Panama City is a pleasant surprise! On the one hand, it is a city of millions, made big by the construction of the famous Panama Canal. Skyscrapers are still sprouting like mushrooms, so the skyline is quite impressive. On the other hand, the city has a very beautiful and colorful historic center. This is our favorite things to do in Panama City!
- In this article
- Casco Viejo
- Active things to do in Panama City
- Transportation in Panama City
- Accommodation in Panama City
Casco Viejo or Casco Antiguo is the historic district of Panama City. Dating back to 1673, this district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a delightful neighborhood to linger in the cozy plazas among the well-preserved colonial houses. The hip bars and restaurants are numerous and the atmosphere is convivial. Be sure to grab something to eat or drink at Marzola Parrilla Argentina and enjoy the fun decor! Selina Casco Viejo has a rooftop bar with great views of the Panama City skyline. They serve tasty tacos at reasonable prices.
The easiest way to get to Casco Viejo is by taxi or Uber. The closest subway station is Estación 5 de Mayo. If you take the bus, get off at the Barrio Chino stop.
Active things to do in Panama City
Ancon Hill on foot
In addition to the two very different neighborhoods, Panama City also has a lot of green space. The city’s many parks are a great place for all kinds of sports. At the top of our list of most active things to do is climbing Ancon Hill, a peak in the middle of the city that overlooks downtown, the ocean AND the canal. It doesn’t take much climbing talent to get to the top, as the path is only two kilometers long and the top is just under two hundred meters above sea level. We had read that there were toucans and sloths to be found here, but we were satisfied with the many agutis that we saw.
No time or interest to see the Panama Canal up close? From Ancon Hill you have a good view of the southern part of the canal and the Miraflores locks. In the morning, between 9am and 11am, and in the afternoon, from 2pm, you have the best chance of spotting some of the big container ships!
Cycling to Metropolitan Natural Park
Another green lung near downtown is the Metropolitan Natural Park. The formula is the same: a short loop of about three kilometers leads to a nice viewpoint over the city. Again, the promised sloths remained too well hidden for us, but we still found this trip to be a good introduction to the amazing fauna and flora we would later see in the Panamanian jungle. The entrance fee is $4 and the park is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. We rented a bike from Burke Bikes for $15 for the day to ride to the park, but you can also just let an Uber drop you off at the parking lot.
Go-karting on Amador Causeway
You can also get away from the hustle and bustle of the city at the Amador Causeway. This narrow connection between the mainland and four offshore islands, with its waving palm trees, is the ideal place to watch the sun set over the entrance to the Panama Canal. We rented a go-cart from Bicicletas Moses for ten dollars and headed out to the islands and back.
Ride the Cinta Costera on an electric scooter
Lastly, don’t miss the Cinta Costera. This is a seafront promenade that connects the old town with the business district. There are all kinds of stands along this promenade selling ice cream and street food. For practically no money, we ate very tasty, catered hot dogs and hamburgers. We had a bit of a scare when we discovered that there were raccoons in the area and that they were on the lookout for our leftovers. Even though these critters are supposed to be a pest, we still thought it was fun to watch them! The boardwalk is used by locals for jogging, skating, and electric scooter cruising. Download the Bird app and you’re on your way!
Getting in and around Panama City
Cab or Uber
Although we did a lot of walking and rented bikes, scooters and go-carts, we found it very convenient that you can use Uber in this capital city. It is very easy to find a driver who knows exactly where you need to go, and you save the unpleasant discussion about the price. Which, by the way, is often less than the price of an official taxi. Expect to pay about $3 to $4 for a ride of a few miles.
Both the subway and the buses in Panama City require a Metro Card. This costs $2 (you can share it with several people), after which you can charge as much money as you think you need. Metro Cards can be purchased at bus and subway stations or supermarkets. The subway network in Panama City is quite limited. The red line 1 stops at several locations in the city center. A single trip costs $0.35. The bus network is much more extensive! An overview of all lines can be found on the MiBus website. A ride downtown will cost you $0.25.
Accommodation in Panama City
Panama City is big, so there is no shortage of hotels and hostels. The nicest neighborhood to stay in is Casco Viejo, but don’t wait too long to book because the selection is a bit limited! We stayed at the budget Canova Hotel in a neighborhood right next to Casco Viejo.
Nicely decorated but simple rooms. Great value for money. Located in a slightly run-down neighborhood, rooms can be noisy.
Great location in the old town. Nicely decorated rooms with comfortable beds. Rooftop bar with a view of Panama City.