At once steeped in history and remarkably cosmopolitan, Panama City is a dynamic destination in its own right, as well as a gateway to the abundant tropical wonders of Panama. If you only have one day to spend in this Central American metropolis, here are some tips on how to make the most of your time.
Morning: Panama Canal
A trip to Panama wouldn’t be complete without seeing the engineering marvel known as the Panama Canal. During a half-day tour, head to thee Miraflores Locks to watch ships being raised and lowered en route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Most tours include time to browse the exhibits at the Miraflores Visitors Center to learn more about the locks and how they work. For a truly unique experience, spend your morning fishing on Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal Zone; you’ll be able to see two sets of locks and possibly catch tarpon, snook, or peacock bass.
Afternoon: Casco Viejo
Spend your afternoon exploring one of Panama City’s most charming neighborhoods, Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a walking tour to see landmarks such as the National Theater, Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Herons’ Palace (Palacio de las Garzas), and the Metropolitan Cathedral, or climb aboard the open-top hop-on hop-off bus to explore the city’s highlights at your own pace. For a hassle-free day, opt for a tour that combines a morning visit to the canal with an afternoon of sightseeing.
Wrap up your day in the Panamanian capital with an evening of local culture and cuisine at a folkloric show and dinner. Panama is a land of diverse cultures and influences from Spain to the Caribbean—a diversity that’s evident in the music, instruments, and handwoven costumes on display. If you’d rather let loose, head out on a barhopping tour to some of the city’s best bars and clubs, complete with a welcome drink at each stop.