Panama City's Travel Guide
Panama City, approaching its 500th year, is a bustling urban hub—alive with the sounds of celebration and commerce all year long. Anchored in its past (think cobblestone streets and colonial Casco Viejo), the city also makes way for the new, from skyscrapers shadowing over the water in Punta Paitilla to a booming hotel and restaurant market.
The city’s most iconic attraction, the Panama Canal, conducts a similar balancing act as it straddles the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, bringing fresh faces, ideas and flavors to an impressively cosmopolitan city. Panama calls adventurers to explore the rainforest at nearby Soberanía and Camino de Cruces national parks and to investigate the urban jungle at restaurants, bars and nightclubs along the beautiful Amador Causeway.
REASONS TO GO:
- Panama Canal: Opened in 1914, the 48-mile Panama Canal is rightfully called one of the seven wonders of the modern world, linking Asia with Europe through incredible engineering. Call ahead to time your museum visit with a big ship’s passing through the locks.
- Casco Viejo: Some of Casco Viejo’s original Spanish Colonial architecture still survives in this tiny district. Stroll past historic buildings like Plaza Catedral and Teatro Nacional, or sip a mojito as you get to know the neighborhood’s eclectic mix of surfers, expats and locals.
- Biodiversity: Monkeys, pumas and parrots create their own soundtrack at nearby rainforest destinations like Chagres, Soberanía and Camino de Cruces national parks. Day tours are a must-do, but if you’re crunched for time, a visit to the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo is a close second.
- Beaches and Islands: Discover pristine Pacific and Caribbean beaches, incredible sport fishing and world-class whale watching. You can make your way to the San Blas Islands for beautiful off-the-grid sailing, or head west to swim in the turquoise waters off the Bocas del Toro islands.
- Carnaval and Jazz: A virtual “Who’s Who” of Grammy-winning artists make the Panama Jazz Festival a can’t-miss event. Free concerts and ticketed jam sessions draw thousands every January before an even bigger party: Carnaval. Raucous, joyous and vibrant, Carnaval pours into the streets of Panama City 40 days before Easter.
- Ceviche, Hojaldras and Raspados: Head to the fish market for mouthwatering corvina (white sea bass) ceviche, and then finish off your meal with hojaldras (sweet fried doughnuts) or a shaved-ice raspado from a street vendor.
WHEN TO GO:
Panama City is a hazy summer dream 12 months of the year. Temperatures range from 75⁰F to 95⁰F with little variation, and local culture takes advantage of all that sunshine with al fresco activities all year long.
December through April is high season for tourism since the city gets less rainfall and is bustling with events like the Jazz Festival and Carnaval, as well as more family-oriented entertainment, such as the Mil Polleras festival at the end of April.
July and August provide slightly drier weather during the rainy season of May through November, though most rain is in the form of brief early-evening showers. Thanks to the country’s two independence dates on November 3 and 28, the end of the year offers endless parades and fireworks displays.
Navigating Panama City without a GPS can be frustrating since streets frequently have no names and buildings aren’t usually numbered. If you have a smart phone, pick up a SIM card when you arrive at the airport so you’ll have Internet assistance should you get lost.