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Top 10 Things To Do In Panama City, Panama
Should you find yourself looking for something to do in beautiful Panama City, there are countless options to explore. Whether it be outdoors or a Panama City bucket list experience, here are the top 10 things to do in Panama City. Please note that visiting the Panama Canal is excluded from this list since it is the most famous place to visit and there are tons of tours available online. Panama City is often compared to Mexico City as one of Latin America’s most international cities.There’s tons of cool stuff to do in Panama.
1) Mirador de las Americas
On the other side (Arraijan) of the Bridge of the Americas, you’ll find a very accessible lookout point, designed in a very striking way. This lookout point was inaugurated back in 2007 to commemorate the 150 years of Chinese presence in Panama. With its breathtaking views of the Canal and its eastern architecture, this homage to the Chinese community is a must-see while in Panama City.
Though the monument is not that big and there are no benches, I recommend you take a picnic blanket during sunset so you can enjoy the views and take plenty of pictures. The lookout sees some action during the day but it usually clears out within a couple of minutes. For more hikes, check out the top 5 hikes in Panama City.
2) Bahai Temple
Locally known as “the egg”, this attention-grabbing white temple located in the northern end of the city is unique in many ways.
There are only 8 main houses of worship around the world, and the only one in Central America just so happens to be located 25 minutes by train from Albrook to San Isidro. From the entrance in San Isidro, you can take a bus up to the temple, free of charge.
The Bahai Temple is open for anyone to visit, no matter your cultural and religious beliefs. The only thing asked of visitors is to behave in a respectful manner and to refrain from public displays of affection.
Panama’s Bahai Temple was inaugurated in 1972. Babism is a monotheistic religion from Iran and is based on following the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. However, the Bahai faith consists on the unity and fraternity with other religions under the concept that they all believe in one common God, meaning that Buda, Krishna, Jesus, and so on are all messengers for one entity.
The stunning views of the city are definitely worth the trip up. Though San Isidro is chaotic at almost any time of day, once you head up to the temple, the noise and chaos cease to exist.
3) Café Coca-Cola
A UNESCO World Heritage site and Panama’s oldest café, café Coca-Cola is the only café in the world with permission to use the Coca-Cola brand name.
In 1906, Panama became one of the first countries to operate packaging facilities for Coca-Cola outside of North America. The café opened its doors in 1875 and it’s full of history…
Garbo, a double agent for the British who saved D Day during World War II, visited the café regularly while he was in Panama. From then on, international diplomats, presidents, and high-profile personalities from across the world have all visited the legendary café.
Café Coca-Cola is located in Plaza Santa Ana in Casco Viejo. I recommend going during the day and not taking any valuables with you since it’s not located on the nicer side of Casco Viejo.
4) Rooftops in Casco Viejo
While in Casco Viejo, you’ll find the best nightlife with bars, restaurants, clubs, and rooftops. There are countless places to check out depending on the vibe you’re looking for. The best time to head out to the rooftops is during sunset and then you can hit other bars and clubs later in the night. I recommend using uber to head in and out of Casco Viejo.
Some of the most popular rooftops in Casco Viejo are Tantalo, Selina, Casa Casco, Salvaje, and Lazotea.
If you’re looking to dance the night away, the best way to explore Casco Viejo is by bar hopping. You can purchase tickets online to many of the events. You can follow the Instagram @cascobarhopping for more inspiration. They usually have 2×1 meaning you pay $10 and that gets you entrance to 4 different clubs and one free drink in each. You’re free to come and go as you please without having to pay a cover.
5) Museo de la Biodiversidad
This colorful museum was designed by Frank O. Gehry who is famous for other museums including the pavilion in Millennium Park in Chicago. It holds exhibits alluding to the biodiversity found in this country. It also tells the story of the importance of the isthmus as a bridge for wildlife, connecting North and South America.
There’s lots to see but my favorite part of the museum are the giant screens that simulate a thunderstorm in the middle of the rainforest as well as marine life in Panama’s oceans. There is also a small aquarium which I quite enjoyed. In my opinion, it was a bit pricey considering the actual size of the museum but it’s worth seeing at least once while in Panama—you’ll definitely learn a lot. You can buy tickets to the Biomuseo here.
6) Ciclovía Cinta Costera
The Cinta Costera is pretty hard to miss… it’s a hot spot for doing exercise, hanging out, and just enjoying the fresh air and views of the Panama Bay. If you’re into outdoor activities, you’ll be happy to know that during the weekends, from 6 a.m., part of the Cinta Costera gets closed off for bikeriders to enjoy.
Bikes are free, but I recommend getting there before 7 a.m. so you don’t waste so much time forming a line. The starting point is in front of the Hilton Hotel and it stretches out all the way to Amador (Causeway). It’s a great way to see Panama and get some exercise in at the same time. You will bike past some of Panama’s richest neighborhoods. From Punta Pacifica to San Francisco you’ll see tons of expats and foreign retirees.
You can still enjoy a bike ride around the Causeway at any time during the day, though it’ll have to be on the sidewalk and renting a bike for 2 hours will set you back only $5.
7) Panama Viejo or Panama La Vieja
These famous ruins are what’s left of the original Panama City which was destroyed by a pirate by the name of Henry Morgan in 1671. The result of his attack was a fire that caused the death of thousands of people and the city had to be rebuilt where it is now.
Panama Viejo was founded in 1519 and for over 150 years it was an important point of travel since the Spanish would take gold and silver from Peru and take it back to Europe through Panama.
In this historical site you can see ruins of the first European settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. There’s also a lookout point with views of part of Panama City and you can also purchase traditional Panamanian crafts here.
To get to Panama Viejo you can take an uber or a bus and the entry fee for foreigners is $10.
8) Museo del Canal de Panama
Located in Casco Viejo, in Plaza Catedral, the Panama Canal Museum showcases the history of the construction of the Panama Canal and a look into the people who made it happen (workers from 97 different countries).
The building that houses the museum dates from 1874 and was originally the headquarters of both the French Canal Company and United States Isthmian Canal Commission contractors that were engaged in the construction of the canal. In 1912, the building served as the city’s Main Post Office.
The construction of the Canal was an engineering feat for its time making the museum, home to an impressive part of Panamanian history.
The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11-6 p.m. Tickets cost $15 for non-residents and can be purchased here.
I strongly recommend either renting a car or bracing yourself for an expensive uber ride since public transportation to Veracruz is old-fashioned and can be an enormous pain.
Just across the Bridge of the Americas, there’s a road to the right that leads to an area called Veracruz. This is a beach area, though it’s not a good idea to actually bathe in the water or wet anything other than your feet. Some people take the risk and go paddling here.
The area is lined up with restaurants with great music and a perfect beach vibes. You’ll first have to pass some resorts in the area but if you place Praia Veracruz on google maps, it will lead you straight to the beach/restaurant area.
Veracruz is the perfect place to relax and have a good meal (I recommend the fried fish, patacones, and a cold beer at any of the restaurants in the area).
10) Isla Taboga
If you’re looking to enjoy a beach day without having to travel for hours, Taboga Island is the closest beach destination in Panama City. It’s located on the Pacific side of the Gulf of Panama and is only 20 km out from the city.
To get to the Island, you’ll have to board a ferry on Isla Flamenco (Causeway, Amador). Tickets are $20 round trip for adults and the ferry only takes 30 mins to get to Taboga. It’s important you buy your tickets an hour before the ferry leaves, or days prior at the actual dock. Buy your tickets for the Taboga ferry here. You can also purchase your ticket in Albrook Mall (Dolphin Hall).
There are impressive hotels on the island if you’re looking to spend the night, but you should make your reservation ahead of time. To promote commerce on the island, it’s prohibited to take coolers with drinks and food, though water is allowed and you’ll find plenty of restaurants on the island.
There you have it! The Top 10 things to do in Panama City. Through these activities you will have some fun and learn a lot about the history of Panama. As a bonus, I suggest also doing some medical tourism while you’re in Panama. Dental work and medical care is top notch and super cheap. Check out the top hospitals in Panama. You could also get married in Panama, which should help you establish residency. Another suggestion is to get out of the city! Go visit Coronado, Boquete, or Bocas del Toro. Enjoy your time in Panama!