Traveling in Panama
Panama is a small country that serves as the link between North and South America. Because of its size and location, Panama was key to revolutionizing trade: with the construction of the Panama Canal in 1914, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were effectively linked.
Panama’s culture is a blend of Spanish, African, and Native American influences. The unusual blend thrives today and contributes to the energy of the country. From pristine beaches to strikingly diverse rainforests to mountains to thrumming cities, there is always to take advantage of in Panama. Today, Panama possesses the second largest economy in Latin America.
75,517 km2 / 29,157 sq mi
3,661,868 (2013 census)
Balboa (PAB) and the US dollar (USD)
Some great photos of Panama.
Panama Canal One of the seven wonders of the world, the Panama Canal is still operational 100 years after its construction in 1914. The Canal is over fifty miles long and raises ships up to eighty-five feet above sea level via its locks. Take a tour of the site, travel through it on a ship, check out the museum, and try to come when boats pass through. It is an unforgettable site deserving of its grandeur.
The Old City The Old City is the intersection of the modern and the historical. The cobblestone streets are lined with old buildings as well as bars, restaurants, and hostels. Despite the renovations, the area still retains its charm. Get a tour guide to get the full cultural experience.
Gatun Lake Take a trip by boat to see the world’s second largest man-made lake. It is located in the center of the Canal and was designed originally to supply it with fresh water. Rainforests surround the lake, so you may see monkeys, crocodiles, and a variety of other flora and fauna from the comfort of your boat.
Bahai Temple This beautiful, egg-shaped temple is one of only eight of its kind. The Bahai religion began in the 1800s in Iran and celebrates the unity of mankind. The temple sits on a mountain top, offering a peaceful atmosphere and stunning views of the city.
Ancon Hill Ancon Hill towers over Panama City at nearly 700 feet. At its peak, it offers a beautiful panoramic view of the the city and the Canal. Rainforest flanks the roads, giving a sense of what the area once looked like while also maintaining the natural life. You can either drive or hike to the top; however, bring comfortable shoes and water if you plan to walk.
Las Clementinas Las Clementinas is situated directly in the Old City, making it a perfect place to explore the cultural and historical center. It offers one bedroom rooms, but they are quite spacious and can fit multiple people. You can eat at the delicious cafe or explore the gardens hidden behind the hotel.
American Trade Hotel The American Trade Hotel operates out of a newly refurbished building in the Old City. The rooms are stylishly furnished. The hotel also features a bar, a restaurant, and a jazz club. The location is right on the pulse of the rising culture in the Old City as more historical buildings are remodeled into hip businesses.
Toscana Inn Hotel The Toscana Inn Hotel features 24/7 room service, AC, Wifi, and cable. The staff is courteous and professional and will help you plan excursions into the city. However, the most impressive feature of the hotel is the rooftop terrace, which allows an amazing view of the city from all angles.
TRYP Panama Albrook Mall Each room in the TRYO Panama Albrook Mall has a fully stocked minibar, a coffee machine, and high speed internet. It has its own restaurant and bar; however, it is also connected to the largest shopping center in Central America. The Albrook Mall has over 600 shops. The hotel is also conveniently located near all major attractions in Panama City, including the Canal.
The Fish Market The Fish Market’s kitchen operates out of a converted trailer, while its dining room is an outdoor seating arrangement under a canopy. They have the best seafood in town for very reasonable prices. You can either order off the menu or purchase a fish and ask for it to be cooked on-site.
Casa Sucre Coffeehouse Casa Sucre is a quaint coffee shop with a lot of character that makes it unlike any chain. While there is no air conditioning, it is a great location to sit with a drink by the window and watch the people stroll through the Old City. The coffee is great, but their breakfast and sandwiches are quite good as well.
Granclement Gourmet Ice Creams and Sorbets Granclement Gourmet Ice Creams and Sorbets is a perfect way to escape the heat. They have a wide range of unique, natural, and creative ice cream flavors, like basil. The air conditioning always runs, so stay inside to cool off and enjoy your frozen treat.
Maito Maito is far away from the road and surrounded by lovely plants, including palms and bamboo. The quaint atmosphere and the friendly staff create a pleasant atmosphere in the otherwise bustling heart of Panama City. The food is superb and highly recommended by locals, so it is worth the price.
Panama City and Canal Sightseeing Tour This sightseeing tour of Panama City provides hotel pick-up and drop-off services. The knowledgeable tour guides will take you through the entire city, both the old and new portions. It concludes with a comprehensive tour of the Panama Canal, in which you can watch the boats drift through the lock system.
A Taste of Panama City This tour will allow you to eat and drink your way through five establishments in the Old City. The local guide will provide context and background for each of the venues you visit. Enjoy beer, chocolate, seafood, coffee, and finally cocktails on a rooftop. Everything you try originates from and is made in Panama.
Parque Cervantes Parque Cervantes is located in the heart of town and is surrounded by a large selection of restaurant and shops. The grounds are well-kept, perfect for watching the crowds, taking a walk, or lounging in the shade. During the weekends, it hosts city-wide events and parades. Local vendors fill it during the rest of the week, selling native food and other wares.
Mr. Trigger Sport Fishing The friendly and knowledgeable guide will take you out on his boat anywhere from a few hours to a few days to fish and dive. The guide, Jason, will meet you at whatever level you are at either in fishing or diving to ensure that you have a great time and learn something on your excursion.
Hotel Ciudad de David Hotel Ciudad de David is located right in the town center, which prides itself on being a financial hub. It is conveniently located; it is near all of the major attractions in the city and is a ten minute drive from the airport. While it is urban and contemporary, featuring high-speed internet and television, it still is a scenic retreat. Its decor is sleek and soothing, and it has a beautiful pool and spa.
Gran Hotel Nacional Gran Hotel Nacional sits right in the heart of David’s business district. It has a pool, beautiful gardens, an Italian-style restaurant, movie screenings, and a casino. It is an excellent value for a location that allows easy access to all major points of interest in the city.
Terra Ristorante Italiano The service is warm and welcoming as soon as you walk into this quaint Italian restaurant. The menu is quite diverse, and each item on it is delicious, fairly portioned, and reasonably priced.
Parmigiano Ristorante & Pizzeria Parmigiano Ristorante serves fresh, creative, and homemade Italian food. The owners and staff work hard to make you feel as if you are eating in their home rather than at their restaurant. Contributing to the warm atmosphere is the location; it is nestled right in a quiet, residential area.
Cuatro Cuatro is a small, lovely restaurant that is dedicated to serving both innovative and authentic Panamanian food. Trained abroad, the chef puts lovely twists on standard cuisine. The food is creative and beautifully prepared and served by eager and friendly staff. Best of all, you will pay very reasonable prices.
Mostro Bistro Mostro Bistro makes simple elegant. Its fashionable decor complements its short, simple menu-- however, the chef manages to make each dish refreshing. The friendly staff will serve you with a smile and accommodate those who do not speak Spanish well.
Pana Day ToursPana Day Tours will give you a driving tour of many beautiful areas in David and the surrounding towns. You can see coffee farms, sugar fields, horses, hot springs, forests, and the ocean. The staff is personable and knowledgeable, and they are willing to custom tailor a trip for your group. They organize stops along the way so that you can enjoy the sights and enjoy some of the best meals that Panama has to offer.
Gatun Locks The Gatun Locks are a part of the Panama Canal. They rise 85 feet out of the water, are 100 feet wide, and 1,000 feet long. They are truly a sight to behold. The observation area allows a lovely view of the ocean, and the visitor center will allow you to learn about the rich history of the Canal. If you can, take a cruise through the locks.
Fort San Lorenzo Fort San Lorezno was built in the 1500s by the order of King Philip II. It sits right on the edge of the Chagres River. The fort has a rich history, as evidenced by the ruins and the cannons; it was built to protect the area against pirates. The view is incredible, allowing you to see far out into the ocean. The quiet atmosphere contributes to the majesty of the site.
Chagres National Park Chagres National Park is a beautiful, forested reserve designed to supply fresh water and energy to the Panama Canal. A river cuts through the grounds; it is home to many playful river otters that you may be fortunate to see. Small village communities still thrive in the dense foliage. Tour the site in a canoe and meet the native people.
Portobelo National Park Portobelo National Park is a lovely, scenic site with a lot of history behind it. Crumbling Spanish forts lie here; once the riches pillages from the indigenous people were stored here. Enjoy the views and the other landmarks, including churches and burial grounds.
Four Points Colon The Four Points Colon features an on-site gym, comfortable rooms, and complimentary bottled water. More importantly, it is located a short walk away from the Colon Free Zone Complex, a massive duty-free shopping area that pulls a large amount of tourists. Enjoy restaurants, shops, bars, and casinos just outside your doorstep before returning to a nearby home base for a quiet night’s sleep.
Grande Cafe at Panaderia Mediterranea This delicious and authentic restaurant that serves Middle Eastern cuisine, reflecting the large Middle Eastern population in Panama. The service is friendly and attentive and will work patiently with people whose Spanish is not excellent.
Restaurante Arrecifes Restaurante Arrecifes is a gem of a seafood place near the Colon 2000 mall. Enjoy the outside seating or the air conditioned dining room. The prices are affordable, and the portions are large enough to allow for leftovers.
Almiza Tours Almiza Tours has been providing quality service for almost 20 years. The friendly, knowledgeable guides can take you through the city center, to the many historical landmarks, or on a boat tour through the Panama Canal. They also offer pick-up and drop-off services at your hotel.
Sailing One World Take a cruise on a beautiful, old-fashioned boat. They arrange trips from Panama to Colombia and to the nearby islands that have yet to be commercialized. The crew is friendly and dedicated to giving you a safe and pleasant experience. You can hop off the ship at any time to snorkel and explore, but return when you’re called. They will have a delicious, freshly prepared meal for you.
Boquete Tree Trek Boquete Tree Trek will give you a tour of Panama’s beautiful rainforests from the highest zipline in Latin America. With 12 zipline stages, some of which spanning 500 meters, you will have long, breathtaking views of the natural beauty of Panama. The guides are friendly and professional, who focus entirely on your safety. They also are very knowledgeable about the area and are happy to share that knowledge with you.
The Lost Waterfalls The Lost Waterfalls are a series of three stunning waterfalls sequestered away in Panama’s beautiful, dense cloud forests. Depending on your athleticism, the hike can be difficult, often taking several hours if you wish to see all of the falls. However, the walk is well worth it, for the forest teems with wildlife. Monkeys, sloths, quetzals, and birds are just a few of the species in the thriving tropical ecosystem.
Chiriqui River Rafting Enjoy a thrilling river raft ride through the border of Panama and Costa Rica with personable, knowledgeable, and safety-focused guides. Depending on how rainy the season has been, the rapids may be more or less intense. However, your guides will always make sure you are comfortable. The river and the surrounding forests are scenic, and you can stop for lunch on the banks to observe the wildlife.
Volcan Baru National Park Volcan Baru rises up almost 3,500 feet. Be warned: the hike to the summit is tough, so only those who enjoy outdoor activity should undertake the walk. Guides can show you the easiest paths to take while providing information about the park. However, the hike is worth the effort: the view of the oceans and forests is absolutely incredible, especially if you time your hike so that you can arrive to see the sunrise. Be sure to bring a lot of water and an extra layer of clothing because it can be cold at the top.
The Haven Hotel and Spa The Haven Hotel and Spa is about a ten minute walk from the ton of Boquete; you can reach it through a scenic, green trail. Some rooms come with a kitchenette and refrigerator for guests who want to make their own meals. However, the highlight of the hotel is its extensive spa services as well as the gym. In a picturesque, natural setting like Boquete, the Haven Hotel will provide a relaxing and detoxifying vacation.
Hotel Finca Lerida Some rooms in Hotel Finca Lerida come with a fireplace and jacuzzi. However, every room in the hotel is beautifully furnished and luxurious. The building is situated so that it grants a lovely view of the mountains and the nearby coffee plantations. You can explore the on-site coffee plantation and enjoy a fresh cup from the cafe. Additionally, you can hike on the grounds and observe the rich wildlife, including hummingbirds.
Hotel Panamonte Panamonte Hotel will allow you to vacation in luxury. While many of the rooms are quite affordable, they do not compromise the great service and amenities. There are lovely gardens to stroll in as well as a bar area with fireplaces. The beautiful, historic site is within walking distance of town as well for those who want to get out and see the sights.
Sugar and Spice Dulces Gourmet Sugar and Spice is a quaint bakery and coffee in the downtown area of Boquete. They specialize in European pastries and coffee, which Panama is in part known for. They have breakfast and lunch service. You will know you are nearby when you smell the freshly baked bread.
Big Daddy’s Grill Big Daddy’s Grill opens for lunch and dinner services and specializes in all things grilled. The service is fast and friendly; the owner may come out to chat with you during your meal. They advertise themselves as having the best fish tacos and town, and many claim that it’s true-- even so, their prices are very reasonable, and the atmosphere is fun and casual.
The Rock The Rock is a classy establishment that serves international cuisine. The fireplace and the lovely view of the river and mountains imbue the restaurant with a calming atmosphere. The food is fantastic, as is the service. Once a week, they have a night that features all-you-can-eat ribs.
Restaurante Mango at Isla Verde Restaurante Mango at Isla Verde is incredibly innovative. They have a creative and exceptionally delicious menu, while the restaurant features an art exhibit that changes periodically throughout the year. The coffee is made fresh before it is served.
El Valle de Anton
Butterfly Haven Nestled deep in the rainforest is a butterfly reserve that features hundreds of colorful species. The friendly tour guides will take you through the beautiful grounds and teach you everything you would like to know about the butterflies. Appreciate the foliage and keep still so that a butterfly may alight on you. Be sure to look at the life stages exhibit to potentially see a butterfly emerge from its cocoon.
The Sleeping Indian Girl Hike to the top of a hill directly across from the mountain formation known as the Sleeping Indian Girl. When you look out, you can see her uncanny profile as well as the deep crater that the town of El Valle de Anton sits in.
Aprovaca For only two dollars, you can enter Aprovaca, which is a reserve that specializes in the growth of native Panamanian orchids. Over 100 species of orchids fill the grounds. Enjoy a guided tour in Spanish, or take one of the English booklets if you’d prefer the self-guided route. When you have finished drinking in the beautiful flowers, stop by the cafe for cake or coffee.
Gaital National Park Whether you venture out on your own or hire a tour guide, the hike is well worth it. The grounds are beautiful and have dense foliage; wildlife and photo opportunities abound. Because it is so untouched, the trail can sometimes be overgrown, so watch your step. If you reach the top, the views are striking. Following the loop of the trail will take you about two and a half hours.
El Chorro Macho El Chorro Macho is a striking 35 meter tall waterfall that empties out in a beautiful stone-lined pool. You can stop to swim in what is considered to be mystical water. Nearby, you can embark on a zipline adventure over the falls.
Los Mandarinos Boutique Spa and Hotel Los Mandarinos Boutqie Spa and Hotel is perfect for a romantic getaway. The grounds are beautiful, featuring gardens and a pond. They also offer extensive spa treatments. If you want to experience the area, the concierge service can help you plan hikes, tours, horseback rides, and more.
Anton Valley Hotel Anton Valley Hotel is perfectly located within walking distance of the vibrant town center, settled in a crater. Relax in the pool or on the patio with a gorgeous view of the mountains. The friendly and attentive staff can help you plan excursions or simply help you have a relaxing stay. They also offer transportation to and from the airport.
Buon Appetito The husband and wife owners will make you feel as if you are a part of the family. They have absolutely delicious food and only four tables, so be sure to make a reservation and get there early. Furthermore, they are only open from Thursday to Sunday. However, the restaurant and the staff are charming and will make any wait worth it.
Butterfly Cafe The Butterfly Cafe is located in the Butterfly Haven. They offer homemade pastries, freshly brewed coffee, and juices made from local fruits. In addition, they have meals that are vegetarian friendly. Enjoy the beautiful setting and the shining hospitality of the owner.
Casa de Lourdes Casa de Lourdes serves delicious food in a beautiful setting. Enjoy a romantic dinner and a fabulous glass of wine by the pool.
Finca Los Monos Botanical Garden Finca Los Monos, also known as the Monkey Farm, is a large botanical garden with an ever-expanding array of stunning local plant life. Your guide will provide you with a deep explanation of the history of the grounds as well as information about the different plants. Apart from the lovely flowers and trees, you may see birds, insects, and (as the name suggests) monkeys.
Playa Bluff Playa Bluff is a stunning beach that mostly attracts surfers due to the large waves. Because of this, the beach is not particularly crowded. For travelers looking to enjoy a quiet, contemplative walk in a beautiful setting, a visit to Playa Bluff may be just the activity they seek. Many restaurants and forested areas line the beach. You may find more monkeys than people during your stay.
Bastimentos National Park Basimentos National Park is a preserve situated on a small island. You must travel there by boat. While the beaches are gorgeous, the rough waters do not allow for much swimming. However, the scenery is beautiful and filled with wildlife, from birds to monkeys to caimans. Enjoy a trip to Nivida Cave to see the bats, or to the area of the beach where the red frogs live.
Koko Resort Koko Resort is comprised of six charming cabins built over the water. It is isolated and quaint, yet you can reach the town center either on foot or by a $.50 cab ride. The Koko Resort has quite a different atmosphere than most hotels because it is very close to a residential area where many local Panamanians live. For those looking for an authentic but still comfortable experience, Koko Resort is ideal.
Tropical Suites Tropical Suites is located right on the sea; from its convenient location, you can walk to the town to enjoy the goings-on or take a boat right from the dock to explore the seas and snorkel. The rooms are spacious and come with a kitchenette and jacuzzi. The friendly staff is dedicated to making your stay as pleasant as possible, offering airport transportation, laundry, groceries, and concierge services.
Hotel Palma Royale Hotel Palma Royale is just a few blocks from the entertainment and commercial hub and about twenty minutes from the beaches. The simple but elegant rooms are spacious and air conditioned. Lie in the hammock on the balcony and gaze out over the beautiful ocean scenery. The friendly staff will ensure you have a relaxing stay.
Taco Surf Bocas Exeptional customer service, atmosphere, and food make this tiny restaurant a contender for the best food on the island. This authentic Mexican-style cuisine is made to order with the freshest ingredients. Try any of the tacos or the incredible drinks, from the lemonade to the margaritas.
Guari Guari Guari Guari is a small, intimate gem on the archipelago. The intimate atmosphere combined with the delicious food make it so that you need a reservation to get in for dinner service. Listen to the sound of the ocean as you enjoy the five-course menu, made special each night. The service is excellent as well, topping off a true fine dining experience.
Santa Catalina is a gorgeous beach located in Veraguas Province beside a small fishing village. The beach was a well-kept secret for years except in the surfing community, which still thrives on the beach’s turbulent waves. It is great for diving, fishing, or simply lounging on the sand. Some patches of sand may be black from nearby volcanic activity.
Playa Coronado is a lovely, rather marbled beach; the sand is pale grey with occasional darker streaks. While the water can be rough and not ideal for swimming, it does not stop people from flocking to it. On the weekends, locals crowd the shore, mostly to play on the famous 18-hole golf course. If you want a more relaxing beach destination with little to no crowd, stop by during the week.
Isla Bastimentos is a natural paradise. On one end of the island, sea turtles nest on the open sand on the shoreline. On the other, mangroves and coral reefs spring up untamed. One of the most popular spots on the island is Red Frog Beach. Clear waters and reddish sand characterize it; you may see some of the frogs that earned the beach its namesake on a quiet day when few people are around.
Bocas Town is a small piece of the Caribbean in Central America. The community is known for its laid back personality and friendly atmosphere; don’t be surprised if you end up spending much longer than anticipated here. The water taxis provide easy access to other small islands, beaches, and snorkeling sites. However, there is a wealth of things to do in town or simply on the beach. Consider swimming with dolphins, soaking up the sun, or stopping in one of the many beachside restaurants.
Panama Travel Links
Here are some links that we've found useful in planning our travels in Panama.