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Framed by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, Panama is the bridge that connects Central America to South America. It is known for that famous canal, coffee beans, beautiful weather, and splendid wildlife. Life is easy in Panama, and visiting requires an attractive minimalism of effort. The national currency, the balboa, is tied to the US dollar, the transportation infrastructure is strong, the food is fresh and delicious, and there are any number of fascinating and fun attractions waiting for you to go exploring! Proximity to other popular destinations like Costa Rica makes it possible to hop about on a multi-stop tour of the enthralling Central American region. It’s said that tourists visit Panama for the canal, and stay for everything else!

Panama is known as a mecca for the adventurous, with watersports of all kinds headlining the list of things to do. Thrillseekers will take their fill of surfing, rafting, hiking, and mountain climbing. The forests are deep, green, and crawling with an exotic array of birds, mammals, and reptiles! On the other hand, Panama’s city centers are vibrant metropolises thriving with life. If you like skyscrapers, shopping, and culture more than getting your hands dirty, you’ll find much to entertain you as well.

Panama Top Attractions

Panama City

Sophisticated, bright Panama City has been repeatedly compared to another big city with feisty flair—Miami! While in town, you must check out Casca Vieja, the historic old town. Lovely colonial architecture cozies up to a diverse assortment of hotels, shops, and eateries. History buffs can also check out Panama Viejo, the original settlement sacked by pirates in the 17th century. Explore the ruins of the old(er) city and walk, bike, or jog the Amador Causeway, which connects three islands to the Panamanian mainland. The ocean air kisses your face and the view of the green- and blue glass skyscrapers of downtown Panama City is extraordinary. Take a rapida (boat, named for its quickness) to Taboga Island, the city’s best beach. When the moon rises, enjoy the perfect night out—some delicious Caribbean food with a side of dancing the night away to sultry tropical beats!

Panama Canal

The enormous locks of the Panama Canal are a sight almost worth your entire trip. The immense engineering feat they constitute, and the tragic loss of life that went into their construction both designate them a man-made wonder. In addition, the canal’s prominence as one of the number one shipping channels in the world is indisputable. The canal—and, in particular, the Miraflores lock—is considered the dominant attraction in Panama. Watch ships pass by from the observation deck or peruse the onsite museum dedicated to the storied history of the canal!

Soberania National Park

Located a short drive outside Panama City, Soberania National Park is a treasure trove of gorgeous tropical rain forest life. Birdwatchers go crazy for the park’s feathered denizens: toucans, cuckoos, hawks, and eagles are among the hundreds of species sighted. Monkeys, sloths, and anteaters are their mammalian neighbors! The park has three distinct hiking trails. Among them is the Camino de Cruces, over which Spanish pirates once hauled their treasure from the Pacific side of the country to the Caribbean Sea. The Pipeline Trail offers the best bird-watching opportunities. There is also a dedicated mountain biking trail. Between the animal life and abundant history, Soberania makes for a scenic and engrossing day trip.

Coronado

Expats and tourists flock to cozy Coronado, a region dotted with resorts, beaches, and small fishing villages. A drier climate than other parts of Panama makes this one of the most meteorologically-desirable areas of the country in which to stay, and the area’s Pacific Ocean shores are both beautiful to look at and cooled by salty ocean breezes. Watersports are fantastic here: jetskiing, wake boarding, and surfing are just some of the offerings. Overland sports aren’t much to complain about, either. one of the world’s finest golf courses is located in Coronado, motocross racing is a big thing, and the hilly terrain is perfect for bumpy, enthralling rides in a rented 4x4. The less-adventurous will love this place as well, however—it’s a singular pleasure to just sip a tropical drink and watch the equatorial sunset dipping low over the ocean in a halo of fiery colors.

Boquete

Boquete is known as the “Valley of the Flowers,” wrapped about by soaring mountains. From atop Volcan Baru, you can actually see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at once! The valley is fertile, and alive with resplendent fields of flowers, citrus, and coffee. Coffee tours are a popular attraction here! The world-famous “Geisha” coffee, which commands triple-digit prices per ounce, grows on the mountainside. Hike the Quetzal Trail, one of the only places on Earth to (perhaps) spy the rare and beautiful Resplendent Quetzal. Go white-water rafting, or, if you prefer slightly more relaxing aquatic excursions, take a dip in the hot springs of the Caldera. Fresh, delicious food, untouched countryside, and plenty of adventure all await!

Bocas del Toro

Surf, fish, and dive in Bocas del Toro, the heart of Panama’s Caribbean West. Located on Isla Colon, you’ll need to catch a boat out to this laid-back, lovely destination. The surfing here is nothing short of epic! Kayaking and paddleboarding the crystalline waters are other top activities while in the area. Learn Spanish at beachside schools, take in some sunrise yoga, or learn to dance salsa! Marine turtles test on the beach, and hatchlings must make their way over the sand to the water. It’s a humbling, touching experience to observe. Visitors also love trekking the dense forests of the island’s interior, home to dozens of exotic and fascinating wildlife species as well as the Ngobe indigenous population.

Quick Facts

Capital: Panama City
Primary Airports: Tocumen International Airport (PTY)
Government: Republic
Currency: Panamanian Balboa (PAB), US Dollar (USD)
Population: 3,802,000 (2012 est.)
Language: Spanish, English
Electricity: 120V/60Hz (US plug)
Time Zone: UTC -5
Panama

Panama Travel Reviews


Business and Pleasure in Panama City, Panama

Jim Fellows

My work in the call center industry does have some major perks- travel to other countries being one of my favorites. One of these trips found me enjoying the scenery and people of Panama. Staying at the luxurious Donald Trump Hotel was a major highlight. I definitely suggest this if possible- the rates are not as high as you would think given the name attached to the hotel. While most of the daytime was spent inside the centers that does not mean there was no time for play. The evenings were spent enjoying the freshest seafood and indulging in a variety of sweet mixed drinks. The nights were spent at the various night clubs Panama has to offer. Of course, you cannot go to Panama City without making a trip to the historical Panama canal. The sight of these monster ships making it thorough the many locks is truly a sight to behold. The nights were spent at the various nightclubs Panama has to offer- Club La Vela stood out as the creme de la creme for me. Ending the trip on Sunday, I elected to travel to Playa Bonita (Beautiful Beach) for Saturday. Taking a Taxi cost me about $70 and afterwords I found out I could have chosen the bus for just a couple of dollars. Next time I will go for that option. Summary of this trip- beautiful beaches, great people, excellent food, and did not feel any prejudice against "Gringos" my friends had warned me about.

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Destinations Visited: Panama

Panama Pass-Through

Cindy Hudson

In 1991, having sold my small business, I agreed to go with a friend on his sailboat through the Panama Canal, along with his sailing friend. This was NOT a glamour cruise. Knowing that I'm extremely motion sick, along with absolutely no sailing experience or Spanish language skills seemed to escape me as I embarked. We sailed out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Key West, and spent the first day moored at the Dry Tortuga Civil War Fort (highly recommended).

We arrived at the port of Colon, where my friend and skipper (a retired commercial airline pilot) had arranged for a "agent" -- a British man whose primary duty was cutting through red tape. The next day we went through the city of Panama, purchasing provisions. It was a sea of poverty with bullet holes in the crumbling buildings, evidence of the recent political conflicts. Gaggles of little children followed us, begging.

Fortunately, I was accompanied by two men, as a woman would clearly not be safe alone at night. The hissing I was continually hearing was the Panamanian equivalent of the American "wolf whistle." The next morning we entered the Panama Canal. Our 50' sailboat was undermanned, but the authorities decided we could pass through. We made it by using the oars to keep us away from the walls of the canal as the strong currents tossed us about. I must say, my trip to and through Panama was the most grueling, wonderful experience of my life.

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Destinations Visited: Panama

A Trip to Panama

K. Saltos

I decided to visit Panama because I heard about the intriguing tourist attractions such as the Panama Canal. My friend is Panamanian and she invited me to stay at her mansion in Cerro Ancon for a few days for just $50 a night.

I flew into Panama City and took a taxi to her home. The area is a jungle at the highest point in the city and the view is picturesque. My suite was cozy and comfortable and a live-in maid changed my bedding and towels daily. She also cleaned and prepared breakfast daily.

On my first day I went to a travel agent who helped me book 2 trips. The first was a

group tour with eleven other people and a knowledgeable guide. The highlights were

a visit to the Miraflores Locks and museum at the Panama Canal and a delicious lunch at the restaurant on the grounds. It was an educational experience. Then the guide took us on a nature walk at Punta Culebra. The last part of the tour included a visit to Casco Viejo which is a World Heritage-listed landmark.

On my second day I went scuba diving at Portobelo Bay. It is a scenic fishing village on the northern coast of the country. I saw the historical ruins and the place where the treasures from South America were transferred to Spanish galleons and transported back to Spain. The pristine waters surround Sir Francis Drake Island. My package included a dive instructor, diving equipment a 2-tank dive and transportation.

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Destinations Visited: Panama

Six Fun Days in Panama City

Anonymous

My husband and I spent six days in Panama City. We stuck mostly to the city, traveling around in taxis. This was extremely inexpensive. One of the highlights of the trip was the Panama Canal. It’s best to go when the ships are passing through the canal, which usually happens about twice a day. You might spend a little bit of time waiting, but it is worth it to see. The Miraflores Locks Visitor Center has a lot of displays and interesting information about the canal. It’s great to look around as your waiting to see the ships go through the canal. It can be a little bit crowded, but it’s worth walking through. Something else we enjoyed was Avenida Balboa. This is a divided boulevard that goes along the Bay of Panama. It’s a great place to walk around and see hotels, restaurants, and beautiful views of the bay. One of the days we walked along Avenida Balboa we decided not to take a taxi and used the Metro system. It’s easy to access when you get off at San Tomas station. You only have to work about 200 meters and you are there. One evening we walked around Casco Viejo, which is an older part of town that has been beautifully preserved. We saw an opera at the Teatro Nacional. The price of the ticket was worth it simply to enter in the theater and look at the beautiful architecture and design of the building.

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Destinations Visited: Panama

Panama City: Modern and affordable, but could be friendlier!

Anonymous

In early 2015, I traveled to Panama as part of a business trip that started in Costa Rica and ended in Bogota. I traveled by bus from San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, to Panama City. The ride was provided by TicaBus on a coach that was reasonably comfortable and very reasonable. The Costa Rica portion of the trip was very scenic until crossing the border into Paso Canoas. The immigration and customs process to enter Panama was disorganized and not very friendly; I was subject to considerable questioning and screening with regard to the purpose of my visit, which was limited to just one night in Panama City so that I could fly from Tocumen International Airport. I was asked to show them $500; I was carrying a little more than $400 and was allowed entry after the officials confirmed my departure ticket to Bogota and hotel reservation.

I found Panama City to be very modern and comfortable in comparison to San Jose. This is a metropolis that can easily compete against Miami in terms of aesthetics, and everything is very cheap! If you enjoy casinos, nightlife, dining, entertainment, and shopping, Panama City is definitely for you. I stayed at a three-star hotel close to the National Institute that was reasonably clean and quiet. The dinner recommendation from the hotel staff of a neighborhood Italian restaurant was the highlight of my trip; the name of the place is Napoli, and the food was not only heavenly but extremely affordable.

The ride to the airport the next day was uneventful, but getting to the gate meant standing in line, getting fingerprinted and being asked many questions.

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Destinations Visited: Panama

One of the best vacations you will ever have!

Anonymous

After the closure of the Panama Canal we were left wondering if tourism in the Central American destination will dwindle and disappear. The answer was Puerto Lindo; a place in the wilderness that offers every single outdoor activity and amenity ever wanted by the tourist explorer. You can get a custom-made tour where you get to discover all the beauties of ecotourism: Zip lines, scuba diving, snorkeling, and hiking are just some of the staples of this adventurous tour.

Boasting wildlife, intact nature, and fresh, clear air, Puerto Lindo is as authentic as it is bucolic. The bright colors of the houses, the smell of the local cuisine, and the sounds of the people, musical and friendly by nature, will make you feel like you are home. The locals are very well versed in English and the tour guides will always ensure that you are safe and secured in the selected touristic areas.

As far as the food goes, I have to say that Panama is very eclectic, offering choices of food that combine their European, African, and Indigenous heritage. Our favorites were the empanada, which resembles a Jamaica patty with a different flavor, chicharrones, or gigantic pork rinds, and delicious small donuts called hojaldras.

With or without a canal, Panamanians seem eager to boost their tourism, and it shows in the way that they treat visitors. They are extremely kind people who know how lucky they are to have this wealth of natural resources at the palm of their hands. You will have a great experience.

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Destinations Visited: Panama

Panama: The City and the Sand

TravelMom

Since we had not yet visited Central America, my husband and I decided spend two weeks in Panama. We started in Panama City staying in the Casco Viejo area, which is full of breathtaking buildings, interesting cafes, and upscale restaurants. However, safety is a concern, and tourists should heed the warnings and stay clear of the red zones. We explored the city and took day trips by taxi to the Miraflores Locks, Panama Viejo, and Isla Taboga. The Miraflores Locks is part of the Panama Canal and is captivating to see. Panama Viejo is a gorgeous area of the old city ruins. And Isla Taboga, a small island close to the city, is an enjoyable day trip with the quaint village to explore and the beach to enjoy. After the city, we traveled by bus across the country to Bocas del Toro. While we made a few interesting stops at swimming spots and hot springs, the road was less than comfortable. In Bocas, we stayed on the main island, Isla Colón, at Hotel Lulu's B&B and enjoyed snorkeling, kayaking, scuba diving, beach hopping, bike riding, and dining. Our week in Bocas was filled with adventure, but overall the beaches were a disappointment for sunbathing and swimming. Panama City is in stark contrast to the laid-back Bocas del Toro, and though our visit was tinged with a bit of danger with red zones and crazy taxi rides, we enjoyed exploring both the city and the sands of Panama.

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Destinations Visited: Panama

Trip to Panama

Anonymous

I was lucky enough to go on a cruise trip to the Panama Canal with my mother and two of her friends. After going through the locks of the canal, our ship anchored in Lake Gatún, a man-made lake, built to facilitate a reservoir for the canals. We chose a tour of the rainforests. We boarded a covered motor boat that went through the back channels, bays, and islands that make up the ecosystem of the lake. A tour guide pointed out the different monkeys, sloths, birds, and an occasional alligator, sunning out on the banks. The thickness of the forest and beauty of the wildlife were fantastic! After the tour was over, we stopped in a village for refreshments. The local people had pottery, ceramics, handbags, t-shirts, and other paraphernalia for sale. It is the only way some of them make any money, by selling their goods to tourists and cruisers. Our ship was tethered, so we had to take another boat back to our ship that was docked in the lake. It was a very fascinating journey, worthy of our time and plenty of scenic views. Make sure you take your camera if you’re going on this trip.

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Destinations Visited: Panama

Panama's Big Ditch

E G Kramar

Except for the big ditch running through it and the great straw hats that bear its name, we had little knowledge of what to expect during our brief stopover in Panama and the canal zone.

We disembarked our cruise ship during its 12 hour stopover at the canal and decided to take a 4 hour tour of the iconic canal. It turned out to be a great decision and a wonderful way to get a feel for the area.

We couldn’t help but be caught up in the energy of the canal as it bustled with construction and activity of big ships making their way through this man made wonder. It was exhilarating to see the forces of history and enterprise come together in this dynamic waterway nation. We soon boarded a smaller craft for our trip through the locks and on through the scenic passage.

The impressive skyline of Panama City loomed in the distance, and jutted out from the jungles where the indigenous people dwell.

As we floated into the lock, we found ourselves moored next to a huge container ship from Japan and a magnificent 19th century Russian sailing ship inches away from the canal’s sheer concrete canyon walls.

We thoroughly enjoyed the canal experience, but if we were to to do it all over again, we would forego the full length canal cruise and opt for a turnaround halfway on Lake Gatun.

The consensus: a must do experience to see one of the truly impressive man made wonders of the world.

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Destinations Visited: Panama

Trip to Panama

Anonymous

My husband and I spent a long weekend in Panama, and we flew into Tocumen International Airport, just inside Panama City. Our flight flew over the green tropical forests to the edge of the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean. We found a modern city, but we also saw crumbling remains from a Spanish settlement that is centuries old.

Panama City is a very multicultural city, and many people speak English, but their primary language is Spanish. We knew just enough Spanish to ask a few important questions. We found people to be very friendly and helpful. We decided to use a taxi, since we did not know our way around, but found they were a little bit expensive.

We cramped a lot of activity in a short period of time. We loved the colorful outdoor malls and brightly painted buildings. Rather than take a planned tour of the Panama Canal, we chose to take a taxi. The driver was very knowledgeable, spoke English very well, and he gave us a wonderful history of the canal. We saw numerous ships, and it was probably our best vacation day. We did take a tour to visit the rain forest the next day, which was fascinating.

Our accommodations at our hotel had a nice little balcony that overlooked brick streets and activity below. We found several places with excellent food for lunch and dinner. We really enjoyed our long weekend, and the only thing we didn’t care for was not having our own transportation.

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Destinations Visited: Panama

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