Panama City, Panama is an extremely underrated destination. When planning our trip to Boquete — Panama City was just an obligatory stopover. We assumed it’d be a sweltering metropolis with few things to do (especially as a traveling family).
But after spending several days there we were blown away at how many fun things there are to do in Panama City, Panama.
As the capital of Panama and home to roughly 2 million people, there is no shortage of amazing things to do in Panama City.
From admiring the engineering feat that is the Panama Canal, walking the colorful streets of its Casco Viejo, enjoying Panama’s delicious food, or interacting with its wildlife — there is something for everyone in Panama City.
Whether you’re visiting Panama City, Panama for a few days or longer, this guide shares the top attractions, activities, and places to visit in Panama City to help you make the most of your time here.
The 10 best things to do in Panama City, Panama
1. Visit the Miraflores Locks (Panama Canal)
One of the top things to do in Panama City, Panama is visit the Panama Canal. This engineering marvel put Panama on the map in the early 20th century. For nearly one hundred years, the Panama Canal was the most important trading port in the world. Even today, 40% of the world’s shipping containers pass through its waterways each year.
The Panama Canal is one of the top Panama City tourist attractions to visit. And, not just for engineering nerds 🤓. I was skeptical as to whether or not I would enjoy the experience, especially with the crowds it can bring. But I promise you that visiting the Panama Canal is worth it.
You can see ships pass through the canal daily at the Miraflores Visitor Center. They also have a fascinating 3D iMax movie about its construction and history (narrated by the one and only Morgan Freeman). We have an entire blog post about what to expect when visiting the Panama Canal and things to know before you go that you can read here.
2. Explore Casco Viejo
Casco Viejom also known as Casco Antiguo, is the historic part of Panama City. This charming and colorful neighborhood dates back to the 1600s during Spanish colonization and is one of the top places to visit in Panama City, Panama.
We chose to stay in Casco Antiguo because of its proximity to a lot of the top things to do in Panama City, Panama. 🏨 See our hotel here.
This neighborhood is where you’ll find popular tourist attractions like Plaza Simón Bolívar, Plaza de Francia, Plaza De La Independencia, and Convento de Santo Domingo. It’s also a great spot to grab a souvenir on Paseo Las Bovedas which overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
The entire neighborhood can be walked in a day and there’s a wide variety of restaurants, bars, historical sights, and shops to keep you busy. If you want to learn more about the history of Casco Viejo, we highly recommend taking this guided walking tour with Get Your Guide.
If you prefer to explore solo, we have a one or two-day itinerary for exploring Casco Viejo, which you can read about here.
3. Hike Ancon Hill
One of my favorite things we did in Panama City was hike Ancon Hill. This hill is the tallest point in Panama City and is largely undeveloped. It’s one of the last places you can explore the dense jungle that once encompassed this entire region and is great for spotting wildlife.
The hike is fairly easy (although uphill on a paved road) but allows you to get close to dozens of different native and migratory species.
On our walk, we saw an agouti, poison dart frog, sloth, snakes, tons of spiders, butterflies, and birds. It was epic! If you’d like to learn more about the hike, including the cost, what to expect, and how to get there check out this blog post.
4. Walk or bike the Amador Causeway
The Amador Causeway is a 6-kilometer-long pathway that goes from Casco Viejo to the ports of Panama City. The Amador Causeway is a perfect spot to take a long walk or leisure bike ride stopping at major attractions like the BioMuseum, the colorful and iconic Panama sign, as well as several marinas and restaurants.
You can rent bikes from Bicicleta Moses for around $5 an hour to explore this area. There are three small islands you can ride two, one of which is the port entry for cruise ships.
We didn’t get to bike or walk the Amador Causeway during our trip to Panama City, because the weather was scorching.
We visited in July, which is both the rainy and hot season. Rather than exerting energy in the blazing heat, we cooled off in our hotel pool. But if you’re visiting Panama City during the dry winter season, definitely add the Amador Causeway to your travel bucket list.
5. Bio Museum
If you’re traveling to Panama City with kids, one of the best things to do is visit the BioMuseum. Designed by Frank Gehry, the building is as whimsical, colorful, and fun on the outside as it is on the inside.
As its name implies, the BioMuseum is all about Panama’s biodiversity. Visitors can learn about Panama’s oceans (both Pacific and Atlantic), lakes, mangroves, jungles, mountains, and endemic species through interactive exhibits, statues, and even aquariums.
6. Visit Panama Viejo
Casco Viejo is the most historic part of Panama City today. But Panama Viejo, or old Panama, is the original historic town center. This area pre-dates Casco Viejo by nearly 100 years but sadly was burnt during an attack by famed pirate, Captain Morgan.
After the city was burnt to ruins, they rebuilt the Casco Viejo neighborhood, fortifying the city for better protection against future pirate attacks. You can visit the ruins of the original city, Panama Viejo which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and around USD 6 for entry.
7. Watch the sunset at a rooftop bar
Panama’s downtown is home to massive modern buildings, many of which have incredible rooftops overlooking the ocean. If you’re looking for a romantic sunset spot to sip cocktails or want to cool off at sundown with a great view of the city, head to one of the many rooftop bars in Panama City.
Since we spent most of our time in Casco Viejo, here are a few of the top rooftop bars in Casco Antiguo.
8. Visit the Mola Museum
Panama is home to seven indigenous tribes; the Ngäbe, the Buglé, the Guna, the Emberá, the Wounaan, the Bri bri, and the Naso Tjërdi. These tribes were the original inhabitants of Panama before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. These tribes continue to own and operate independent regions of Panama, acting as sovereign nations.
One of the largest tribes in all of Panama, and the tribe closest to Panama City, is the Guna. The Guna people are known for their intricate needlework tapestries called Molas. These beautiful works of art hold incredible religious and cultural importance to their people.
You can learn all about Molas and some of the practices and beliefs of the Guna people at the Mola Museum in Casco Viejo. The museum is completely free and in my opinion one of the best things to do in Panama City, Panama.
9. Walk or bike the Cinta Costera
When admiring Casco Antiguo from above on Ancon Hill, you’ll see a massive highway jutting out over the water surrounding the Casco Viejo neighborhood. Called The Cinta Costera, this highway bypasses the narrow and often crowded roads of Casco Viejo allowing people to get across the city with ease.
The design of the Cinta Costera also considered pedestrians. Next to the road is a separate walking and biking path lined with beautiful greenery. If you want a nice ride or to get some exercise, join the locals on the Cinta Costera.
10. Take a day trip from Panama City
If you’re staying in Panama City for longer than a few days I highly encourage you to explore other parts of Panama. Being the hub for the country, most day trips or extended excursions depart from Panama City making it a fantastic place to explore from.
There are a lot of Panama City excursions you can take from here. Some of the most popular ones are below:
- Visit Monkey Island and the Sloth Sanctuary: If you want a guaranteed animal sighting, you’re best bet is to book this tour to Monkey Island and the Sloth Sanctuary. You’ll encounter dozens of spider and howler monkeys high up in the trees and see slows slowing munching on food at the sanctuary.
- Day trip to Tabago Island: Just a short 30-minute ferry will take you to beautiful beaches and relaxing waterfront stays.
- Visit Soberanía National Park: This national park about an hour to two hours drive from Panama City is home to hundreds of different bird species. You have a great shot at seeing a sloth and if you’re lucky a toucan here! You can take a guided hike tour here or if you have your own vehicle make the journey solo.
- San Blas Islands: This is by far the most popular place to visit and is the most picturesque place I think I’ve ever seen. Previously inhabited and occupied by the native tribes only, they were recently opened up to allow a set number of tourists each day. These remote, pristine, and unspoiled islands have been featured in major shows like Money Heist and are truly a paradise come true. You can go on a day trip to the San Blas islands or do a longer overnight stay like this 4-night island hopping cruise.
- Chagres Rainforest and Embera Village Tour: Venture north of Panama City to the Chagres Rainforest home to several Embera indigenous villages. You’ll take a boat road on a traditional canoe stopping at a stunning waterfall and get to learn about the Embera people.
As you can see, there is a lot to do in Panama City, Panama. Even in our three-day stay, there was a lot more we could have experienced. Hopefully, this guide has given you a good idea of all of the amazing things there are to do here and made planning your trip just a little bit easier.