Is a stopover in Panama City worth it?
January 1, 1970
by Thanara Zancanaro
If you ask someone from North or South America if they have been to Panama City, the most common answer is “Just the airport”. That’s because Panama has become the main hub between those two continents, and most flights that connect them stop in Panama City. The truth is Panama City is a fast-growing city with a lot of nice places to visit and it should keep you entertained for at least a few days.
I’ve been living in Panama City for six months now, and in this post, I’ll try to summarize and present to you only the must-see locations in the city, then you can decide for yourself if stopping in Panama is worth it – SPOILER ALERT: It totally is!
First of all, I’m going to talk about the Panama Canal, it’s not a pretty tourist location but it has a huge importance to the local and global economy and even if you are not interested in engineering the Canals history and seeing a boat passing by it’s pretty cool (and if you are interested in engineering I don’t even have to tell you that this is a mandatory stop for you). The Panama Canal is basically an artificial waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and this shortcut allows ships to pass throw in much less time that they would have to without it. The Panama Canal was open in 1914, and its construction carries a lot of Panama history and was honored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as one of the Seven Civil Engineering Wonders. From the city the Miraflores is the visitor center close to you, that’s in the Pacific side of the Canal, and you can see boats going from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, and vice-versa, depending on the time of the day.
Travel tip: you can look it up on their website which time the boats are passing by and plan to be there in time to see a boat pass throw the sluice gate.
Next up is my favorite place in the city, the Casco Viejo or Casco Antiguo. The Casco is a historic neighborhood that was built after the old city was destroyed (we are talking about that latter, don’t worry), and today it’s full of stores, museums, old churches, restaurants, hotels, and nightlife. It definitely deserves a visit during the day and during the night. At daytime, you may lose yourself in the narrow streets and enjoy the colonial architecture. If you are looking to buy some souvenir, like the famous Panama hats you are going to find a lot of store and tents of handicrafts along the way. At night you can choose between one of the many restaurants, bars or even a nightclub. My recommendation here is that you choose a restaurant with a rooftop so you can enjoy the view of the city at night.
Travel tip: Keep in mind that Panama is in Central America and the temperature is always hot, even if you visit during the rainy season, that means it’s probably going to rain at some point of the day but if the sun comes out and you are not prepared for it that can be a problem, so always bring with you: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and lot of water.
Let’s talk a little bit about the archaeological zone in Panama Viejo, this is a site in which were preserved the constructions from the old city, the first capital of Panama, and since 1997 the ruins are considered UNESCO World Heritage. I’m recommending this for those who love history since it’s location is on the opposite side of the city from all other points I’m recommending in this post so it really depends on how much time you have and how much you like history. Once you are there, you can walk around the ruins, go into the museum and go up the old cathedral tower very freely compare with other archaeological zones. For me, the coolest thing was that you can see the modern city from there, so it was as if I had entered a breach in time.
Cinta Costera and Causeway
Last but not least, if you are looking for a cool place to enjoy the morning/afternoon outdoors, you have a few options: my favorite, the Cinta Costera, that is a boardwalk on the limit between the city and the Pacific Ocean, you’ll probably find a lot of people doing exercises, running or riding a bike. It’s a very good place to check out the Panama City skyline too. If you want to, you can ride a bike (or other means of transport of your choice) until the Causeway Islands, just follow the boardwalk, you will pass by the Fish Market, Casco Viejo, Maracana Stadium, Biomuseu and throw the Amador Causeway. Causeway it’s a very nice place to walk around and it has a lot of good restaurants, so is a good idea to plan to be there around lunchtime. The Biomuseu is very pretty from the outside so just passing by is worth it, and if you are interested the museum tell a little bit of the Panama Biodiversity history since the isthmus formed by the country caused great impact on the ecology of the entire American continent. And it’s not a big museum, so isn’t going to take a very long time to go throw it.
Travel tip: Sundays you can rent a bike in the Cinta Costera and ride until the Causeway Islands, the first hour it’s free!
I hope that I manage to leave you intrigued and curious about Panama City and that you consider stopping here on your way to your next trip. If you are looking to stay a little longer look it up the beaches and islands around the country, Panama has a lot of natural beauty that you can explore. Three days it’s enough to know the city and visit its main tourist spots, remember to put into your backpack light clothes and sunscreen. Panama has basically two seasons, the dry season (summer) that goes from January until April and the rainy season (winter) that goes from May to December. Panama it’s a Country that requests the yellow fever vaccination certificate for arriving travelers from a few countries, so you should check if your country it’s on the list if you are planning a trip to Panama.
Have a nice trip!