Exploring the Diverse Corners of Panama City, Panama
Panama City is a crossroads for cultures from all around the world, a stopover for many flights to South America, and a true tax haven. It is now a bustling metropolis with a largely international population. It has thus flourished into quite a foodie heaven, sporting excellent fine dining establishments and mixology bars. While the Casco Viejo – old town – persists with old school colonial charm, the city is also seeing a rise in cutting-edge design and architecture.
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Where to stay
American Trade Hotel
Panama City's stylish and well-located mainstay, with handsome accommodations and a hip coffee shop.
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Things to do
Day 1: Land in Panama City and Explore Casco Viejo
Upon landing in Panama City, check in at the American Trade Hotel, perfectly situated on Plaza Herrera in Casco Viejo (old town). This is where all of Panama City’s social life happens featuring great restaurants, bars, rooftops and attractions all within walking distance.
Take a walk around town and acquaint yourself with the neighborhood before heading out for dinner and drink at La Pulperia. This lovely spot is listed as a tapas bar, but offers quite a bit of everything including sumptuous burgers and wings. Hang out here for its hip and laid back vibe and crowd. Just getting started? Head on over to Selina Hostel for one of their legendary parties. It’s always a good time. Casa Casco rooftop is another great option for a more relaxed/older scene. It can be followed by late night dancing at Patio Casco as Panama City is a surprising one and has much to offer re: nightlife. You won’t be wanting your night to end!
Fun fact: The world-famous Latin & South American Selina hostels were started in Panama!
Day 2: Panama Canal and Biking on the Cinta Costera
While the American Trade Hotel does a great breakfast/brunch, which can be included in your room rate, Mahalo is an alternative option for eating out. This tiki joint offers beautiful garden seatings and the typical avocado toast, eggs and more breakfast options. Following breakfast, grab a coffee from Cafe Unido before taking a 20 minute car ride to the Miraflores Visitor Center and Panama Canal museum. Here you can see one of the most important canals of the 20th century in action.
Pro tip: Check with the hotel to see if you need an advance ticket for the Panama Canal, which they can arrange.
Make your way to the Biomuseo to geek out on how Panama was formed 70 million years ago and the massive changes that resulted.
For the rest of the afternoon, rent a bike (five minutes from the Biomuseo) and cruise down the Amador Causeway bike path. Refuel with a late lunch and a cold Balboa beer at La Hacienda Colombiana on Perico Island. I highly recommend the sea bass. Grab a fresh coconut from one of the vendors on the bike ride back.
Dinner is obligatory at Fonda Lo Que Hay, a traditional Panamanian restaurant with a cult following. Think of it as a mutt between the South and Latin American cuisines — rice and beans included, as always!
Day 3: Day Trip to the Islands of Panama — San Blas
You’ve seen the old city, its environs, and the Canal and are now ready to explore the many other beautiful destinations on offer in Panama. Whether it’s Santa Catalina and the beautiful Coiba Island, the popular Bocas del Toro province, kiteboarding in Punta Chame, or spearfishing in the Gulf of Chiriqui, you’ll have no shortage of epic adventure options to choose from.
If you choose to stay in the city, a day trip to San Blas islands is in the books for it’s paradisiacal clear waters and heavenly vistas. Spend a day here playing volleyball, enjoying beer and swimming in the ocean.
Need to Know
COPA airlines is offering a free layover in Panama City, giving one a perfect chance to take a few days to enjoy the city – and employ this itinerary! Uber in the city is really easy, affordable, and the safest way to get around. Weirdly enough, people don’t walk much in Panama City largely because of the year round heat. The US dollar is also a largely accepted currency in Panama, however change is given in Bilbao.
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