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Panama City & Canal Tour

The tour of Panama City takes in the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal, Panama Viejo and Casco Antiguo. The tour begins with a visit to the impressive Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal is arguably one of the 20th century's most important engineering feats and runs between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans for approximately 80 km. You have time to explore the new visitors' center which documents the history of the canal from the first attempts by the French through to the US completion of the project in 1914. The Americans controlled the canal until December 31st, 1999 when it was handed over to Panama.

At the Miraflores Locks you will also have the opportunity to observe the locks functioning as giant cargo ships are raised and lowered in them just meters in front of you. From here you head for Panama Viejo on the eastern edge of modern Panama City, the first city founded in the isthmus by Pedro Arias de Avila (otherwise known as Pedrarias) in 1519 at the beginning of colonization. Today the only remnants are those left by pirate Henry Morgan, who ransacked and destroyed the city in 1671.

The city is undergoing renovation following years of neglect particularly during the reign of General Noriega but you are able to get a scale of the site. You visit the nearby Panama La Vieja Visitor Centre, which has scale models of the town before its destruction and many artifacts discovered during its uncovering.

Finally, you visit the second colonial city of Panama, Casco Antiguo (or San Felipe), which was built in 1673. This old city center has plenty of charm and a diverse selection of museums, colonial churches and 19th century mansions all painted in an array of different colors. Casco Antiguo is home to the presidential palace and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Here you will see the French Plaza, which is dedicated to the 22,000 Francophone workers who lost their lives to yellow fever during the early construction of the canal.

You also visit the San José church, home of the famous Golden Altar which was saved from the clutches of Henry Morgan by being painted black by local churchmen. Local legend has it that when questioned of its whereabouts, a local priest convinced Morgan that earlier pirates had made off with the altar and even convinced the privateer to donate money for a new one. Morgan reportedly quoted the clergyman as being "more of a pirate than he was!" Although Casco Antiguo is a poor neighborhood, the area is slowly being restored and regenerated.

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Other experiences in Panama City

These activities are designed to give you the most authentic experiences around where you're staying. We work with local guides, who use their knowledge and often a resident's eye to show you the main sights and more out-of-the-way attractions. Our specialists can suggest tours and activities that will introduce you to the local ways of life.

  • Emberá Indian Village
    Embera Indians, Panama

    Emberá Indian Village

    Emberá Indian Village

    This tour goes up into the hills outside Panama City to the Chagres River where you transfer with your guide onto an open-top Emberá motorized canoe. You zip along the clear river waters by boat through beautiful scenery to visit the small indigenous community of Emberá Indians in the Chagres National Park.

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  • Gatún Lake Boat Tour & Rainforest Hike
    Gatun Lake, Panama

    Gatún Lake Boat Tour & Rainforest Hike

    Gatún Lake Boat Tour & Rainforest Hike

    Travel along the scenic Gamboa Road to the Soberania National Park for a walk along the Pipeline Road, Plantation Road or El Charco Trail, all of which are fantastic for viewing the unique ecology of the canal watershed.

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  • Portobello & San Lorenzo Forts
    Portobello Fort, Panama

    Portobello & San Lorenzo Forts

    Portobello & San Lorenzo Forts

    After crossing the canal over one of the lock gates you continue to Fort San Lorenzo, which was constructed by the Spaniards in 16th century to defend against the constant threat of pirates seeking to interrupt the transporting of Inca gold. The fort is very isolated and accessed via a bumpy road, but the drive is worth it with stunning views out across the Caribbean Sea and the mouth of the Chagres River.

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  • The Discovery Catamaran
    The Discovery (Catamaran)

    The Discovery Catamaran

    The Discovery Catamaran

    The Discovery is owned and operated by Panama Marine Adventures (PMA) and is a 33-meter purpose built catamaran capable of traveling up to a speed of 18 knots.

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Experience it for yourself

You can enjoy this activity as part of the suggested tours below, or we can weave it into a trip shaped entirely around you.