Bridge of the Americas over the Panama Canal at sunrise
The Bridge of the Americas at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

12 Ways to Make the Most of Beautiful and Exotic Panama City

The Hub of the Americas Is Brimming with Opportunity

A skyline full of skyscrapers, a highly photographed bridge and a historic city center — sounds like New York City or maybe New Orleans, right? But such is the picture of beautiful and exotic Panama City, Panama — the Hub of the Americas.

Panama’s capital city bridges the divide between North and South America, merging cultures and customs as it’s done throughout history. It also bridged the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans with the construction of the Panama Canal, allowing ships to cross much quicker between the two oceans and making trade easier and more affordable. But while the Panama Canal must be Panama City’s most famous attraction, you can expect a wide variety of things to do in Panama City, just as you would in any major cosmopolitan city.

From parks to museums to shopping malls, there are plenty of exciting attractions that are ripe for exploring whether you’re a solo traveler, couple or family. Indulge in the Carribean-influenced sights and sounds of the city and its diverse cultural offerings.

Historic districts and old city ruins provide a glimpse into Panama City as it once was and are full of intriguing sights. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the nature parks, hiking trails, boardwalk, beaches and the unique Biomuseo on the Amador Peninsula. Even foodies will have a field day as Panama City has become an urban hot spot for culinary creativity with plenty of restaurants, cafes, bars and eateries scattered throughout the city’s many neighborhoods.

No matter if you only have 20 hours or a few weeks to kills, for the best Panama City attractions, look no further.

Panama Canal

One of the seven wonders of the modern (engineering) world, the impressive 50-mile-long Panama Canal allows ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, through a series of three sets of locks, lifting ships 85 feet above sea level. It’s a sight to behold and one of the top things to do in Panama City.

To have the best Panama Canal experience, you have two options: either you can visit the Miraflores Visitor Center, which houses an interactive museum and viewing dock of the Miraflores Locks, or you can take a canal boat tour to experience the canal’s mechanics firsthand.

If you go for the boat tour, choose one that gives you a glimpse into the local culture like the Monkey Island and Indian Village Tour. This ecotour visits Lake Gatun and the Panama Canal before heading through the jungle of Monkey Island and the authentic village of an Indian tribe that still lives in the rainforests of Gamboa.

Three white-faced capuchin on a tree branchWhite-faced capuchin are just some of the animals you'll see in the Metropolitan Natural Park.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Parque Natural Metropolitano

As the only protected wildlife refuge within city limits, the Metropolitan Natural Park tops the list of things to do in Panama City. Three main trails snake their way through the rainforest, passing lush vegetation and native wildlife, which you might see if you’re lucky. Forty-five species of mammals and 254 species of birds, reptiles and amphibians call the park home — including the Panamanian white-faced capuchin, three-toed sloth and tapeti (a cottontail rabbit species).

Some of the principal features of the park are the miradors, or lookouts, which provide some of the best views of Panama City. The two best lookout points are Los Caobos — with views of El Dorado Mall and two other nearby national parks: Soberania and Camino de Cruces — and Cerro Cedro, the highest point in the park with views of Taboga Island, the canal and the Bridge of the Americas.

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View of Spanish-looking buildings by the waterThe Casco Viejo neighborhood will give you a sense of colonial Panama.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Casco Viejo (Antiguo)

For a taste of colonial Panama, make sure to visit the Casco Viejo (or Antiguo, as it’s sometimes called) neighborhood — Panama City’s old town district and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking amid the mix of restored Spanish-style buildings, boutique hotels and sidewalk cafes, you’ll instantly feel like you’ve been transported to another time and place. It’s a sharp contrast to the high-rises and skyscrapers that make up most of Panama City’s skyline.

Although you can stick to admiring the historic old buildings and churches like the 200-year-old Metropolitan Cathedral, you’ll also find a vibrant bar and club scene in Casco Viejo. Pub crawls and disco parties happen nightly or you can day drink and sip on artisanal rum at Pedro Mandinga, a rum distillery with weekly mixology classes, live music and domino tournaments.

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