Panama City is the capital and largest city in Panama and has a population of around 1 million. It is probably best known for the Panama Canal and also the fact that it has a high rise skyline, something missing throughout Central America.
How to get to Panama City
We arrived in Panama City from Bocas del Toro. We stupidly paid $38 each for a combo ticket of ferry to Almirante, taxi to the bus station and then bus to Panama City with Coconut Hostel. You can EASILY do this trip on your own. Indeed all Coconut Hostel did was walk us to the port, buy our ferry and bus ticket there and handed us $2 each for a taxi (from the port in Almirante to the bus station). For all this they made a profit of $3 per person. Just go to the port yourself! The bus to Panama City was luxurious and had frequent breaks. It took 11 hours and stopped in Albrook Mall, we then got an Uber to our hotel.
Where to stay
We stayed in Hotel Caribe in the Calidonia area of the city for most of our stay in Panama City. We were sold by promises of a rooftop pool overlooking views of skyscrapers. It had all that (even if the pool’s cleanliness was a bit questionable), but it was located in quite a sketchy area. We were told never to go out after dark – that it was likely we would not return. For this reason we both agree that Panama City was the one place on our trip so far that we have felt unsafe. One positive I can say about the location is that it was close to the area where the Carnival festivities took place. This allowed us to have a short walk down to watch the parade!
Our hotel did have it’s benefits – like being near to the Carnival parade!
I would recommend staying in Luna’s Castle in Casco Viejo. The location is ideal and safe and the facilities seem reasonably maintained! We also stayed in Hostal Mamallena and although it was nice, there was not much close by so the location was not great!
What to do
Are there alot of tourist attractions in Panama City? Yes. Did we do them all? No. As we have mentioned in previous blogs, Panama is relatively expensive compared to other Central American countries. For this reason we decided to only do the things we really wanted to do. Also, due to our questionable location we needed to get Uber’s everywhere!
When most people think about Panama they think about the Panama Canal. One of the greatest man made structures in the world, the canal allowed transport from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific preventing boats from having to go all the way south, around the tip of South America. This canal now makes billions of dollars every year for Panama, and is one of the reasons that Panama has the fastest growing economy in Central America.
Cruise Ship passing through the Canal
Miraflores Locks is where the Panama Canal Visitor Centre is, and it is located a few kilometres outside of the main city. We got an Uber for $3.50, a taxi was quoting us $12! Entrance to the visitor center is $15. The first thing we did was go to the viewing area where we saw a big cruise ship moving from the Atlantic side to the Pacific side. Note that the direction changes at 11am and there are no boats crossing between 11am and 3pm, so make sure you go early in the morning or late in the evening!
The locks with different levels of water
Your $15 admission also includes entrance to the museum. The museum was not very good in my opinion. Having been to the Titanic Museum in Belfast you get the chance to see how to make a museum interesting and interactive. This museum was uninteresting and didn’t follow a path, there was a random exhibition on different insects in Panama half way through! There is also a very short movie included, about 15 minutes, which details a very basic history of the canal.
AKA ‘El Jefe’
Overall I would recommend a visit to the canal. It is very pricey for what you get, but it is one of the man made engineering wonders of the world so I feel you should go and have a look for yourself!
Just incase you didn’t know where we were
Casco Viejo, or the old town is completely different to the area of Panama where we stayed. This UNESCO world heritage site is just a small neighborhood in Panama City, but it is full of interesting architecture, history and colourful murals. It’s definitely worth spending a morning or evening strolling around this area – and make sure to take your camera!
Casco Viejo Murals
A monument dedicated to all the French who lost their lives building the Panama Canal
Some of the views from the Cinta Costera!
This is a 2.5km pedestrian bridge which runs alongside a road. The contrasting views of the old town on one side and the skyline of the new part of Panama City make this walk worthwhile. Make sure to bring a hat and some water as the sun can get hot! You finish up just near to the entrance to Casco Viejo and the walk takes you past the Fish Market. Here there are a host of restaurants which serve fresh fish!
The fish market and the skyline – a nice contrast!
This is not something we personally did but it comes highly recommended. Made from the left over rubble that was created from making the Panama Canal, this 6km causeway has some create views of Panama City. There is also a host of restaurants and tourist shops along the way!
Panama Viejo is literally the ruins of old Panama City. Panama used to be one of Spain’s most strategic points along the Pacific Ocean and as such it drew quite a lot of attention from pirates. The famous Captain Henry Morgan managed to sack the city in 1671 and set it on fire, destroying the city. Afterwards, Panama City was rebuilt a few kilometers to the west. Panama Viejo is a fascinating look at how the city looked like before it was attacked by pirates!