High rise buildings and cobblestone streets and stunning coastline are often conjured up when people think of Panama City. Although, there is more to this metropolis than just good looks.
Firstly, Panama City is a major worldwide banking and business center. Furthermore, an entry or exit point of the Panama Canal. Secondly, the rainforest, beaches and cultural experiences are all at your fingertips. Certainly, you’ll be surprised at the sheer number of things to do in Panama City, Panama.
Best time to Visit Panama City
Firstly, Panama City has a tropical climate with clear dry and wet seasons.
Secondly, the dry season starts in mid-December and wraps up around mid-April. To avoid the rain, most first-time visitors choose to visit the city and experience the best things to do in Panama City, Panama at this time.
The wet season runs from mid-April to mid-December. It will rain most days during the rainy season with November receiving the highest levels of precipitation. Therefore, we should avoid Panama City in November.
However, the other rainy season months should not be ruled out. Most days, the scattered showers are a welcome reprieve from the year-round average temperature of 30 degrees. In addition, the showers rarely last more than an hour.
Similar to Costa Rica, the locals refer to the wet season in Panama as the ‘green season’ since the jungle comes alive with colour. It also means lower prices, fewer crowds at Panama City Panama attractions, and more unique experiences.
The Best Things to do in Panama City, Panama
Panama City covers all the bases. Its unique location makes accessing Panama City Panama beaches or the rainforest easy. While its rich history, the sheer size and cosmopolitan essence will keep the city slickers busy.
These are the best things to do in Panama City, Panama
Explore El Casco Viejo
One of the best things to do in Panama City, Panama, is to visit El Casco Viejo. This charming neighbourhood is one of the top Panama City Panama attractions. It is just four streets wide and represents the heart and soul of Panama’s colonial-era past.
The mosaic of cobblestone streets, colourful houses, and historic churches are enough to transport you to a different era. Check out Plaza Bolivar, visit the Presidental Palace and get some street food.
- The city has gone to great lengths to restore the structures in this part of town so more people visit Panama City, Panama. However, it is no easy feat. So, you will find restoration efforts ongoing.
If you are staying in another part of the city consider taking the cities efficient subway system to El Casco Viejo. It has 29 stops and is an eco-friendly way to get around.
Visit the Historic Plaza de Francia
On the outskirts of El Casco Viejo is Plaza de Francia otherwise known as French Park. Its unique headland position makes for great views of the beach, bay, and El Casco Viejo.
In the center of Plaza de Francia sits an obelisk paying tribute to the workers that perished during the construction of the Panama Canal.
Interestingly, it was not the labour that caused the deaths of over 20,000 workers. Rather, high temperatures and exposure to mosquito-borne illnesses.
Explore the Markets
As you walk over the bridge from Plaza de Francia into El Casco Viejo, you’ll come across a canopy of flowers and vines. In the shade of the canopy is a small market made up of local vendors.
This is a great place to stock up on souvenirs or handicrafts. By buying from these local vendors you are putting money back into the local community. It’s one of the best ways to help sustain family-run businesses in Panama and encourage entrepreneurship.
Visit the Biomuseo
The Biomuseo is an interactive museum that celebrates Panama’s unique biodiversity and one of the best things to do in Panama City Panama.
The permanent collection is called Panama: Bridge of Life. The exhibit explores Panama’s role as a connector of two continents and the implications that has on the exchange of biodiversity worldwide. Other exhibits focus on the impact humans have had on nature.
The Biomueso was designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry and its unique design, alone, is enough to warrant a place on every list of Panama City, Panama attractions. Its kaleidoscope of colours will make you feel like you stepped into a cartoon.
Explore Panama City’s Metropolitan Natural Park
Add a stroll through Metropolitan Nature Park to your list of the best things to do in Panama City, Panama. There are a number of trails that crisscross the rainforest nature park and lots of opportunities to spot wildlife. Monkeys, sloths, and squirrels are just a few of the animals regularly spotted within the park.
There is a 4 dollar entry fee but that is a small price to pay to support the park’s initiatives. Metropolitan Nature Park is an advocate for sustainability and an environmental change maker in Panama City, Panama. They educate locals about the importance of environmental services in the area and have implemented programs that have helped reduce air pollution by 30 percent.
Enjoy the Density of Downtown Panama City
Immerse yourself in downtown Panama City. To get amongst the skyscrapers head to Area Bancaria the city’s financial district. For things to do in Panama City, Panama at night head to El Cangrejo and experience its hip atmosphere and dynamic nightlife scene. Otherwise, stroll the oceanfront promenade at Avenida Balboa to get a glimpse of the high ticket houses and condos that line it.
Hike to the Top of Ancon Hill
Panama City’s Ancon Hill viewpoint is located at the top of the highest point in Panama City and offers incredible ocean and city views. To get to the Ancon Hill lookout you must hike from the city. The trailhead is located just a short walk from Casco Viejo and takes about 30 minutes on a paved path.
There are lots of opportunities to spot wildlife, like sloths, armadillos and toucans along the way. If you go with a guide, they will help you spot them.
The best time to do the Ancon Hill viewpoint hike is in the early morning hours before it gets too hot. Better yet, aim to reach the top for sunrise. The trail opens at 5:30 am each day.
Best hotels in Panama City, Panama
Unfortunately, most hotels in Panama City Panama are a bit behind the curve when it comes to sustainable practices. However, we did find a few places to stay in Panama City that are leading the way for a greener future. In our opinion, these are the best hotels in Panama City Panama.
- The Bodhi Panama City Hostel takes pride in their sustainable practices and strives to educate others about protecting the environment. Plus, part of their profits go toward fighting for climate change, eliminating plastic waste, and advocating for animal rights. This adult-only hotel offers dorm beds and private rooms. They are located on the outskirts of Casa Viejo and have a big backyard and terrace which back onto the rainforest.
- The Canopy Family of accommodation is located about 30 minutes from Panama City in the midst of the rainforest. Most people come here for birding but it is also a worthwhile base to explore the city. Canopy Family accommodation is actively trying to do good while they do business. They base their business practices on the principles of environmental initiative, social responsibility, and community development. Guest are invited to stay in their ‘tower’, lodge, or on-site camp.
- Despite Hotel Riu Plaza’s colossal size, Riu has been awarded a Gold-Level certification for its Travelife Sustainability System. There are over 600 rooms at the Hotel Riu Plaza which are spread over 34 floors. Riu is conveniently located in the heart of the financial district. They have an on-site fitness room, pool, and free wifi.
Places to Eat and Drink
Mahalo is a Hawaiian inspired restaurant located in Casco Viejo. They have just recently opened a tiki bar in the back garden. It is a hit with tourists and locals alike.
Mahalo offers great vegetarian and vegan dishes. But really shines for their selection of fresh juices and craft beers.
Puro Love is a café in the up and coming neighbourhood of San Francisco. The café uses all-natural, organic, environmentally friendly, and local products.
Puro Love strives to create dishes that are undeniably good for you, so they stay away from refined sugars and preservatives too. Their menu is an eccentric mix of comfort food and light dishes.
If you’re looking for local Panamanian coffee try Bajareque Coffee House. It is owned and operated by Elida Estate.
Their Geisha Coffee is not only locally grown on an environmentally-friendly coffee estate. It is also world-renowned for its high quality. Their little coffee house in Panama City sells an assortment of desserts to pair with your cup of joe.
How Long Do You Need in Panama City
Panama City might seem like a giant metropolis from afar but El Casco Viejo and Downtown Panama are actually quite small and the sights can be checked off quickly.
To get the most out of your visit we would suggest spending 2-5 days in Panama City. That way you can take it slow without rushing between Panama City Panama attractions.