Also known simply as Panama, the historical capital of the country was the starting point of Colonial Central and South America. Expeditions for the conquering of the Inca Empire all began in Panama City as a vantage point. The Panama Canal was not the only time Panama was a trading post, as since the 1500s, it was a major stopping point at one of the most important trade routes in the world. The amount of the gold, silver and other riches that have passed through Panama City to continue on to Spain is astronomical, and it shows through the architecture, culture and the eventual present day economical condition. Panama City is historically a very wealthy city and it has a lot to show for it.
Located between the Pacific Ocean and the rainforest, Panama City is at the crossroads of nature, and with this comes an astonishing variety of wilderness, such as the famous tapir and pumas that cavort about the country, and congregate in the beautiful wild outside of the city. The water provided by these rainforests are vital for the economy of the city as well as the country, most importantly for the world-renowned Panama Canal. For this reason, the forest is vehemently protected and maintained.
Its history is as colourful as its future. The famed historical centre is a mix of ruins, popular attractions and preserved beauties. Today a banking centre, Panama City attracts people from all over the world as well as people from all over this diverse and beautiful country. From its beautiful skyline to its beautiful landscapes, you can find endless possibilities in Panama’s hip capital!
What is Panama City known for?
It goes without saying that Panama City’s (and Panama in general) major success is thanks to the famed Panama Canal. This is the most important trade station in the world. Some may argue that this changed Panama’s stand in the world in terms of infrastructure, health, culture and economy, and the Panamaians are very proud of this.
It is also known for its economic prosperity. Known as the Latin American Dubai, Panama City is one of the richest and most prosperous cities in the region. Heavily weighted towards banking, commerce and tourism, Panama City brings forth trade and shipping opportunities as well as a prime location for accounting and banking opportunities, which is in part the reason for the city’s impressive skyline and construction boom. It is almost hard to believe that in 2008, Panama City had the world’s second highest hotel occupancy rate after Perth, Australia and followed by the city people compare Panama City to: Dubai, UAE.
Apart from what people know of Panama City, there is much more to explore in this Latin American Metropolis, and much to experience in this cosmopolitan city. Have at it!
Is Panama City safe?
For the most part, Panama City is generally safe. Pickpockets are a common occurrence in the streets of Panama City, and it is recommended to be aware of your surroundings at all times. It is the best practice to not be flashy with your valuable possessions and to be discreet when using the ATMs. Public transportation is safe, as long as you keep your possessions close especially during rush hours. It is better to call a taxi than to hail one on the street. Panama City is the economic centre of the country, which means that a diverse economy, like any city, means that there is bound to be a criminal underworld.
Fortunately, the best way to avoid encountering the underground is to not go looking for it. This means not to stray too far from the beaten path, as well as not going to every single neighbourhood possible in the city. Scams are common, but the best way to avoid this is to never pay for anything upfront as well as always negotiate the price before you agree to any activity or transportation. All in all, exercise the same amount of caution as you would in any Latin American city, and you will be able to enjoy everything Panama City has to offer.
Read our detailed guide: Safety in Panama
Is Panama City worth visiting?
A beacon of safety in an otherwise unstable region, Panama City is certainly a gem for people who want to see a mix of the local lifestyle, as well as the glitz and the glamour of the country’s best face. You will be able to experience the world’s most famous trading stop; the Panama Canal, with the rainforest just at your leisurely way.
Whether you want to travel alone, or you want to take your family with you, there are many options and opportunities to enjoy this city, and it makes an amazing homebase for your Latin American adventure.
What is there to do in downtown Panama City?
Take a seaside stroll at the Punta Paitilla
A great way to explore the glitzy beauty of Panama City, you can talk around the Punta Paitilla where you can admire the beautiful cityscape that overlooks the waterfront. Another great point to start is the Punta Pacifica where you can marvel at the line of the luxury condos that stare into the deep blue Pacific Ocean. This is where you can access the high-end shops and luxury restaurants for a high-brow experience. Costa del Este is a very upscale neighborhood where palms line the wide streets with condos, high-end shops and restaurants everywhere you turn. This is a great place for you to exude your inner Beverly Hills lifestyle and treat yourself to a lobster or steak dinner!
The Causeway is an adventurous tourist space where you can walk or pedal along the sea through a bunch of islands created from the rocks that were taken out to build the Panama Canal. Take advantage of the vending culture on the Causeway with its many refreshments and snacks to nibble on as you see the beautiful sights the Causeway has to offer.
For a fun night experience, you can conquer the night with the buzzing night scene of Panama with your choice of luxury clubs, skybars, as well as a more alternative scene with more underground clubs and bars. The city is yours to pick your own adventure.
Also read: What to do in Colon
Step in time at the Casca Viejo
For a more historical side of Panama City, explore the city’s colonial neighborhood of Casca Viejo. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. This is a beautiful testament to the city’s colonial past with colorful streets, flowers, trees, cafes and galleries that line the streets. Marvel at the mix of Baroque, Neoclassical, and traditional architecture. Visit the beautiful Plazas of France Square where you can relax under some shade while taking in the magnificent history as well as peering up at the domineering modern architecture.
Visit the Panama la Vieja, which is the original city founded in 1519 by Spanish Colonists, which is also Panama’s first Spanish Colonial settlement. The city was destroyed and left to ruins by pirates in the 17th century. It was after this attack that the colonists decided to move their colonial centre to Casco Viejo as a method of strategic protection. Walking through these ruins, you are able to take in the history and the sacrifices made in order to keep their territories running. Leaving a city to rebuild another is a great perspective for people who wish to see how important territory was for people throughout history, as well as how important it can be now.
Visit the Panama Canal
It’s time to visit what people flock to from around the world — The Panama Canal. Named the 8th Wonder of the Modern World, this narrow stretch of water is a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. This link between North and South America is nothing to joke about, as this is the most important point of travel in the economic sector, and the overwhelmingly vast majority of our shipping goes through this small stretch of water.
Built in 1904, the canal was opened in 1914 under the control of the United States, and was not transferred to Panama until 1999. Panamanians were not even allowed to enter the area! This shows the sacrifices that the people of this country had to go through for the sake of progress and innovation! You can take a 6-8 hour boat tour through the canal and experience the many locks and processes that many of these ships have to go through in order to enter the Pacific Ocean, or vice versa.
Visit Templo Baha’i
Hidden away in the foothills of Panama City is a curious structure. An almost egg-shaped building with radiating pillars. Is it an observation tower? One with beautifully well-kept gardens and a 360 view of the city?
No, this is the Templo Baha’i, or the Baha’i Temple. This relic of Latin American brutalist architecture is a symbol of religious acceptance in the country for a religion persecuted in the country of its roots. This building is pretty easy to get to, and does not involve much of a hike since it is not too far away from the nearest taxi station.
For a great photo-op, cultural insight and a stunning view\ from what seems like the top of the world, the Templo Baha’i is a modern day architectural wonder for religious observers, photographers and architecture buffs alike!
Read our guide: What to do in Templo Baha’i
Visit the Pearl Islands
Take a ferry to the famed Pearl Islands, 30 minutes away from Panama City, for the perfect Pacific adventure. Named after the pearl oysters abundant along these shores, you are able to take advantage of another thing pearly white about these islands, its beaches!
First occupied by the indigenous population, the Pearl Islands then became a stronghold of pirates for many years before it came to what it is now; peace, quiet and pristine shoreline.
Where to next? Read: How to get from Panama City to Colon