Things to do in Panama City
Welcome to Panama City
Often compared to Miami, Panama City is Central America's most glamorous, cosmopolitan capital, blessed with year-round sunshine and refreshing coastal breezes. The country's most famous attraction, the Panama Canal, is just outside of town. This 48-mile (77-kilometer) feat of engineering can be viewed from the banks, but for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, book a full or partial canal cruise through the Miraflores Locks. Be sure to reserve ahead—private canal tours often fill up months in advance. Shimmering skyscrapers and luxury hotels dominate the downtown area, but a history tour reveals the city's colorful past as a Spanish treasure port and buccaneer hideaway. UNESCO-listed Casco Viejo (Old Town) holds 17th-century colonial landmarks such as the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Palacio de las Garzas, the Church of St Francis of Assisi, and the National Theatre. Sample some fresh, local ceviche and a microbrew, perhaps topped off with Panamanian coffee and a taste of raw chocolate. Head to Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador) for fantastic harbor and skyline views, as well as high-end shopping. Check out Biomuseo, Frank Gehry's first building in Latin America, and stick around Amador if you like the nightlife—it's home to the city's trendiest clubs. Take a break in the lush, urban gardens of Parque Natural Metropolitano, or escape on a day trip to Soberania National Park to see Monkey Island. Active nature lovers can kayak down the Chagres River, or soak up the sunshine on a boat trip to Taboga Island or Gatun Lake.Learn more
Top 10 attractions in Panama City
By any estimation among the grandest public works projects in the history of humankind, the Panama Canal is an engineering triumph that cost US$350 million, claimed some 27,000 lives, and transformed global trade forever. Today, it is undergoing a massive and politicized US$5.3 billion retrofit, reinforcing its place as the strategic lynchpin of world shipping, surrounded with international intrigue on a scale we civilians can only imagine. Travelers can enjoy the canal in several ways, beginning with the excellent Miraflores Locks Visitor Center just outside the capital. More ambitious explorers can book a variety of tours taking in all or part of the 77km (48mi) trip across the continent....
The Bridge of the Americas spans the Panama Canal, which is perhaps the most important public works project in history. Made of steel and reinforced concrete, the bridge is 5,425 feet long, and at high tide, the clearance is 201 feet, under which ships crossing the canal must pass. Twenty million U.S. dollars went into building the four-lane bridge, which replaced smaller ones and greatly increased road travel and capacity over the canal. It was inaugurated on Oct. 12, 1962, and allows the passage of cars, bikes and pedestrians. The Bridge of the Americas was originally called the Thatcher Ferry Bridge, named after the ferry that used to operate on the canal before the span was built. Panama aptly renamed the bridge, since it not only connects the capital with the rest of Panama, but also unites Central and South America....
Panama City's oldest surviving neighborhood is also its most defensible, a tejas-tiled cluster of primly painted colonial buildings at the tip of a heavily fortified peninsula. These ramparts successfully protected the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific Coast, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After decades of neglect, Casco Viejo is finally being revitalized. New hotels and restaurants, some quite elegant, are occupying the centuries-old buildings. Iconic landmarks like El Arco Chato (Flat Arch), which may date to neighborhood's founding in 1671; the 1798 Metropolitan Cathedral; and many other pretty plazas, palaces, markets, and gold-gilt churches have been refurbished, as have the narrow streets, draped in flowery French balconies, which connect them. Well worth a wander....
Palm-lined Amador Causeway is famed for the fantastic views of Panama's skyscraping downtown, a yacht-strewn panorama across the Panama Bay to the graceful steel span of the Bridge of the Americas at the entrance of the canal. Scenic running paths follow the water, paved with stones used in the Canal's construction, along a causeway that stretches almost 3km (2mi) into the Pacific, connecting the city to three small islands: Noas, Perico and Flamenco. Visitors from around the city and world come to here to play, plied by upscale shopping centers and local vendors displaying their wares to crowds strolling the causeway. It's also the city's hippest nightlife district, home to elegant bars, casual clubs and other entertainment venues....
It is a mesmerizing scene, the massive machinery - some 700 tons of it, reinforced against the mighty Pacific - of iconic Miraflores Locks in operation. It is particularly impressive when Panamax barges, specifically designed to thread the world's most important shipping bottleneck with only centimeters to spare, slides through. You can watch it all from the four-story Miraflores Visitor Center, a fascinating museum complex adjacent to the locks. Peruse the exhibits and enjoy the short film to fully appreciate the scale of the awesome undertaking that was the Panama Canal. Three observation decks and an onsite restaurant offer outstanding views....
This popular excursion offers a festive excuse to explore a bit of the Canal, visiting an island that has been "taken over" by four species of monkey: capuchin (white face), howler, Geoffroy's tamarin, and grey-bellied nocturnal monkeys. Boats head out to the island throughout the day, where sharp-eyed photographers might also spot sloths, caimans, and bright tropical birds such as toucans. Unfortunately, the island's overwhelming appeal has led to strict regulations, and guides are no longer allowed to feed or tease monkeys - so don't count on that National Geographic shot. Trips can be combined with fishing, kayaking, canopy tours, and other adventures....
The glistening, artificial heart of the Panama Canal, Lago Gatún covers what was once the fertile Chagres River Valley, until 1907 home to scores of small villages and wondrous rainforested tracts. When it finally filled, by 1913, it was the largest man-made lake, buttressed by the biggest dam, in the world. Today, swathed in rainforest and scattered with islets, Lake Gatún is the most scenic spot on this famed passage between the oceans. This well-watered world surrounded with protected parkland, beautiful lodges, monkeys and rare tropical birds, as well as a fine selection of family-friendly amusements, including zip-line canopy tours and aerial trams. Boat tours can easily be arranged to include fishing, hiking and more....
Learn about the plants and animals of Panama at Soberanía National Park, a tropical forest just 20 minutes outside of Panama City. Located on the east side of the Panama Canal and forming part of its water basin, this is one of the most accessible of the country’s protected parks, with almost 55,000 acres of forest to explore. Declared a protected area in 1980, there are some 1,300 plant species, 79 reptile and 55 amphibian species in the park. Among the 105 mammal species are monkeys and tamarins, sloths and anteaters, which are often spotted by visitors. In addition to the site’s fishing activities, eco-studies and hiking, it’s also one of the best bird-watching areas of Central America, as bird-watchers come from all over to spot some of the 525 known species. The Rainforest Discovery Center has an observation tower for visitors to look out from, but for a more active route, hike along the Pipeline Road to spot birds....
In a country with so much biodiversity, it’s not surprising to see a museum dedicated to the natural marvels found here. The 4,000-square-meter BioMuseo was designed by Frank Gehry, the same architect who designed the beautiful Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. This site takes visitors on a journey through time to when the Isthmus of Panama was formed, joined two continents and divided oceans. There are seven permanent exhibitions that focus on art and science education here. When the isthmus was formed, there was an interchange of species between North and South America, an effect depicted in a series of 72 sculptures of those species. Audiovisual presentations also show the natural wonders of Panama’s ecosystems....
Top activities in Panama City
Frequently Asked Questions
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What are the top things to do in Panama City?
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Top activities in Panama City include:
Discover the top things to do in Panama City.
- Ocean to Ocean Panama Canal and Jungle Tour
- Day Tour in San Blas Islands - All Included - Visit 4 Islands in 1 Day
- All Inclusive Full-Day Taboga Island Catamaran Tour from Panama City, Panama
- Monkey Island Tour from Panama City
- Panama Canal Miraflores Locks and City Tour
Discover the top things to do in Panama City.
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