It's boom time in the bustling capital that some call "Central America's Singapore," where gleaming glass skyscrapers glow like the future beneath the swollen tropical moon. Just minutes from the crowded urban center, however, are palm-fringed white beaches, tropical islands, and protected jungle parks just waiting to be explored.
Day 1: Beneath the City Lights
Begin your day on Amador Causeway, with magnificent city views. Next, immerse yourself in Panama's frenetic downtown, where the world's wares are on endless display. You can step back from this globalized future with a visit to the quiet ruins of Panamá Viejo, or recently revitalized colonial old town of Casco Viejo.
After taking in a museum or city beach, dance the night away.
Day 2: Cruise the Panama Canal
While the dream tour is a ten-hour, full-transit cruise along the full length of the Canal, other options include half-transit trips and even shorter jaunts to one of the islands scattered across Lake Gatún.
Be sure to begin your Canal trip at enormous Miraflores Locks, with magnificent views and a museum that prepares you to appreciate the magnitude of this remarkable human accomplishment.
Day 3: Trek through the Jungle
Panama City is close to some of the most easily accessible tropical forests in the Americas, beginning with Parque Natural Metropolitano, which even shoestring travelers can enjoy. More adventurous visitors could head north to the protected rainforests of Soberania National Park and Barro Colorado, both perfect for a day trip.
If you prefer your untamed nature complete with coral reefs, however, Isla Contadora and the Pearl Islands are for you.