Panama City is a place I’d never thought about stopping until I had a layover on my way home from Cuba. This led to me calling the airline and extending my time here so I could explore the city more. It’s a mix of old and new, as you can see ruins from the 16th century and then be in the center of shopping 10 minutes later. This guide to Panama City will help you plan your trip there!
Getting From the Airport
The Tocumen International Airport is full of shops and ATMs, so if there’s something you absolutely need once you get off your flight, you can probably find it there. Free wi-fi is available, so you can order an Uber while you’re still in the airport. I recommend this over getting one of the dozens of taxis that are already there.
I took a taxi from the airport because I was tired and just wanted to get to my hotel. Not only was he a crazy driver, but he told me the rate changed once we got to my hotel because he took a “toll road.” Ubers are safer and cheaper, hands down.
The official currency is the Panamanian Balboa, which is a 1:1 rate for the US dollar. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not researching the currency and went to the ATM to pull out cash, only to get US dollars back (which I already had a lot of). I still recommend pulling cash out to save on credit card fees, but don’t be surprised to get US dollars at the ATM.
Panama City is very walkable. I found the downtown area safe to walk around, but it’s good to be on your guard as a tourist. Instead of taxis, I relied on Uber many times during this trip, as I was shocked how cheap it was. Many times I paid about $3 USD to get somewhere that would’ve taken me an hour to walk to. I used Uber during the middle of the day when temperatures were over 100°F and also at night when I didn’t want to walk all the way back to my hotel with my purse and camera.
Where to Stay
Panama City is huge, so I would recommend staying close to where you think you’ll be the most. I stayed at the Occidental Panama City, which was central to everywhere I was going. It was only a 10-minute walk down to the water and close to convenience stores and even a mall.
What to Do
There are plenty of places to visit when in Panama City, but these were some of my favorites.
Find the Panama Sign
I searched for this sign for a bit when I first got to Panama City and finally found that it was on the Cinta Costera (the walkway along the water). It’s a little less than halfway between downtown and Casco Viejo. Be prepared to wait to get a picture – I couldn’t believe how many people were there waiting to get a selfie.
Walk Along the Cinta Costera
This is a beautiful walk that connects the downtown area to Casco Viejo. If you have the time, I recommend walking on this to get in some exercise instead of going through the city. It’s about three miles long, so bring comfortable shoes and loose clothing to stay cool (Panama gets hot!). Vendors are along the way selling local snacks and beverages.
Visit Panama Viejo
Panama Viejo is the original part of the city that people lived in from the 1500s until 1671. It suffered from a huge earthquake, the Great Fire, and then a pirate attack by Henry Morgan. After that, the city had enough and moved. I loved walking around what’s left of the city and seeing the homes, shops, and churches.
Panama Viejo is about 15 minutes away from the main part of the city, and I would discourage walking. There aren’t sidewalks the entire way and you’ll pass some neighborhoods that aren’t the greatest. Get an Uber from your hotel, but try to be clear about where you’re going. I said “Panama Viejo” to my Spanish-speaking driver, who took me to a sketchy neighborhood and asked, “Si?” Apparently, Panama Viejo can also be referred to as a large area, so make it clear you want to go to the ruins.
See the Panama Canal
While it’s not in Panama City, it’s worth the trip when you’re in town. The Canal is about an hour northwest of the city, so you could easily get an Uber to take you there. There is wi-fi at the Canal, so you’ll be able to request an Uber when you’re ready to go back. There are also many tours you can join that will take you from Panama City to the Panama Canal. It’s fascinating to see ships go through here and see the locks in action.
Explore Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo is by far my favorite part of the city. It’s colorful, charming, and much quieter than downtown Panama City. Make sure to try some seafood at the fish market and stop in some of the local shops for souvenirs. You’ll almost feel like you’re in a different city.
What would you want to do in Panama City?
Looking for more travel tips?
Sign up for my weekly newsletter to get travel tips, plus enter to win travel contests!