For anyone visiting Central America, Panama is a must-see. There are so many incredible things to do in Panama which makes it worth a visit. It has big cities, beautiful beaches, and natural jungles to explore.
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The beautiful islands of Bocas Del Toro and San Blas, located just off the coast of mainland Panama, have helped the country rise to fame. They are one of the top attractions in Panama famous for their turquoise waters, white-sand beaches and coral reefs teeming with marine life.
However, that’s not all. There are also activities in Panama for adrenaline junkies, surfers, and history buffs. Panama really does have something for everyone
If you are planning on visiting Panama and are wondering where to go in Panama, this list should get you started.
Panama City, Panama
Panama City is the capital city and a modern, booming metropolis. It will likely be the first place you visit when traveling to Panama since its airport, the Tocumen International Airport, is a hub for international flights.
Panama is a large city known for its impressive engineering feats like the Panama Canal and its towering skyscrapers. 50 skyscrapers in Panama City, Panama are over 150 meters (492 ft) tall and many more are currently under construction.
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However, that doesn’t mean the city lacks historical charm. El Casco Viejo or Old Town Panama City is the heart and soul of the city and a hotspot of tourism in Panama, known for its colonial architecture. It was once a dangerous area of the city but has undergone significant revitalization programs, which has transformed the neighbourhood into one of the most well-known places in Panama.
Things to Do in Panama City, Panama
- Explore El Casco Viejo: This charming neighbourhood is just four streets wide and it’s cobblestone walkways and colonial architecture is reminiscent of Panama’s past. Just walking the streets is one of the best cheap things to do in Panama City Panama. Check out Plaza Bolivar for a dose of history, visit the Presidential Palace and get some street food. A great way to get to know the area is with a Casco Viejo walking tour. El Casco Viejo should be on everyone’s list of top things to do in Panama City, Panama for adults.
- Visit the Ruins of Panamá Viejo: This World Heritage Site is located on the outskirts of the city and was the former capital of the country. Walking around the ruins is a fascinating way to spend the afternoon.
- Visit Panama Canal: On this guided tour you’ll learn about the history of this engineering feat and explore the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center – the heart of Panama Canal tourism. If one of your interests is shopping, Panama City has a duty free shop at the Panama Canal.
- Go Stand Up Paddle Boarding: This eco-friendly tour will take guests to Sabanitas to get active on the Atlantic Ocean then back travelling to Panama City.
- Go Golfing: It might surprise you but there are some nearby options for golf in Panama City, Panama. Club de Panama, Tuscan Country Golf Club, and Santa Maria Golf are within close proximity and perfect for a morning outing!
- Visit Ancon Hill: Besides the Panama Canal, Ancon Hill is often the second most popular place mentioned in any Panama travel guide. It’s a beautiful viewpoint located on the outskirts of town.
Indulge in Restaurants in Panama City, Panama: This city has a world-class culinary scene and gastronomy from every nationality.
Where to Stay in Panama City Panama
Finding good hotels in Panama City Panama is an essential part of any Panama trip. The hotels in El Casco Viejo are so unique and stylish it’s hard to single one out. Therefore we suggest you stay there while visiting Panama City or backpacking Panama.
Each hotel feels like an artisan, independent hotel. These are some of our favourites near main Panama tourist attractions:
- Tantalo Hotel: At this reasonably priced hotel you’ll find the walls covered with artsy images. Amenities include a rooftop bar that has a beautiful city view. In the morning, you’re offered a continental breakfast with vegetarian options.
- Bodhi Panama City Hostel: This fun hostel is one of the best places to stay in Panama City Panama for its sustainable practices. The 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.
- Hotel Riu Plaza: Riu has been awarded a Gold-Level Certification for its Travelife Sustainability System. Riu is conveniently located in the heart of the financial district. They have an on-site fitness room, pool, free wifi, and friendly staff. If you are ever wondering what to do in Panama City Panama, they will be happy to help.
Isla Taboga or Taboga Island is the closest island to Panama City. It is located off the shores of Panama in Panama City Beach. It’s cute, tiny, and definitely one of the best places to visit in Panama. Although most of the island is uninhabited, there is one main road with about five hotels and restaurants.
Isla Taboga makes you feel like you’re living on a secluded island. You’ll see chickens roaming free, lizards on your dinner table, and spiders in light posts. There are crabs and pelicans on the beach.
If you’re looking for a unique and rustic experience, then Isla Taboga definitely needs to be on your list of what to see in Panama. It’s one of the best off the beaten places to go in Panama.
Things to do in Isla Taboga:
- Visit the Main Beach: One of the best Panama destinations in Isla Taboga is Main Beach. It has a large area for you to spread out and you can rent beach chairs or kayaks from local vendors. The view of the Panama City skyline is stunning!
- Walk to the Rock Formation: When the tide is low at Main Beach, you can walk to a nearby rock formation that resembles a tiny island on an exposed sandbar. The high tide hides the sandbar and fish gather to feed on the vegetation nearby.
- Cruise to Isla Taboga: If you’re short on time and can’t enjoy this great place overnight, considering taking an all-inclusive catamaran cruise from Panama City. It’s one of the best Panama City things to do. You’ll spend the day swimming, sunbathing, and dancing aboard the catamaran on a day trip to Isla Taboga.
Where to Stay in Isla Taboga
- Taboga Palace Spa Hotel: This hotel is the newest and most European style hotel on the island. There is an infinity pool overlooking the nearby beach, a bar in the lobby, and a masseuse available on site.
- B&B Inn Cerrito Tropical: This locally owned B&B has a family feel, a tropical garden and lovely ocean views. Each room is complete with features, clean and within close proximity to both the beach as well as the town.
- Hotel Vereda Tropical: This peaceful hotel has ocean views and an onsite restaurant. It’s location is on the hillside. Moreover, each room is suitable for two guests and is bright. Also with complete features and close to all Isla Taboga Panama activities.
If there is anything that should be on your list of the best places to visit in Panama it should be the Pearl Islands. The Pearl Islands consist of approximately 200 or so islands. It’s what people think of when they hear the words “tropical paradise.”
The islands got their name because of the bounty of pearls found in the area. However, it gained further popularity when the collection of islands were featured on a season of “Survivor”
The Pearl Islands and especially Isla Contadora, are known as resort islands and offer one of the best vacation spots in Panama for tourists.
Things to Do on the Pearl Islands
- Visit Playa Larga: Located on Contadora Island, Playa Larga consists of white sand and clear blue waters offering the perfect place to spend the day sunbathing and swimming.
- Go Scuba Diving: The crystal clear waters around the Pearl Islands are teeming with vibrant coral reefs and colourful fish. Diving is one of the best things to do in Panama!
- Go Whale Watching: Over 2000 southern humpbacks pass by the Pearls Islands every year from June to October. It’s one of the best places to go in Panama for marine life viewing.
- Take a Day Trip to Contadora: If you are pressed for time, consider taking a day trip to Isla Contadora from Panama City. It includes the opportunity to go kayaking, snorkelling, and paddleboarding. Also, it includes lunch.
Where to Stay on the Pearl Islands
Considering there are many Panama islands in the Pearl Islands archipelago, choosing the right island for you may turn out to be a difficult task. However, Isla Contadora is by far the most popular and where you will find the widest range of accommodation.
- Mar Y Oro: This charming hotel is located on the beach in Isla Contadora and offers comfortable rooms while utilizing sustainable practices and providing jobs for the locals. The hotel’s on-site restaurant specializes in Panamanian cuisine and offers an opportunity to learn about Panama culture and take in as much tasty food as possible.
- La Romantica: This highly rated hotel is perfect for couples. Each room has a comfy king-sized bed, a flat-screen tv, and a terrace or balcony. It is not often mentioned in Panama travel blogs but it is really well rated as is a good recommendation nonetheless.
- Villa Condesa Del Mar: This well-maintained hotel has an outdoor pool, direct beach access and great service. They have rooms of varying sizes which can fit groups of 2 to 7 people.
Portobelo, also known as Puerto Bello (the original name given by Christopher Columbus), is quaint, cute, and a must for anyone traveling in Panama. Also, it is known for lots of cultural and historical activities to do in Panama and is located on the Caribbean side of the country.
It is not one of the most well known Panama tourist spots but it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its abandoned Spanish fort complete with original cannons from the era. It also has natural coral reefs, islands, tropical forests, and mangroves, all of which are worthwhile things to see in Panama.
Things to Do in Portobelo:
- Visit the Portobelo National Park: A visit to the old Spanish forts and jungle trails at Portobelo National Park is one of the top things to do in Portobelo. It offers a wonderful insight into the country’s colonial past.
- Go Scuba Diving: Go on a fun dive or take a scuba diving course at Portobelo Scuba. The waters at Portobelo are teeming with fish and have great visibility.
- Go Surfing at La Guaira: The bay of La Guaira, located on the outskirts of the town of Portobelo, has a couple of consistent point breaks that offer great fun for intermediate surfers.
- Visit Playa Blanca: As the name suggests, Playa Blanca or White Beach in English is one of the loveliest Panama attractions. Spend the day hanging out on the sand, reading a book, swimming and sunbathing.
Where to Stay in Portobelo
Panamanian locals own many hotels in Portobelo, so it’s perfect if you’re trying to give back to the community.
- El Otro Lado – Private Retreat: This eclectic hotel is situated on the waterfront and is perfect for couples. It has a modern, stylish decor, a pool, and a restaurant on site.
- Cocoplum Panama: This basic hotel has quirky decor and friendly hosts. There are rooms of varying sizes and a restaurant on site.
- Rancho Juancho: Located on a hill just outside of Portobello, this hotel offers basic units. The property has beautiful ocean views. Also, it’s a popular hangout for tropical wildlife like monkeys and colourful birds.
Bocas Del Toro
Bocas del Toro Archipelago is a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea in the northwest of Panama. It’s one of the top destinations in Panama known for great scuba diving and beautiful beaches. The most populated city on this cluster of islands is called Bocas del Toro or Bocas Town, located on Isla Colon.
The city of Bocas is pretty walkable. However, travel in Panama isn’t always that easy. Most of the tourist attractions in Panama in the Bocas del Toro island cluster are not within walking distance and are best reached by water taxi or boat.
Alternatively, you can use their local bus system called “Transportation Colectivo” to explore Isla Colon. Each bus route is signposted on the Colectivos with the name of the final destination. You can also hire a Taxi or rent bicycles to get around the island.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Bocas del Toro used to be a major trading port for chocolate and bananas? So definitely indulge while you’re here!
Bocas del Toro is located in the rainforest and gets a sprinkling of rain pretty much every day at an unpredictable rate. It’s the price you pay for a beautiful, natural setting. So, prepare to get wet and dress accordingly.
Beaches on this island are natural: giant rocks and boulders are immaculate. Considering this fact, proceed with caution at tourist attractions in Panama around Bocas del Toro if you’re trying to get into the water.
Things to Do in Bocas del Toro
- Visit Starfish Beach (Playa Estrella): Each Panama travel blog tends to mention this Boca del Toro attraction because it is truly one of the best things to do in Panama. Located a short boat ride away from Bocas town, Playa Estrella is a Panama must-see. The crystal clear waters and bright orange starfish along the beach are a delight. However, be mindful of the environment and marine life. Bring your trash with you and don’t touch the starfish – just look.
- Go Kayaking or SUPing on Saigon Bay: This bay within Bocas del Toro town is known for its bungalows which are raised up out of the water. Get on a kayak or SUP board and go explore!
- Go Snorkelling or Scuba Diving: Explore the underwater world. Lots of fishes live in the water around Boco’s. Mangrove Bay is an especially nice place to go
- Go Surfing: From December to March, Bocas del Toro has world-class waves. They are suitable for beginners and advanced surfers alike.
- Explore the Islands on a Boat Cruise: The archipelago has a collection of idyllic islands scattered within its waters. It won’t be hard to find a tour operator to take you and your travel buddies out on a cruise through the islands in Bocas del Toro town. Just make sure it stops at Isla Zapatillas.
- Take a Water Taxi to Isla Bastimentos: A nature reserve located a short boat drive from Bocas known for Red Frog Beach, pristine beach with a palm-fringed shore.
- Hit the Town: There is a well-established backpacker bar scene in Bocas Town. So, you should be able to find a party any day of the week.
Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro
The most popular place to stay in Bocas del Toro is the Bocas del Toro town. It is close to tour providers, restaurants, and other amenities. Here are a few good accommodation options to consider:
- Hotel Playa Tortuga: This hotel looks like it’s out of a magazine spread. It has amazing amenities, like a gym and a pool. The hotel is right on the water, has free kayaks and snorkelling equipment for their guests, and offers shuttle services to nearby tourist attractions.
- Dolphin Bay Hideaway: This B&B has strong sustainable values, is located in the jungle close to nature, and has lots of wildlife on-site, like monkeys and sloths. It is located about 20 minutes from Bocas Town, on the water, and offers comfortable rooms and tours.
- Koko Acqua Lodge: Located on the waters over Saigon Bay, the views from each bungalow can’t be beaten. The lodge has a rustic charm and free kayaks for rent.
San Blas Islands
The San Blas Archipelago is a collection of 365 islands located in the Caribbean sea, between Colombia and Panama. They are what beaches should be because of their white sand, palms trees and vivid blue waters.
When people are asked “why visit Panama?”, their answer usually aligns with tropical scenes found on these islands.
Most of the islands are uninhabited, but a few of the larger ones are occupied by the friendly Guna people. In fact, the area is an autonomous region of Panama formerly known as Guna Yala for the natives that live there.
The most popular way to explore the islands is from a sailboat. There are some which even do the crossing from San Blas, Panama to Cartenga, Colombia.
If you only have 2 weeks in Panama or less, we understand that you may not have enough time for the 5 day sail between Panama and Colombia. But we would still recommend you make time for at least 2 days in San Blas. You’ll enjoy feasting on seafood, snorkelling, swimming and enjoying the seclusion. It’s truly one of the top things to do in Panama, Central America.
The San Blas Islands has even made its way onto our list of the Top 50 Most Sustainable Destinations in the world. Why? Everything you might buy is direct-trade, and all of your interactions on the islands is with the native population. Every dollar you spend goes directly back into their economy.
Things to do in the San Blas Islands
- Go Snorkeling: There are loads of starfish in the waters around the San Blas Islands. Don a mask and snorkel to check them out but please don’t touch! Otherwise, check out the sunken boat at Perro Chico Island that colourful fish call home.
- Grab a Kayak or SUP: Get some exercise and cruise along the water to gain a perspective of the islands from the vantage point of the Caribbean Sea.
- Spend the Night with a Guna Family: With this overnight tour, you’ll be hosted by a Guna family and experience life as they do. With no hot water, Wi-Fi, electricity, or other amenities you’ll see what life is like for the majority of locals living on these islands.
- Spend a Time at the Beach: While away the day relaxing at the water edges. Go sunbathing, swimming, throw a frisbee, read a book – do whatever feels right. Beach days are some of the most fun things to do in Panama.
Where to Stay in the San Blas Islands
- Safari Voyager: This ship will take you on a massive journey from the San Blas Islands through the Panama Canal in Panama City and up to San Jose Costa Rica. The price is inclusive of food, accommodation, and activities.
- Play to live All-Inclusive Sailboat: This all-inclusive sailboat aims to give you a full tropical island experience. You’ll be eating fresh lobster on pristine islands, exploring white sand beaches, and enjoying cocktails looking out onto the azure sea.
- The Sailing Experience in San Blas: Suitable for 6 people, this sailboat will take guests on a quintessential San Blas experience. The hosts, Aki and Lorena, are popular for their friendly demeanour, good humour, and service.
- Arridup Island: This lodge is for those who would prefer to stay on land rather than at sea. They offer basic cabins right on the beach far away from people and other Panama tourism hotspots.
Boquete is different from many of the other Panama points of interest. It doesn’t have palm-fringed beaches and turquoise waters rather this mountain town is known for its lush jungle setting next to Volcan Baru National Park.
The small town runs along the pretty Caldera River and is surrounded by the Chiriquí Highlands. Therefore it is much cooler than other parts of Panama. It is home to coffee plantations, the elusive quetzal bird, lots of hiking trails, and a couple of great Central America festivals.
The Festival of Flowers and Coffee takes place in January and the Orchid Festival is from March to April. They each have floral displays, live music, and handicrafts for sale. However, we would not suggest you visit outside of January to April as that is when the rainy season takes hold of the region.
As one of the adventure capitals of Panama, Boquete is an ideal destination if you like outdoor adventures and interesting flora and fauna.
Things to Do in Boquete
- Climb Volcan Baru: Climbing Baru is one of the best unique things to do in Panama. At 3,475 meters Volcan Baru is the highest point in Panama. The hike to the top is about 13 km each way. Furthermore, people consider this as difficult. It is a somewhat popular activity to summit the peak for sunrise.
- Take the Los Quetzales Trail: This 9.6km hike passes through the Volcan Baru National Park and offers the opportunity to spot the colourful Quetzales bird which is known for its role in Central America mythology and recluse.
- Go Ziplining: Boquete Adventures offers the chance to zipline and canopy swing through the jungle. Their staff are knowledgeable and make safety a priority and the activity itself is sure to get your heart pumping in the best of ways. It’s one of the best things to do in Panama with kids.
- Visit the Lost Waterfalls: The Lost Waterfalls consist of three big waterfalls which take about 4 hours in total to hike to. There is a small entry fee and the area is open every day from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm. Along the trails, you’ll see lots of interesting flora and fauna.
- Drive the Bajo Mono Loop: If you are visiting with a car the short drive out of town via the Bajo Mono Loop has beautiful vistas of the surrounding forestry.
Where to Stay in Boquete
- Spanish by the River – Boquete: This intimate hostel offers dormitory and private rooms in a classic Panamanian house with hammocks and a lush garden. They also offer on-site cooking and dancing classes.
- Casa Ejecutiva Boquete: This apartment hotel offers breathtaking views of the surrounding jungle and is slightly off the beaten path. All the rooms are very modern and the kitchen comes fully stocked with anything you might need to cook.
- The Boquete Hacienda: This locally owned hotel has a great garden and lovely views. The host is famous for her great service and the rooms are comfortable.
Santa Catalina’s remoteness and unspoiled beaches give this coastal fishing town its raw appeal. It is located on the Pacific Coast and has become famous for its sunsets, beaches, excellent surf and chilled vibe.
Santa Catalina is located in close proximity to one of the best places to visit in the country – the Coiba National Park. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with an impressive array of marine life and tropical islands.
Due to its remote location, it’s not a destination you can visit if you only have 1 week in Panama. But those that have more time and do make to this hidden gem will be glad they did.
Things to Do in Santa Catalina
- Surf World Class Waves: Avid surfers from far and wide come to experience the Pacific Coast waves at La Punta. It’s the reason why Santa Catalina was put on the map 10 years ago however it should only be attempted by advanced surfers. If you are a beginner go to Playa Estera one day for some chiller waves.
- Go Snorkeling or Diving in Coiba National Park: If you have any interest in the underwater world don’t miss a day trip to Coiba. Divers rave around the sheer number of marine life in the waters of Coiba National Park. It is definitely one of the best things to do in Panama around Santa Catalina. However, bear in mind that Cobia National Park is located about an hour from Santa Catalina so plan this Panama sightseeing activity accordingly.
- Catch a Sunset at Playa Santa Catalina: Each evening, tourists and locals descend on the fishing village’s main beach with a drink in hand to watch the spectacular sunset.
- Dine on Seafood: This is one of the best places to visit Panama, for freshly caught seafood. Many of the restaurants will have catch of the day specials.
Places to Stay in Santa Catalina
- Hotel Santa Catalina: This well-known hotel is located steps away from La Punta. It has charming rooms, a pool, and free kayaks, surfboards, bikes, and skateboards.
- Sol y Mar Hotel: This family-run hotel is constantly incorporating more sustainable practices into their everyday business operations. Their property has a plethora of fruit trees and include these in the dishes in their restaurant. Moreover, they have a pool.
- Eco-Lodge Deseo Bamboo: The structures at this eco-lodge are made out of bamboo. Each room has a balcony and ensuite and there is also a garden and bar to visit.
Is Panama a Good Place to Visit?
100% yes. Panama combines comfort, tradition, culture, history, and tropical paradise in a unique number of tourist attractions.
Whether you’re staying in Panama City, a remote island, or interested in relaxing, listening to the waves crash, the list of the best things to do in Panama grows larger every day.
We are confident you will have an incredible time if you visit Panama.