Panama City is a place chock full of history, riches and culture. People from all over the world come to this vibrant South American capital for many reasons; whether it be for business reasons, relocation, a beachside getaway, or some family fun — the possibilities are endless in Panama City.
How many days do you need in Panama City?
Panama City is no small city that serves as some rest stop. This is a world-class metropolis. For many years, the prosperity and the history that this city holds is unique in the Latin American Region. The city serves both as the last frontier in North and Central America, as well as a gateway to South America. Both of these wildly successful continents meet in Panama City, and thanks to the Panama Canal, it seems the entire world passes through the city limits. This is why spending a few days to a week is definitely ideal in Panama City. With that being said, in the event that you are short on time, or just passing through, you are more than able to get a true sense of what this city has to offer in one day! In this article, we will show you how you can see the sights, smell the spice and hear the rhythm in this unique capital city.
How can I spend a day in Panama City?
Wake up and smell the coffee!
The sun is rising, and you see that it’s a new day! What better place to start your day than in beautiful, tropical, sunny Panama City? Freshen up for the day; maybe a good idea to put on some sunscreen, and some light and airy clothing breathable to brave the sometimes oppressive Panama sun. If you are staying near the historic centre, it’s a good walk to the French Plaza, if not, it is awfully easy to get around anywhere in Panama City. Around the block in Panama City, there are many great local coffee shops to choose from! For the closest shop to get a nice morning brew at the French Plaza, try out Caffe Per Due, a great cafe option as well as an exquisite and highly regarded Italian restaurant by the famed square. You are free to choose your brew, but for the quintessential Panamanian experience, people here usually grab an espresso.
Continue on to the French Plaza, at the southern tip of the Casco Viejo. This stunning square is an ode to the French people who contributed greatly to the building of the Panama Canal. There is also a solemn memorial dedicated to the 22,000 workers who died while building the canal, as well as a homage to the Cuban doctor, Carlos J. Finlay, who discovered the transmission of disease by mosquitoes. A beautifully manicured and very European built plaza by the sea is the perfect place to spend a breezy morning with a cup of joe.
Also read: What to do in Colon
Step into a timewarp!
After a relaxing coffee with the morning breeze, it’s time to get into the action. A short walk into the Casco Antiguo — The city’s historical and cultural centre. Panama City was founded on August 15, 1519 but was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times before the present day historical district was built in the late 1600s, walled in to protect this “new” city from pirate attacks. Casco Antiguo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The good thing about the old city is that you are able to get to all points within walking distance. The first thing you will notice is the explosion of colour on the beautifully maintained facades all built in baroque, neoclassical, and Andalusian architecture.
Visit the Plaza de la Independencia to get a sense of the city’s wealthy past. This shaded plaza is a great place to get out of the sun and relax for a bit while you take in the majesty of the cathedral and the quaint kiosk. Speaking of churches, this portion of the city has so many unique churches, where you can observe the devotion of the people, as well as learning about the different eras in which these churches were built. For a gothic style, visit the Society of Jesus. For a more Spanish Castilian church, visit the San Francisco de Asis Church.
If you want a Moorish revival structure, the Metropolitan Cathedral (Panama City’s main church) is the place to go. For a taste of culture, take in the beauty of the National Theatre of Panama’s quintessential colonial architecture as well as bolshoi-type interior. When you emerge from the interior of the old town, you will most definitely be wowed by the view of modern Panama City in the distance, with its unique cityscape! Create your own roadmap with the past to get to the present!
Lunchtime: Restaurants in Panama City
Take in the spices of this flavourful country in the old city!
Fonda Lo Que Hay
For a quintessential Panamanian experience, go to the wildly popular Fonda Lo Que Hay. Panamanian food is definitely unique in the region with many influences from the traditional flavours of the Indigenous, to the typical Spanish fare, but with a heavy Carribean twist. One of the favorites is the Octopus Ceviche with fried plantains! Not a fan of seafood? The Panamanian fried chicken is also a scrumptious contender. Not only is the food something to talk about, but the chill cafe atmosphere gives you a sense of the attention to detail the staff and the restaurant puts in.
Founded by two Canadian sisters who fell in love with the culture and cuisine of the country, they relocated to the tropics to bring a little bit of their flavour to the market! If you want a light lunch with lots of healthy qualities, try Mahalo! A farm to table experience, all ingredients in this restaurant are taken from local industries and brought to your lunch plate with aesthetic, taste and health! Big portions, lots of juicing options and a great musical atmosphere, this open-air tropical restaurant is definitely worth checking out. There are two locations and the restaurant is also very popular for catering options.
If you want to grab lunch on the go, but also a cultural experience to go with it, try El Deli. A family owned business, this place is known around the city for its delicious sandwiches. For a very relaxed cafe atmosphere, El Deli offers you sandwiches, coffee, desserts and so much more! They are noted for their chorizo sandwiches as well as their brownies! For a more hearty option, you are definitely in for a treat with the Puerco al Horno with rice and salad.
Let us help you decide: The Best Time to Visit Panama
Flow past the Panama Canal for a bit of this city’s main attraction!
If you do not know already, the Panama Canal is one of the biggest testaments to Panama’s success. This canal has brought trade to the forefront of the world economy, and you cannot miss the testament to human innovation. The sheer length of this project that brings in these gigantic boats to pass through the continent is amazing to see, and it’s not something to miss. Usually, it is suggested to take the boat tour, but since we are on a time crunch and the boat tour is 6-8 hours with a brunch, The Panama Canal is just as worth seeing on the way. To get the best views of the mechanics of this grand operation, visit the Miraflores Visitor Centre. The Miraflores gates are on the first lock operations that let boats through the uneven terrain under the waters of the canal. It’s amazing to watch this meticulously choreographed dance, and you will be wooed by the sheer grandeur of these ships trying to squeeze through the continent to continue its journey.
Take a well-deserved break by also taking in the view of this metropolis!
Latin America’s first Baha’i temple, the Templo Baha’i is a serene building perched atop a hill overlooking the Panama City Valley. It’s a white egg-shaped structure built in 1972 to serve Panama’s observers of the Baha’i faith, an Abrahamic religion that teaches universal peace, love, and unity. It is an impressive structure, but what is equally as impressive is the view it provides. The temple captures a stunning picture of the capital of Panama and its surroundings ripe with photo opportunities!
Read our detailed guide: What to do in Templo Baha’i
Punctuate your day with a dramatic sunset walk and dinner!
For a culinary experience with a spot of glitz and glam, take a promenade along Bella Vista, Panama’s high end centre. But before that, let’s have some dinner:
For a taste of Panama’s extensive foreigner history, try the delicious Beirut restaurant. Panama, as with the rest of Latin America, has had an extensive history with Lebanese emigres spanning from the 19th century. This has brought a surge of popularity as its unique cuisine uses as many spices as the local population uses. A cosy and casual option for people who are looking for a Middle Eastern cuisine option, this is the perfect place. The best thing about Lebanese cuisine is that there are always vegan options.
For a more high-end experience, try La Posta. Located with a beautiful British Colonial interior, you are able to experience a delicious French bistro cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere and romantic ambience. Especially good for our seafood-lovers with famed oysters and moules frites. Additionally, there are options for delicious fusion of Latin American and French cuisine. If you want the perfect place for a wine and dine, and quenching cocktails, La Posta might be a favorite.
After a delicious dinner, take a stroll along the seawall for either a beautiful sunset opportunity, or to take in the beautiful breeze and view the flashing lights of stunning Panama City. You did it! You have made this week-long worth trip into an activity-filled sightseeing tour! There is so many other ways you can create your itinerary in this Latin American metropolis, and that is the beauty of Panama City! Tailor your own adventure…
Where to next: How to get from Panama City to Colon