There are so many amazing things to do on a trip to Panama. So when you visit, you need a bucket list! Famous for having the only true First World city in Central America, Panama is a place where modern skyscrapers and casinos contrast with colorful colonial buildings and lush rainforests. Whether you choose to explore Panama City’s hippest neighborhood Casco Viejo or top up your tan on Wizard Beach in Bocas del Toro, Panama has something for everyone. So here is what we consider to be the top things to do on a trip to Panama, certainly worthy of a place on your Central America Bucket List anyway.
Here’s our pick of the top things to do on a trip to Panama
Beside the towering glass skyscrapers of bustling Panama City’s hippest (and smallest) neighborhood of Casco Viejo. Also known as San Felipe this is the old city’s heart and it’s popular with travelers for its vibrant dining and nightlife scene. Lose yourself in the maze of narrow streets, where you’ll find local shops selling traditional handicrafts set against the backdrop of colorful colonial architecture. Cocktail lounges, rooftop bars, and global restaurants line most mural decorated streets. Casco Viejo is an old Panamanian district dating back to the 17th century that must be explored.
Bocas del Toro Archipelago
Bocas del Toro is definitely among one of the top places to visit in Panama and the best way to discover this ultimate Caribbean destination is by boat. The Panama government has invested heavily on Boca del Toro and it’s an extremely popular, albeit crowded, tourist destination now. While here go hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and surfing. Some of the best beaches in Panama can be found at Bocas del Toro such as Wizard Beach and Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos.
Perhaps the most well-known site in Panama. Everyone must visit the Panama Canal which has been playing a significant role in linking the Caribbean with the Pacific for the past 100 years. The construction was initiated by the French in 1881, but owing to a high mortality rate of laborers, work came to a halt. It was resumed only after the USA took the challenge to complete it. One of the top things to do in Panama is head to the Miraflores Locks to admire the huge ships that cross the Panama Canal.
Miraflores Visitor Center
Following on from the first top thing to do in Panama; If you want to explore the in-depth history of the Panama Canal, it is recommended to visit the Miraflores Visitor Center, which is just outside Panama City. The museum is a four-story magnificent building offering tourists a chance to view the Miraflores locks as well as the ships cruising by. A lot of exhibits in this museum are interactive making it an exciting place for kids too.
Relax at Las Lajas
Go off the beaten path to Playa Las Lajas which is set along Panama’s Pacific coast in the Gulf of Chiriquí. This is one of the most popular mainland beaches in the area, perhaps because it is close to both David and the Inter-American Highway. Playa Las Lajas is a gray-sand beach that is long and broad, it’s not overly pretty but convenient and easy to get to. Some portions of the beach are lined with palm trees and there are shady thatched-roof huts that you can rent for the day.
Metropolitan Natural Park
This 573-acre national treasure is located in the heart of Panoma City in the Ancon district and perfect for nature lovers in need of some chill out time. Despite the urban location of the Metropolitan Natural Park, there are great hiking trails here and it is the only wildlife refuge in the city with a variety of bird species and Geoffroy’s tamarin. While here, hike up Ankon Hill and admire the picturesque views from the top.
The relaxed and safe mountain town of Boquete is the perfect place to escape the sometimes oppressive heat of the coast. This is one of Panama’s most important coffee-growing areas and is known as a hot spot for hiking and birdwatching. With great restaurants and a good mix of luxury and budget accommodation this is a popular destination for travelers and Panamanian day trippers.
San Blas Islands
Get off the beaten track on a trip to the postcard perfect San Blas Islands if white sand beaches, palm trees and crystal-clear water are your thing! The only way to visit these islands is to book a package with the local indigenous Guna people, which will include accommodation, three meals a day and transport to and from, and around the islands.
Coiba National Park
Panama’s top surf destinations is Santa Catalina, on the Pacific Coast and one reason people visit, besides for the great surf, is Isla Coiba which is now Coiba National Park. This biodiversity hot spot is home to 200 bird species, crocodiles, snakes and turtles. While here go scuba diving and look out for enormous whale sharks (they enjoy interacting with divers).
Playa Coronado is the perfect spot for anyone missing western comforts! Or for those who want to hit the beach (a mix of black and gold sand) and chill out. A large mall and American chain restaurants will make you feel like Playa Coronado is your home from home. There’s some nice beachfront hotels here too if you want to stay a bit longer.
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There is so much more to see and experience in this amazing country. Plan ahead so that you can take your time exploring and be prepared to be flexible because sometimes travelers you meet along the way will have the best suggestions for undiscovered gems and awesome things to do on a trip to Panama.
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