Panama is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and one of Central America’s fastest growing tourist destinations. If you’re considering a vacation in Panama, we are confident you won’t regret it as this country has so much to offer.
Some of the best Panama tourist attractions are located in and around the capital, Panama City, but the great news is that all of the best places to see in Panama are easily accessible. As a relatively small country, nowhere is too far to add to your Panamanian itinerary and we think you’ll be surprised by just how much there is to see and do in Panama.
With a rich history, a fascinating culture and warm, friendly locals to welcome you, Panama is the ideal destination for your next vacation.
From the country’s most famous attraction, the renowned Panama Canal, to the Caribbean calm of the San Blas Islands, the historic Casco Viejo in Panama City to the rich rainforest in the Chagres National Park, you will be nothing short of amazed by what this stunning country has to offer.
What is Panama known for?
Panama is most known as being a transit country because of the famed Panama Canal, 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. Not to mention, the Panama Canal is one of the Seven Modern Wonders of The World. Impressive huh?!
Aside from the famous canal in the capital Panama City, Panama is also known as a natural haven with attractions such as whitewater rafting, diving and snorkeling, birdwatching and hiking. For lovers of the outdoors it is the ideal vacation destination!
You may also be aware that Panama City is sometimes dubbed the Latin American Dubai. As one of the richest and more prosperous cities in the region, the capital has a huge banking industry, a thriving tourism industry and massive shipping opportunities thanks to the canal. With an impressive skyline and endless shopping on offer, it’s quite the place to be!
Is Panama safe for tourists?
Panama is in fact one of the safest countries in Central America for tourists. Even according to the US State Department, Panama is a Level 1 on its Travel Advisory – “Exercise Normal Precautions.” Of course, as is the case with any international travel we recommend that travellers take certain precautions to mitigate any risk of harm.
We’re sure you’ve heard about Central America’s reputation for violence related to gangs and drugs. This is old news with a long history, but unfortunately still pertinent today for travellers to the region. Panama is in close proximity to Colombia, so it inevitably gets caught in the crossfire within the Central American drug funnel from South America to the USA.
There are certain places you should avoid in order to stay out of harm’s way, but we cannot stress enough that there are so many wonderful destinations in Panama that are highly recommended for tourists!
Many tourists planning on travelling to Panama have also considered the neighbouring countries in Central America. The question on my travellers lips when considering which destination to choose is this; is Panama safer than Mexico?
And the honest answer to this question? It depends. There are many factors to consider, such as where you intend to visit, whether you intend to stay within a resort or travel around the country, whether you are travelling on your own or in a group, whether you plan on staying in cities on going rural. This isn’t exhaustive.
At this time, the US State Department’s Mexico Travel Advisory has issued some form of high warning for many Mexican states. In this regard, Panama could be considered safer than Mexico.
Wherever you choose to travel, we strongly urge you to do your research and practice caution throughout your vacation in order to have the most enjoyable experience.
For more precautionary information about places to avoid and how to stay safe during your vacation, see our comprehensive guide to:
Regarding the best areas..
Where do we start! It depends what you are looking for and what you hope to experience. Let’s take a look at some of the best places to visit in panama.
Now of course, when you’re considering where to go in Panama, the capital, Panama City, is going to rank pretty high on your list. Not only is it the primary hub for international flights, but it’s also a pretty great destination in itself. You’ll need to take a tour on the Panama Canal for sure, since it is one of the main reasons the country is famous across the globe, and visit the Miraflores Visitor Center.
Aside from that, there is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Casca Viejo, the cities famous historical old town, filled with Baroque, Neoclassical, and traditional architecture, beautiful Plazas and, flowers, trees, cafes and galleries that line the colourful streets.
Detailed Guide: What to do in Panama City
The second largest city in Panama, Colon is the country’s gateway to the Carribean sea. Founded by the government of the United States in 1850, it was the hub of the Panama Railroad with the intention of creating a fast track to California during the California Gold Rush. Named Aspinwall by the American immigrants that inhabited the city, the Panamaians called the city Colon after Christopher Columbus.
Destroyed many times throughout its history, the city has been burned down and rebuilt up to four times until finally establishing itself as a city for emigres as well as Panamaians themselves. Today, the city is known as the centre of Panama’s Carribean coast, as well as a great central heart for tourists to radiate out and explore the immediate surrounding beauty of the country. What people do not realize is that Colon is the best place in Panama’s Carribean coast to explore the entire country!
Read our detailed guide: What to do in Colon
The perfect mix of nature and luxury, Rio Hato is a long string of beaches, resorts and national park that creates an endless plethora of entertainment, relaxation and exploration for families, couples, and curious adventurers visiting Panama!
Developed in the early 1970s, the stretch of resorts are pleasantly isolated from the usual hustle and bustle of Panamanian cities to provide a wide array of activities like sunbathing, golfing, spa trips, dining, and touring!
Read our detailed guide: What to do in Rio Hato
Sprawled along the beautiful Carribean coast on the hump of the Panamanian isthmus, is the port city of Portobelo. Established in 1597 by the Spanish Colonial Authority, Portobelo was one of the main Carribean trading posts for the plundering of Peruvian silver.
Thanks to its reputation as a silver trading port, Portobelo became an extremely important wealthy city in Panama. As a result, the Spanish built defensive fortifications in the city as well as the coast around it, to fend off from pirates, of which Panama was rife with pirate attacks. With a colorful history, the city was the site of a choice of many privateer attacks. In 1668, although Portobelo held strong fortifications, the city fell victim to a slew of attacks and was plundered for two weeks, during which all of its wealth was depleted, and the city was emptied of its people.
After many attempts at repopulating and failing due to interests of the colonists and the privateers and corporate states, the city is now home to 4,000 inhabitants, and uses its historical significance to attract tourists, which it does marvelously. Today, the city is now protected by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
Read our detailed guide: What to do in Portobelo
For a quintessential oceanside experience in Panama, Playa Venao does not have a shortage of activities that will keep you swimming for days on end! Five hours from Panama City, Playa Venao is one of Central America’s most impressive surfing spots, where you can ride the waves, swim the depths, or just lay out on the beach. The fascination is endless and the fun you can have will never run out in this hidden jewel of the region!
The jungle truly melds into the sea with beautiful formation, and it’s the best place to experience an easy-living lifestyle far away from the overwhelming busy atmosphere of the cities of Panama. This laid back region on the Azuero Peninsula is one of the natural beauties of the country. The black sand beaches roll into the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean. The lush jungle surrounding the resorts are protected areas home to anteaters, monkeys and loads and loads of birds! Collect your favorite bikinis and swim trunks because the waters are clear, the waters are warm, and the waters are ripe for your exploration.
Read our detailed guide: What to do in Playa Venao
You may have heard that Panama is a paradise for nature lovers, and one of the contributing factors is the wonderful array of waterfalls dotted throughout the country that are simply stunning. If you are wondering what to do in Panama, you cannot miss the opportunity to see at least a few of the hundreds of stunning waterfalls the country has to offer.
The waterfalls in Panama are some of the most impressive and diverse in the world, and we have a guide telling you about the very best.
Read our detailed guide: Waterfalls in Panama
Beaches in Panama
When you’re wondering where to visit in Panama, the answer will be largely dictated by what you want to do during your vacation. If it’s beaches you’re looking for, then look no further than our guide to the best beaches in Panama.
Panama lies between the Pacific Ocean and the Carribean Sea, so it’s easy to see why it is the destination of choice for beach-lovers. From the wild waves of the Pacific Coast to the calm currents of the Caribbean Coast, Panama may be a small country but it has a beach for everyone, whether you’re looking to sail or surf, or simply relax and bask in the glorious sunshine.
Thankfully, Panama is hard to beat as far as the weather is concerned. During the dry season, temperatures are high and conditions are perfect for sunbathing, snorkeling and enjoying all the beautiful beaches have to offer. During the wet season, the tropical rainforest lining the country’s best beaches thrives in the rain, coming to life, rejuvenated by the warm water.
With so many reasons to visit Panama, the only question remaining will be – where should I go first?!
Read our detailed guide: Best Beaches in Panama