Visit Panama City, Panama
Home to half of Panama’s population, Panama City is a heady combination of historic crumbling colonial buildings and high-rise ultra modern structures, set around a large bay on the Pacific Ocean.
In some ways the city combines three cities in one. The first impressions are usually of the sleek and prosperous infrastructure of the business and entertainment districts, a vibrant, sophisticated and truly international commercial hub that exists largely to serve the neighbouring canal. Beyond this, at the extreme southwest of the bay, Caso Viejo is an attractive district comprised of beautiful 17th and 18th century churches, where convents and museums are interspersed with stunning colonial mansions built by the Spanish and French.
Drawing from a period still further in the past is Panama Viejo, the original ruins of the capital founded in 1517 by Pedradiras Davila and quickly became an important geographic location for colonial trade. It is estimated that during the 16th and 17th centuries, 60% of all American silver went through the city which also operated as a connection point for inter-american trade.
Panama Viejo (Old Panama) was the first city to be built on the Pacific coast of the Americas and started out as a handful of simple huts. Stone was already used at the end of the 16th century but only for government buildings, churches and the best houses. In 1671 the city was attacked by Welsh pirate Henry Morgan and the city left in ruins. Two years later it was moved to what is now known as Casco Antiguo, abandoning the old site of the City for over two centuries.
This old city centre has plenty of charm and a diverse selection of museums, colonial churches and nineteenth century mansions all painted in an array of different colours. Casco Antiguo is home to the presidential palace and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. Although Casco Antiguo is a poor neighbourhood, the area is slowly being restored and regenerated.
At night it is the city’s causeway that comes alive with locals and visitors gathering for drinks at sunset overlooking the entrance to the canal, and dinner amongst the candlelit restaurants.
Today, Panama City is by far the most modern city in Central America, helped by the fact that it lies outside any earthquake and hurricane zones.
Suggested itineraries featuring Panama City
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Panama City, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of Panama City
Places & hotels on the map
Places near Panama City
- The Canal Zone 9 miles away
- Cocle Province 48 miles away
- El Valle 49 miles away
- Coral Lodge 49 miles away
- Pearl Islands 59 miles away
- San Blas Islands 64 miles away
- Darien 158 miles away
- Pacific Coast Beaches 170 miles away
- Tranquilo Bay 180 miles away
- Bocas del Toro 188 miles away
- Cala Mia 195 miles away
- Chiriqui Highlands 199 miles away
Photos of Panama City
Accommodation choices for Panama City
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Panama City. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
This functional hotel features 159 rooms and suites, each with balconies and either a garden view or a view over the entrance to the canal and the Bridge of the Americas.
The Bristol is a lovely 56 bedroom hotel designed with a touch of Latin American charm. The lobby is adorned with paintings by Panamanian artists and the hotel facilities are excellent.
Opened in Autumn 2013, the American Trade Hotel is the newest property in Panama City's Casco Viejo and one of the best hotel options in the city.
Ideas for experiencing Panama City
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Panama City, and which use the best local guides.
This tour goes up into the hills outside Panama City to the Chagres river where you transfer with your guide on to an open-top Embera motorised canoe. You zip along the clear river waters by boat through beautiful scenery to visit the small indigenous community of Embera Indians in the Chagres National Park.
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.
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.
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.
The Discovery is owned and operated by Panama Marine Adventures (PMA) and is a 33 metre purpose built catamaran capable of travelling up to a speed of 18 knots.