WHAT TO DO IN PANAMA CITY?

by MorganeChrlr
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WHAT TO DO IN PANAMA CITY?

What to do in Panama City? Apart from excursions in the surrounding area, the city’s quite nice to discover. Completely different from other Central American cities. And you’ll understand why.

WHAT TO DO IN PANAMA CITY?

DOWNTOWN

What to do in Panama City? If there’s one neighborhood to visit in Panama City, it’s Casco Viejo. A very pretty old colonial district. To discover this beautiful district, you can go to the Sainte-Marie Cathedral-Basilica  (Catedral Basílica Santa Maria la Antigua de Panamá) which has a fairly original exterior architecture, a central facade in old-style gray stone and its two white columns in a different style. But the coolest part of this Cathedral is the basement. There’s a huge miniature village that tells the story of Jesus Christ. It’s impressive! From the square, you have small signs indicating a whole route to take in the neighborhood. It’s very well done and allows you to see the important buildings of the city, including the fortifications, churches, certain squares. There are a few shops and restaurants in this center, as well as ruins and a few museums. We took the opportunity to make two museums:

  • Panama History Museum (Museo de Historia de Panamá): The museum’s small and talks about a lot of different topics. You’ll learn more about the origin of the flag, the presidents, the independence of Panama, the different tribes, etc… We visited it in less than an hour. Many of the signs are in Spanish but sometimes there are English translations.
  • Mola Museum (Museo de la Mola): a museum dedicated to the traditional fabrics of the Guna tribe. Each piece explains the meaning of different shapes and symbols. We toured the museum in less than an hour.

By climbing the ancient fortifications of the city center, you can see the impressive skyline of Panama City. I didn’t expect to see so many buildings in this capital. Casco Viejo is a neighborhood that I really liked, and which can be visited in half a day.

Outside of Casco Viejo, what to do in Panama City? There’s the fish market (Mercado de Mariscos) which is apparently worth doing. We went there the day after Christmas so I must admit that the market was quite empty. Next to the city center, there’s also Avenida Central España where there are a lot more people, shops and inexpensive restaurants. I found the contrast between this street and the old neighborhood quite significant. There’s also a nice walk to do which leaves from the city center and runs along the waterfront to the Cresta district. It’s a large park where there is a laid out walk with sometimes locals doing their sport there. Then, if you want to have a beautiful high view of the city center and the skyscrapers, then go to the Ancon hill. About forty minutes of walking to reach the top and have an incredible view of the city. You can even see the Panama Canal in the distance.

Panama History Museum Price: Free
Price of the Mola Museum: free

PANAMA CANAL

Built by the Americans, it officially belongs to Panama since December 1999, after long negotiations between the governments. It has a very important share in the country’s income. Many boats pass through this canal every day. And I have good news for you! It’s possible to go see these boats passing the canal. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know the schedules in advance. We had a guide the day before to visit the Emberá village, so he was able to give us the times the day before. We arrived at 1:30 p.m. and it was perfect because the first boats crossed around 2 p.m., and there weren’t too many people yet. There’s an observation floor, but if there are too many people, I advise you to stay on the ground floor, much fewer people and you’ll see just as well in my opinion. It takes around 40 minutes for a cargo ship to pass through the lock. It’s honestly impressive! The size of these boats that we see so close! I had never seen that before. The Visitor Center was closed when we were there but there were a few explanatory signs on the canal. Honestly, I think it’s a visit not to be missed. To get there, we took an Uber, it was the quickest and easiest. If you’re several people, it might be worth it.

Entrance fee to the Panama Canal: US$10*

I was quite impressed by Panama City. Finding these large buildings like in North America was very strange for me but also like a feeling of “déjà vu”. This is so different from the rest of Central America, and it allows you to see something else. The walks and museums are quite nice to do.

WHERE TO STAY IN PANAMA CITY?

We hadn’t slept in the center of Panama City. But you can look at your different possible options by clicking here.

THE PRACTICAL MAP OF PANAMA CITY

HOW MANY DAYS DOES TO VISIT PANAMA CITY?

2 days are enough for what to do in Panama City. However, some excursions depart from Panama City so it may be worth staying an extra day or two depending on what you’re doing. Here’s an idea for an itinerary:

  • 2 DAYS :
    • Casco Viejo and its museums
    • Avenida Central España
    • La Cresta district
    • Ancon hill
  • 3 DAYS :
    • What’s described above
    • Excursion to an Emberá village
  • 4 DAYS :
    • What’s described above
    • Excursion to the San Blas Islands

WHEN TO GO TO PANAMA CITY?

Temperatures are approximately the same throughout the year. On the other hand, it’s recommended to avoid the rainy season in order to make the most of it, between January and May.

Table Example
JANUARY It’s the start of the dry season.
FEBRUARY Many sunny days.
MARCH Precipitation becomes rare.
APRIL Conditions are similar to the previous month.
MAY It’s the transition to the rainy season.
JUNE The start of the rainy season.
JULY Rainy days are gradually increasing.
AUGUST Conditions are similar to July.
SEPTEMBER Rainfall can be heavy.
OCTOBER Just like the month of September.
NOVEMBER Rainy days are decreasing more and more.
DECEMBER It’s the end of the rainy season.

HOW TO GET TO PANAMA CITY?

BY PLANE
If you’re coming from a distant destination or another country, it’s possible to arrive by plane at Tocumen International Airport. From the airport, there are taxis or buses that can take you to the city center. Click here to see the different flights.

BY BUS
It’s entirely possible to arrive by bus from other cities in Panama, or even from Costa Rica. Click here to see the different options available to you.

 

WHAT BUDGET TO EXPECT TO VISIT PANAMA CITY?

The budget below corresponds to a backpacking trip without the excursions mentioned in this blog:

  • Accommodation: Allow around 10 and 20 US$* to sleep in Panama City.
  • Food: It’s more economical to cook. Allow around US$10* per day.
  • Transport: The city’s very big! Allow a little budget for taxis or transport. I would say around 10 US*.
  • Activities: To do the activities mentioned in the article, budget around US$10*.

If you stay 2 days in Panama, plan a budget of around 80 US*. More if you plan to do the excursions from Panama City.

MY TRAVEL TIPS TO VISIT PANAMA CITY

  • Learn about neighborhoods to avoid using Facebook groups or travel blogs.
  • Walk through the historic center which is a little out of time.
  • Eat at small local restaurants to taste culinary specialties.

*The prices are as December 2022.

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