Panama City is an adventure travelers dream! If you enjoy culture, wild natural places and getting off the beaten track, the capital city is an ideal holiday destination. It may be best known for its monumental canal but it has a lot more to offer the adventurous explorer.
Panama has a tropical climate and is one of the most unspoiled and biodiverse regions on earth. The city’s surrounding area is packed with dense rainforests, crystal clear waterfalls and pristine oceans and waterways.
The city’s Spanish colonial past and its historic architecture make the city itself a beautiful place to explore. It also has an intriguing pirate history and was part of a trade route for Spanish gold long before the canal was built.
There’s a lot to discover on your travels and here are a few fun things to do in Panama City!
1 – See the famous Panama Canal
Could you visit Panama without seeing its legendary canal? Thought to be one of the “seven wonders of the modern world,” the Panama Canal is a huge man-made waterway that links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Visit the canal on a day trip and see the Miraflores locks, Armador Causeway and the Bridge of the Americas, which links Central and South America. The Panama Canal is a real feat of human engineering.
2 – See the old Panama City at Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo, also known as San Felipe, is Panama City’s historic old town. It was built near the site of the old city of Panama on a peninsula with defensive walls to protect it from attack.
Enjoy the city’s colonial-era architecture, lively plazas and colorful buildings. Check out its bustling nightlife with a drink in a rooftop bar or try local seafood specialties. Panama National Theater is located here, as well as the Panama Canal Museum and Museo de la Mola.
3 – See the ruins of Panama la Vieja
The ruins of Panama la Vieja are one of the earliest Spanish settlements on the Pacific coast. The town was founded in 1519 and over the next hundred years suffered major fires, numerous attacks and an earthquake that destroyed many buildings.
An attack from the Pirate Henry Morgan in 1671 destroyed the city. You can visit the site and see the ruins of the old convent, cathedral and traditional houses.
4 – Discover the Biomuseo
Biomuseo follows the natural history of Panama and how its formation only 15 million years ago connected the large landmasses of North and South America. Discover the effect this had on biodiversity worldwide.
The museum is a fascinating place to visit for children and adults alike. Its interactive exhibits, which include an aquarium, bring the rich natural history of the country to life. A visit to Biomuseo is a must when in Panama city!
5 – Shop till you drop at Albrook Mall
If you like to shop, Albrook Mall is the place to go in Panama City. Albrook is one of the largest shopping malls in Central America with over 700 stores, as well as a cinema, restaurants, a gym and play areas for children.
Shop for popular brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Armani and Nike all under one roof, then choose from over 100 food stalls and restaurants to dine and relax in. This is a shopper’s paradise.
6 – Cycle at Amador Causeway
The Amador Causeway extends 6 kilometers into the Pacific Ocean and connects the small islands of Naos, Culebra, Perico and Flamenco to the mainland. The causeway runs from the southern side of the Panama Canal and is a popular spot to cycle and jog.
A lot of the city’s attractions are located in the area, including the Biomuseo, Punta Culebra Nature Center and Mi Ranchito restaurant. Amador Causeway has a busy nightlife with a selection of great bars and restaurants to try.
7 – Take the aerial tram through Gamboa Rainforest
The Gamboa Rainforest is a largely unspoiled area just outside Panama City. It is a popular destination for birdwatchers and people hoping to get a closer look at the country’s wildlife. The rainforest is still home to indigenous tribes, as well as sloths, monkeys, caymans and a diverse range of birds and butterflies.
Take an aerial tram ride through the dense rainforest, cruise the Gatun Lake on a boat and visit a rescue sanctuary for sloths. There’s lots of fun to be had at Gamboa.
8 – Visit the Panama Canal Museum
The construction of Panama’s canal was one of the major engineering accomplishments of modern times. Visit the Panama Canal Museum to learn more about the people who made this mammoth feat possible.
Learn what a day in the life of a canal worker was like and the methods they used to complete the work. The museum is located in what was once the offices of the canal construction companies.
9 – Indulge your taste buds on a food tour
Panama’s tropical climate produces some rare delicacies. The country’s “geisha” coffee and organic chocolate are well known throughout the world. Why not take a food tour to sample some of the best local foods and eateries in the city?
A favorite in these parts is Ceviche, a raw seafood dish cured in citrus juice. You will also find sancocho, a type of chicken stew and Ropa Vieja, a hearty dish whose name translates as old clothes. Try a tour and see what culinary delights Panama City has to offer.
10 – Listen to the birds at Metropolitan Natural Park
Metropolitan National Park is a 570-acre protected nature reserve just outside of Panama City. It is thickly forested with a good selection of hiking routes. The park is home to 227 species of birds and numerous monkeys, snakes and lizards.
To be sure you don’t miss any of the more timid creatures, it is worth taking a guided tour of the park. There is also a butterfly house to visit with a fantastic view of the city.
11 – Check out the views from Ancon Hill
Ancon Hill has the best views in Panama City. It is a natural and forested area but has a clear path to the summit. Take an early morning hike from the town of Mi Pueblito in the fresh morning air and catch the sun as it rises over the Pacific Ocean.
Keep a lookout for wildlife such as armadillos, toucans, sloths and anteaters that are most active in the early morning. You won’t regret starting your day in Panama City this way!
12 – Visit a tropical island on a boat tour
There are a number of fun boat tours you can take from Panama City. Try an all-day catamaran cruise to the Island of Taboga for swimming, sunbathing and dancing. Taboga is known as the “Island of Flowers” because of its many species of plant life.
If sunbathing isn’t your thing, you could try one of the Panama Canal boat tours to see the enormous locks in action or do some birdwatching from the water.
13 – Feed the monkeys of Monkey Island
As you might expect, Monkey Island is one of the most popular day trips from Panama City. The small island is located in Gatun Lake and is home to Howler Monkeys, Geoffroy’s Tamarin Monkeys and White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys.
Take a boat adventure over the Panama Canal and feed the monkeys with the help of a knowledgeable guide. A trip to Monkey Island is one of the most fun things to do in Panama City.
14 – Take a paddleboarding adventure
Paddleboarding is one of the most fun and eco-friendly ways to explore the waters around Panama City. Travel at your own pace or in a group and tour the coast the slow way. Traveling by paddleboard means you are more likely to see turtles and a variety of colorful fish.
There are some great paddleboard tours that will take you out to the famous El Peñón de San José where you can get magnificent views of the city.
15 – Visit luxury stores at Multiplaza Panamá
Multiplaza is Panama City’s second-largest mall and is the place to go for mid-priced and luxury shopping. It is one of the city’s newest malls and is spread over three levels. expect to find brands like Gucci, Chanel, Kate Spade and Jimmy Choo.
There are also plenty of well-known coffee shops and restaurants like Paul Bakery, Olive Garden and Stefano’s.
16 – Snorkel at San Blas Islands
A day trip to the San Blas Islands is a must for those seeking a Caribbean island paradise. San Blas is an archipelago of 378 mostly uninhabited islands. Take a tour to the islands and snorkel around a shipwreck, kayak on the crystal clear sea or swim in the natural pools.
A visit to the San Blas islands is also an opportunity to meet the indigenous Kuna people who inhabit the islands. The way of life and customs here are different from those in Panama and are very respectful of nature.
17 – See the Golden Altar at Iglesia de San José
The Church of San José dates from the mid-17th century and is well known for its huge ornate golden altar. The “Altar de Oro” is carved from mahogany with gold gilding and was originally in one of the city’s older churches.
Legend has it that the altar was saved from pirates by a quick-thinking priest. The church also has attractive stained-glass windows and ornamentation, as well as a large biblical diorama.
18 – Check out the Plaza de Francia
The French Plaza is one of the highlights of Casco Viejo and is home to the National Institute of Culture as well as a theatre and historic dungeons. It is a good place to buy authentic souvenirs and try the refreshing snow cones, known locally as “raspado.”
Plaza de Francia has a large memorial to the efforts of the French workers and soldiers who began the construction of the Panama Canal.
19 – Pick up souvenirs at Paseo de Las Bóvedas
Paseo de Las Bóvedas (bóvedas means vaults) is named after the colonial era jail cells which are built into the lower part of this seaside promenade. The paseo was formerly a defensive seawall built to defend against pirate attacks.
Far from being a dungeon, you can now find fancy shops and restaurants in the old vaults, as well as occasional art exhibits. This is a great place to buy traditional souvenirs and stroll on an evening.
20 – Stroll Avenida Balboa
Avenida Balboa is one of the main routes through the city and can be hectic but the views are worth the visit. You can see the modern face of Panama here with imposing highrise buildings on one side and Panama Bay on the other.
Sunday is a good time to visit, as the road is closed to cars which gives cyclists and pedestrians some peace. You shouldn’t miss the Fish Market for some of the best fresh or prepared seafood dishes in town.
21 – Meet the indigenous people of Emberá Village
A trip to the Emberá Drua Village is a real treat when visiting Panama City. Meet the Emberá indigenous people and see what a typical day is like for them. Eat a traditional meal and travel in a dug-out canoe, while your hosts describe how their lives in the forest have changed.
If you enjoy cultural excursions, a visit to Emberá Drua has to be one of the most fun things to do in Panama City.
22 – See fabulous frogs at Punta Culebra Nature Center
Punta Culebra Nature Center of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is located on a tiny island at the end of the Amador Causeway where the Panama Canal meets the Pacific Ocean. The center has a range of exhibits, including diverse native frog species and sea turtles.
It also has an aquarium with tropical fish and corals, and a touch tank with starfish and sea cucumbers. Punta Culebra has a lot of activities for kids and guided tours run every half hour.
23 – Spend the day whale watching
Throughout the summer months, Panama is an ideal place to spot humpback whales. The whales pass by the country, while migrating to their breeding grounds in warmer climates. Take a guided tour of the Pearl Islands and see humpbacks in their natural habitat.
You can see humpback whales, as well as dolphins on a day-long cruise. Enjoy the trip onboard a luxury catamaran with a professional guide to ensure you spot these placid giants.
24 – Cross the Bridge of the Americas
The Bridge of the Americas was built as part of the Pan-America highway in 1962. It symbolically joins the North and South American landmasses, which were divided when the Panama Canal was constructed.
It is just over a mile long and crosses the Pacific entrance to the canal. The bridge carries a lot of traffic, but it has pathways down either side to cross by foot or bike.
25 – Enjoy a night of culture at Teatro Nacional de Panama
Panama’s National Theater can be found in the Casco Viejo district opposite Plaza Bolívar.
The theater puts on a range of Spanish language productions which include plays, musicals, live music and ballet.
The building was constructed in 1908 and the interior features frescos by Panamanian artist Roberto Lewis. Why not go along and witness the best of Panama theater?
26 – Zip line through the Panama Jungle
Most people are content to explore on foot, but some of us seek bigger thrills! If this sounds like you, zip-lining through the Gamboa rainforest could be just what you are looking for. Get the best views of the forest and Lake Gatun, as you glide through the canopy.
Get an adrenalin rush, as you take on multiple zip lines through the thick jungle over waterfalls and lakes. This is seriously one of the fun things to do in Panama City.
27 – Visit Panama Metropolitan Cathedral
The Panama Metropolitan Cathedral is one of the largest churches in Central America. It took over 100 years to complete from 1668 to 1796 and has a baroque style. The exterior is of carved stone and has two large bell towers which are decorated with shells to create a pearl finish.
The cathedral has a modest interior with a marble altar. In the foyer, visitors can read about the church’s history and see old artifacts.
28 – Go hiking in Chagres National Park
For a really unforgettable Panama experience, a trip to Chagres National Park is a must. Wander through thick jungle and forest, over hills and rocky terrain to see the wild side of the country.
Keep an eye out for rare birds like woodpeckers and eagles, and wildlife such as tapirs, deer, jaguars and monkeys. Take a guided tour to see the most beautiful spots to hike, spot animals and swim in the national park.
29 – Walk the Cinta Costera
Panama’s Cinta Costera offers some of the best views in the city and is a great place to take a stroll in the cool early morning. It is split into three sections that run along the coastline of the city.
The most impressive part is a thin belt of reclaimed land that surrounds the Casco Viejo district in Panama Bay. Take a walk or cycle along the coastal pathway, and see the famous Panama sign.
30 – Feel at peace at Templo Bahá’í
Panama’s Baháʼí Temple is one of only a few in the world and located on Cerro Sonsonate, or “Singing Hill.” The temple has a unique design and features a domed roof covered with thousands of small tiles.
The Baháʼí is a faith that considers all religions valuable and promotes kindness and unity among people. The temple has beautiful gardens and a terrific view of the city. Visit this unique sanctuary and experience its peaceful ambiance.
31 – Have lunch at Mercado de Marisco
Located by the Cinta Costera, Mercado de Marisco is a must-visit for lovers of fresh seafood and fish dishes. There are stalls selling fresh fish and a few counters offering cold beer and local dishes at a reasonable price.
This seafood market is a popular place for locals to get lunch. The dining areas are basic, but the fish is freshly caught and some of the best in town. Don’t miss this for a genuine Panama dining experience.
32 – Go kayaking on Lake Gatun
Lake Gatun is a huge man-made freshwater lake that was created in the construction of the Panama Canal. It is a great place for adventure sports, especially kayaking. Strap on your lifejacket and explore the Panamanian rainforest from the water.
Just outside of Panama City, there are many other places to kayak, including the San Blas Islands, Chagres River and the old town of Portobelo. Kayaking is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Panama City.
33 – Spot rare birds at Soberania National Park
The Soberania National Park is another natural treasure just outside Panama City. The park covers 55,000 acres and is a popular place to spot tropical birds such as flycatchers, parakeets, parrots and toucans.
The Chagres River runs through the park as does part of the Las Cruces Trail, the historic route used by the Spanish to ferry gold. The range of biodiversity here is incredible and this unspoiled wonder is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts visiting Panama City.
34 – Hit the city sights on a bike tour
Looking for a lazy way to see the sights of Panama City, why not try a bike tour? It allows you to cover a greater distance than walking, but with more freedom than by car. See the Old Town and Cinta Costera, and travel through historic squares and beautiful parks.
Let knowledgeable local guides introduce you to their city. Scratch the surface of the Panamanian culture, while cruising the streets on two wheels. This is one of the most fun things to do in Panama City.
35 – See the engineering wonder of El Arco Chato
The Arco Chato or Flat Arch is part of the ruins of the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo in the Casco Viejo district of the city. The Flat Arch is something of an engineering marvel which spans 50 feet with no central supports.
It’s thought that the arch was a deciding factor in the construction of the canal and the reason Panama was chosen over Nicaragua as the site. Engineers considered the fact the arch was still standing after hundreds of years — evidence of very little earthquake activity.
36 – Hiking and abseiling at India Dormida
India Dormida or the Sleeping Indian is a mountain outside Panama City that has some of the best hiking trails and views in the area. The trail takes you by the Anton Valley crater which looks out onto waterfalls and rainforest.
Take a walk up to the summit and catch the sun rising above the mountains for a truly unforgettable experience. You can take a guided hike that also includes abseiling down a rock face. Thrill-seekers only need to apply!
37 – Visit the Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Carmen
The Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Carmen is one of the most ornate buildings in Panama City and the only gothic-style church in the country. Though this attractive church looks very old, it was actually built in the 1950s.
It has two heavily decorated towers, enormous stained glass windows and carved stone pillars. It would be hard to miss this in Panama City, but be sure to take a tour inside to see the impressive architecture.
38 – See the city by air on a helicopter tour
Grab an amazing view of Panama City from the air with a helicopter ride. Soar over the city’s tallest buildings, see the canal from above and get the clearest views of the rainforest, rivers and oceans.
Ride in an open helicopter for a full adrenaline-filled adventure. Why not take to the skies and see Panama City as you’ve never seen it before?
39 – Get your photo taken at Dress Like Panama
Without a doubt, one of the most fun things to do in Panama City is to visit Dress Like Panama. You can try on traditional Panamanian festival clothes, such as the famous Pollera worn by women, and get your photo taken in a professional studio.
The Pollera is an ornamented dress and blouse that is often paired with a headdress known as a tembleque, pristine makeup and jewelry for this truly iconic folk style. Men wear an outfit which is known as a Montuno and includes a white shirt, straw hat and small bag.
40 – Do some people-watching in Plaza Catedral
Plaza de la Catedral, also known as Plaza de la Independencia, is the main square of Panama City’s Old Town. Here you can find the Panama Canal Museum and Municipal Palace, as well as the grand, imposing cathedral.
You will also find street vendors selling a variety of snacks and souvenirs, and locals relaxing on the benches. The square is an ideal place to sit and watch the world go by, and get an authentic taste of life in the city.
41 – Visit the historical San Lorenzo Fort
San Lorenzo Fort was constructed by the Spanish in the late-1500s to protect the Chagres River from pirates. The area was then the main route for the transport of goods overland between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Over the next half-century, the fort came under regular attack.
Take a walk through the dark stone passageways of the fort and imagine how these early settlers lived. Walk in the footsteps of legendary pirates at this well-preserved ruin.
42 – Enjoy the nightlife in the rooftop bars
Panama City’s Casco Viejo has a ton of great rooftop bars to pass the night away. If you’re looking for a taste of nightlife in the city, the Old Town is the place to be.
Some of the city’s best restaurants and hotels have rooftop bars with great views, great drinks and a variety of global cuisines. Check out Lazotea for views, Salvaje for outstanding Japanese food or Selina which has a rooftop pool and party atmosphere.
43 – Try the foods of Panama at El Trapiche restaurant
El Trapiche serves traditional Panamanian food. It is a great place to visit if you want to get a taste of the local flavors and has a few branches throughout the city. It serves a huge variety of dishes, including its “Fiesta Panameña” which is a little of everything.
As well as seafood and meat dishes, El Trapiche has a pretty big plant-based menu so nobody is left out. You should definitely check this place out while in Panama City.
44 – Try your luck at StarBay Casino
StarBay Casino is spread over the lower two levels of the Panama Hilton hotel. It has 19 tables for card games, electronic roulette and a range of over 400 slot machines to try your hand at.
The casino also has two restaurants with a great cocktail and wine menu. You can catch regular live shows including live music if the games are not your thing.
45 – Take a Panama City bar crawl
Want to really let your hair down, why not take a Panama City bar crawl?! Visit the best city nightspots and meet locals, as well as travelers from all over the world. Visit bars and clubs in the Old Town and see how the city really comes alive at night.
Join a guided tour and dance the night away, while you make new friends over drinks and games. See a different face of Casco Viejo with a Panama city bar crawl.
We hope you enjoyed reading our selection of things to do in Panama City. If you have other fun places to recommend don’t hesitate to leave us a message.