Panama City is one of the few capitals in the world that offers the luxury and comfort of a cosmopolitan city, a true cultural melting pot dating back to the very first European settlement on the Pacific Coast of the continent and unparalleled biodiversity inhabiting the various national parks that surround it. Did we mention we also have one of the world’s modern engineering marvels?
Panama Canal and Gatun Lake
Visiting the Canal locks, either on the Pacific or the Caribbean side is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In 2016, the Panama Canal Expansion Project was completed and new locks were added to create a third lane wide enough for gigantic neopanamax vessels to transit. With this expansion, a second visitor center was inaugurated in Agua Clara, at the Caribbean side.
Observing the incredibly smooth transit of large ships through the locks, one can only feel admiration for the men who gave their lives to what is, to this date, one of the most amazing feats in the history of mankind.
For visitors, however, the Canal also displays a true spectacle of nature: it is surrounded by an impossibly dense rainforest inhabited by monkeys, sloths, ant-eaters, crocodiles, caimans and countless other fascinating species.
One of the best ways to experience this natural treasure is to walk along one of the Soberania National Park trails from the town of Gamboa, or take a boat tour on Gatun Lake.
Tours and activities:
- Visit Panama Canal’s Miraflores Locks and Visitor Center on the Pacific side
- Visit Agua Clara Locks on Caribbean side of the Canal
- Half or full day Canal boat transit
- Half or full day jungle tour/birdwatching tour in Soberania National Park
- Canopy tour and exhibitions at Gamboa Rainforest Resort
- Kayak tour from Gamboa Town
- Half day or full day fishing tour in Gatun Lake
- Visit of Summit botanical and zoological gardens
The ruins of the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas, founded in 1519, can be seen at the extreme east of the city if you’re on your way to the international airport. This part of the UNESCO world heritage site is called Panama La Vieja.
Across Panama City, Casco Antiguo is the colonial quarter that was built after Panama La Vieja was burnt in 1671. It is extremely picturesque with its narrow streets, old houses, churches and convents. This area of the city is home to the Interoceanic Canal Museum, a must-see for visitors.
Dominating Casco Antiguo, Ancon Hill is covered with secondary vegetation where toucans, agoutis, and poison-dart frogs are a common sight. There is a splendid view of both the old and the modern city from the top of this hill.
One could say that in Panama City you have one foot in Habana and the other in Miami! And indeed, the impressive skyline of modern Panama City makes it look like a little Miami. Its banking district is a renowned financial center, and large shopping malls that work with the Colon Free Trade Zone make it a popular shopping destination for many Latin Americans.
Surprisingly, early in the morning and late afternoon hundreds of small parrots can be seen (and heard!) on some of the largest avenues. Towards the west of the city lies the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, where ships go under the famous Bridge of the Americas. Right in front and not far from Casco Antiguo, a long jetty, the Amador Causeway, joins mainland to three islands: Perico, Naos and Flamenco. From the Causeway there is a great view of the Bay of Panama. It is also a popular place for jogging or cycling and eating out with many restaurants and bars.
Tours and activities:
- Visit Panama La Vieja ruins and museum
- Visit Casco Antiguo and Canal Museum
- Visit the Biomuseo
- Visit the Smithsonian’s Punta Culebra Nature Center
- Hike to the top of Ancon Hill for views of Panama City
- Hike in Parque Natural Metropolitano’s secondary rainforest
- Day tour to Taboga Island
Chagres National Park
Chagres National Park is a vast area of rainforest located about an hour and a half from downtown Panama City. It connects with both the Sierra Llorona forest and Portobelo National Park, and is an essential part of Panama’s biological corridor. It’s inhabited by several Emberá groups from Darien who immigrated to that region during the sixties. This location allows travelers to visit with one of the country’s main indigenous cultures not far away from their hotel in Panama City in one of Central America’s most pristine rainforests.
Tours and activities:
- Visit of Embera village
- Rainforest hikes