At first glance, particularly from one of the nearby islands, Panama City projects an uncanny resemblance to Miami. The skyline is dominated by dozens of neck straining skyscrapers, the city is surrounded by water, and signs are written in both English and Spanish. As you approach the city however, and look more closely, you begin to see that it’s just one great big façade and that there’s so much more to see and appreciate. Historic ruins, a vibrant nightlife, excellent food and beautiful natural sceneries are just some of its secrets. When you get there, visit these seven must-see Panama City attractions.
Panama City Attractions
The Panama Canal
A trip to Panama City is arguably incomplete without paying a visit to the Panama Canal. This engineering marvel connects the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean through the Isthmus of Panama. The closest viewing platform is at the Miraflores Visitor Center where you can take a tour in an interactive museum displaying the history of the canal, culminating with an elevated outdoor terrace where you can witness actual ships make their way through this important maritime passage. Time permitting, consider taking a full or partial transit tour where you can experience a cruise of a lifetime. Visit Panama Canal Trips for more information about pricing and schedules. This definitely is a must-see in all the Panama City attractions.
Biomuseo (Biodiversity Museum)
Those interested in the natural beauty and resources of Panama shouldn’t miss this unique museum. It starts with the building, a Frank Gehry creation, and continues on to the permanent exhibits within the museum. The Biomuseo highlights the creation of Panama, its role in today’s ecosystem, and the natural history of the country. Its location on the Amador Causeway also gives visitors great views of the Panama skyline and the Panama Canal.
The ruins and the archeological site of Panama Viejo is where Panama City began. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the oldest European settlement on the American side of the Pacific. The site is just east of the current city of Panama and offers visitors a glimpse of what life was like for the first European settlers. Pirates, earthquakes, and a great fire destroyed much of this old town but chunks of the main cathedral and several government structures remain well intact. The top story of the bell tower offers visitors amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and of the ships queued up to pass through the Panama Canal.
After the sacking of Panama Viejo, the capital was moved further west in what is now known as Casco Viejo or Casco Antiguo. This historic “new” site was built on a peninsula and features some of the best-preserved Spanish colonial style structures in the Americas. Casco Viejo is where you will find the government office and residence of Panama’s president as well as the Panama Canal Museum. Casco Viejo also has some of Panama City’s best hotels and restaurants like Tantalo Hotel and Manolo Caracol.
Ancon Hill is a 200-meter hill just west of the current downtown Panama City. It sits in the township of Ancon and used to be part of the Panama Canal Zone under US jurisdiction. The foothills are filled with residential homes, mainly owned by expats, but the rest of the area remains undeveloped. There’s a paved road that leads to the top and some trails suitable for day hikes. It can provide visitors a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The pinnacle offers a 270-degree view of Panama City. It is also a good place to see Panamanian wildlife in their natural habitat.
This long stretch of road that connects the main island of Panama to the smaller islands in the Pacific is definitely one of the most picturesque Panama City attractions and a favorite local playground. You will often see people jogging, cycling, and enjoying a relaxing stroll along the pedestrian pathways. On one end of the causeway lies the Biomuseo and the other end brings you to the islands of Flamenco, Naos, Perico, and Culebra where you can rent boats and yachts to go deep-sea fishing.
Panamanians love a good party and enjoy a very active nightlife so head over to Calle Uruguay to experience the liveliest of all the Panama City attractions. Located in the heart of the business district, it contains a number of bars, clubs, restaurants, and casinos to keep you occupied until the wee hours of the morning. Check out La Rana Dorada Pub on Via Argentina. It offers some of the best local crafts in the city or head over to the Hard Rock Hotel’s Rooftop Lounge where you can enjoy a full bar, lively music, and stunning 360-degree views of Panama City and the Pacific Ocean.
Do you have other Panama City attractions you’d like to see added to this list? Share them with us and we’ll be happy to include them on future travel guides.