Skip to content

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 80kms. You have time to explore the new visitor's centre which documents the history of the canal from the first attempts by the French through the US completion of the project in 1914. The Americans controlled the canal until the 31st December 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 metres 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 artefacts 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 centre has plenty of charm and a diverse selection of museums, colonial churches and 19th 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. 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 Jose 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 neighbourhood, the area is slowly being restored and regenerated.

Speak to someone
who's been there

Audley Travel specialist Corina

Start planning your tailor-made trip by contacting one of our Panama specialists

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, such as cooking classes, that will introduce you to the local ways of life.

  • Embera Indian Village
    Embera Indians. Panama

    Embera Indian Village

    Embera Indian Village

    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.

    View details
  • Gatun Lake Boat Tour & Rainforest Hike
    Gatun Lake, Panama

    Gatun Lake Boat Tour & Rainforest Hike

    Gatun 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.

    View details
  • 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.

    View details
  • 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 metre purpose built catamaran capable of travelling up to a speed of 18 knots.

    View details