A Comprehensive Guide to Visiting Panama.
Looking for a trip that checks the following boxes: city life, history, tropical islands, mountain escapes, and affordable?! Well you don’t have to look any further than Panama! Keep reading for our guide to Panama.
We just came back from our 5-night trip to Panama and it was one of our favorite trips to date! In typical Dan and Natty fashion we crammed in as many things as we could into our short trip.
Here’s a quick overview of what we loved:
- Cheap Flights and Hotels
- Cheap Uber Rides
- Cheap and Good Beer
Here’s some of the things we didn’t like as much:
- Lots of traffic
- Language barrier outside of city
If the benefits outweigh the negatives, keep on reading below for our guide to Panama and get all our tips and recommendations.
Where to Stay
In downtown Panama City, you can easily find 4 and 5 star hotels for around $100 per night. It will be harder to pick a spot because of the abundance of hotel choices. Find one with a great rooftop pool. You can never go wrong with rooftop views.
In the old part of town, Casco Viejo, we recommend finding an Airbnb (use this link to get $55 off your first stay.) There are hotels in the area but we’ve read some bad reviews relating to the noise. Most of the hotels in this neighborhood have rooftop bars that play music all night long. Our recommendation is to look for Airbnbs that are hosted by Mauricio from Roombook. We stayed at two of their properties in Casco Viejo and loved it. Clean and modern, you can’t go wrong!
Check our our post on Casco Viejo for an in depth guide.
What to Do
Panama Canal (duh!)
Ok, so you’re not an engineering nerd, or you don’t even know how it works, but you have to check it out. It’s one of the greatest engineering marvels in the world. Head over to Miroflores Locks in Panama City. Entry is $20 for adults. Head up to the top floor and enjoy the views. You’ll see huge cargo and cruise ships come by and go in between the locks. There is also an announcer over the speaker walking you through the process and giving you cool facts about the canal. Come here and take a time-lapse!
- No drones are allowed in the canal zone.
- Last entry is around 5pm. So come right before that time for the least amount of people.
This is a really cool historic neighborhood that has undergone (and still is undergoing) major renovations. The architecture has a cool French vibe (think New Orleans). There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, bars, rooftop bars, shopping, street vendors, etc. The streets here are tight so walking is the way to get around here. There is a lot of traffic in this area. Check out this link for a more in depth blog of our favorite spots in Casco Viejo (there’s so many!)
Walk on Cinta Costera
This is a beautiful walkway with manicured landscaping and beautiful views. Go for a walk on Cinta Costera to take in the city skyline and to see the Panama sign along the way. You can use this path to walk from downtown Panama City to Casco Viejo, but we wouldn’t recommend it in the middle of the day. We did that in the extreme heat and regretted doing so. Instead, wait till the late afternoon when it cools off.
Day tour to San Blas Islands
There are several tour companies that provide day tours to San Blas. We used viator.com to select our tour. These tours offer round trip transportation from your hotel (super convenient). Be prepared to wake up early because pick up is between 5:30 and 6am. The ride to the boat docks takes about 3 hours. First hour of the ride is fine but once you go into the mountains, things get bumpy. Nothing too crazy though, and definitely not as bad as some of the tour reviews make it out to be. Our tour stopped at four locations and included lunch!
- Drones are again not allowed here. Our tour ticket said that you can face a $500 fine and have your drone confiscated. So we didn’t risk bringing it.
- In general don’t photograph the locals. Ask for their permission first if you’d like their photo.
- Bring your own towels, sunscreen, snorkeling gear, etc.
El Valle de Anton (Anton Valley)
You can find several day trips to Anton Valley. Many of the trips include roundtrip transportation to and from your hotel. Once you arrive in town, you will probably walk around and then go for one of the many hikes in the area. We did not do this. Instead we hopped on a bus and spent a night in Anton Valley, which was still too short. If you want to read more about where to go, stay, eat, and hike in Anton Valley, check out our blog post about it here.
Where to Eat and Drink
Rooftops, rooftops, and more rooftops! Panama City reminded us quite a bit of Bangkok with all the rooftop bars and restaurants. However, all the places we went to were in the Casco Viejo neighborhood. So to find out more where we recommend to eat and drink, check out our Casco Viejo blog here.
Check out our other post here for more helpful travel guides and tips.