You get to the Miraflores Tourist Center by taxi/Uber or taking the bus from Albrook bus station. The bus just doesn’t go very regularly. You can also visit the Panama Canal by tour. Several options are available in town and online.
How do you get there and back?
You get to Panama City by flying from Bocas del Toro or another international destination.
To get from A to B in Panama City you can take the bus, metro and cab. The largest bus station is Albrook and from there the buses that go through the rest of the country (Valle de Anton, Soná and David for example) also leave. There are several counters, sorted by destination. There you can buy your ticket. Your ticket will show the number of the stop from which your bus departs. If you want to travel around Panama City by bus and subway, buy a public transport card (see below).
The city buses that run through Panama City are called Metro Bus. These buses stop at stops with an additional sign “Metro Bus. The other bus stops are used by the chicken buses, old American school buses that run their own routes and schedule. On Google you can see which bus goes to the place you want to go. Google takes Metro buses into account. The times indicated by Google are not always correct. Please allow for additional waiting time. You can also download the app Mibus Maps Panama. In this app you will find bus routes, maps and bus stops. You can also plan your trip and see the times when the bus leaves (on paper). This does only concern Metro buses.
The Metro Bus and the Metro pay with a public transportation pass. You can buy these in a larger supermarket, at larger bus stations (such as Albrook) or in the subway stations (at the vending machines). The card costs $2 once, then is reloadable. A bus ride costs $0.25 and the Metro $0.35 per person, regardless of the length of the ride. The subway has 2 lines and is not very extensive, but it can sometimes be faster than the bus, as there is quite a lot of traffic in the city.
Uber also runs in Panama City, as do many other cabs.