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panama travel and tourism

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Panama City

With a skyline that rivals many of North America and Europe’s largest and most cosmopolitan cities, a historic district designated as a World Heritage Site, and its palm-tree-lined walking path and bike lanes that help form the Cinta Costera, Panama City is unrivaled in Central America. Often referred to as a “poor Miami,” Panama City’s upscale malls, bilingual residents, and first-world presentation, helps to distinguish it from most other Latin American capitals.

Stretching more than 10 miles, the Cinta Costera offers visitors an unparalleled view of Panama City’s downtown area and coastline. From Punta Paitilla, the “Cinta,” as it is known, straddles Panama Bay and Balboa Avenue as it heads west until reaching the famous fish market, or “Casa de Mariscos.” It then encircles Casco Antiguo, passing alongside the newly built Macarena Stadium, before turning south and proceeding down the Amador Causeway before reaching its end at Flamenco Island. Spread out over more than 65 acres, and built over several years in multiple phases, the Cinta provides ample space for leisure activities and peaceful strolls and is popular with both locals and foreigners alike. If you would like to see more pictures of the Cinta Costera, we invite you to look through our photo gallery.

Panama’s smorgasbord of ethnicities has laid the foundation for an impressive catalog of restaurants and bars including most international chain restaurants. Whether you fancy Japanese sushi, Italian cuisine, or Argentinian beef, even for those with a seasoned and demanding palate, Panama offers something for everyone. And as one would expect, Panama City possesses a vast supply and variety of accommodations from which to choose. Everything from small, inexpensive hostels to large, international chain hotels are at one’s disposal, dispersed throughout the city’s legion of residential communities.

panama city cinta costera amador causeway biodiversity museum
panama city cinta costera amador causeway biodiversity museum

Despite its sprawling appearance, the downtown area of Panama City is relatively small, and its compactness makes travel quick and easy; you are always a short taxi ride or a few stops on the Metro away from where you want to go. The Metro train—the first of its kind in Central America—is both economical and practical, making it ideally suited to shuttle tourists to their final destination. Used in conjunction with the municipal Metro Bus, most of the city's attractions can be enjoyed using public transportation including Casco Antiguo, Miraflores Locks, Albrook Mall, and Amador Causeway (see below) among others.

Below, we have listed just a few of the many attractions and activities to be enjoyed during your stay in Panama City. For those with more time, a day-long or multi-day excursion to El Valle de Anton, Guna Yala (San Blas), Santa Catalina is an option. Irrespective of your budget or timeframe, there is no shortage of things to do or see during your stay in Panama City.

panama city cinta costera ave. balboa
panama city cinta costera ave. balboa
panama city cinta costera ave. balboa

The Amador Causeway, once the home of a US Army base, has quickly become one of Panama’s most popular tourist destinations. Comprised of three small islands and extending 2-3 miles from the mainland, the Causeway offers visitors wonderful views of the Bridge of the Americas, Panama City, Panama Bay, and commercial vessels as they commence or complete their transit through the Panama Canal. The walking path that runs the full length of the causeway is tiled with red brick and lined with tropical trees and comfortable benches. Open and well maintained, the path is popular with pedestrians, roller-bladers, skateboarders, and runners alike, particularly on weekends.

The northernmost portion of the Causeway is home to the Radisson Hotel, Biodiversity Museum, and Balboa Yacht Club, the latter of which has a long pier and fleet of private yachts anchored along the Canal.

Google Map - Biodiversity Museum Google Map - Balboa Yacht Club

As you head south along the Causeway—away from the mainland—the first island you reach is Noas, which is home to the Smithsonian Institute's Naos Laboratories and Marine Exhibition Center; also known as Punta Culebra. Resting along the Panama Canal, Naos Island has a small commercial center, hotel, and several restaurants. The ferry to Taboga Island departs from Naos Island—just before reaching the entrance to Punta Culebra turn left and head for the pier. A bit further ahead and off to the left is Perico Island, which resides inside Panama Bay. Here you’ll find a large commercial center with bars, restaurants, souvenirs, and retail stores. Continue along and you’ll soon reach Flamenco Island, the last and largest of the Causeway’s three islands. The island is home to two large commercial complexes. Most, if not all, of the stores in the upper complex, have been closed. In the lower complex, you'll find several eateries, Panama City's only Duty-Free shop, and the Fuerte Amador Marina. This is where you want to go!

The Causeway is a must-see for anyone visiting Panama. With gentle breezes, spectacular scenery, and fine dining, the Causeway has something for everyone.

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Getting to Amador Causeway

Google Map - Amador Causeway Google Map - Albrook Bus Terminal

Metro buses to Amador Causeway depart every 30 minutes from the Albrook Bus Terminal; look for the bus that reads "Amador." They depart from behind/alongsidethe Metro train station, not from where most other buses arrive and depart from.

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Rising approximately 654 ft., Ancon Hill towers over Panama City and offers visitors unparalleled views of the surrounding area including Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama Bay, Panama Canal Administration Building, Albrook Airport, and the southernmost section of the Panama Canal, e.g., Miraflores Locks, Pedro Miguel Locks, and Causeway. Ancon Hill is open daily and there is no entrance fee.

Getting to Ancon Hill

Google Map - Ancon Hill

There is no public transportation to and from Ancon Hill so you will need to hire a taxi.

barro colorado island smithsonian institute the panama canal panama

The Smithsonian Institute offers daily tours to Barro Colorado Island, which is the largest forested island in the Panama Canal Waterway and home to the Smithsonian Biological Station. Tours depart from Gamboa, which resides along the canal and home of the Panama Canal Dredging Division.

Google Map - Barro Colorado Island

biodiversity museum el amador causeway panama city panama

Designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, and built along Panama City's Amador Causeway, the 43,056 sq. ft. (4,000 sq. m.) Biodiversity Museum is comprised of several exhibition galleries, a large public atrium, two immense fish tanks, and numerous interactive presentations. While short on physical exhibits, the museum provides visitors with plenty of historic information relating to the isthmus' formation and how it contributed to the creation of Panama and the entire Central American region. As well, the museum closely examines the region's initial inhabitants and the vast array of animal life, that, at one time, inhabited the region.

Visit their website for more information.

Getting to Amador Causeway

Google Map - Biodiversity Museum Google Map - Albrook Bus Terminal

Metro buses to Amador Causeway depart every 30 minutes from the Albrook Bus Terminal; look for the bus that reads "Amador." They depart from just behind the Metro train station and not from where most other buses arrive and depart from.

biodiversity museum amador causeway panama city panama

With an elevation of 364 ft. (118 m) and a width of 5,007 ft. (1,669 m,) the Bridge of the Americas connects the two landmasses separated by the Panama Canal. Built by the United States and costing $20 million, the Bridge of the Americas now forms an integral part of the Interamerican Highway connecting both North and South America.

Before its construction and for nearly 30 years, ferry service was the principal means of transportation between the eastern and western portions of Panama. Even today, remnants of piers on both sides of the canal are visible and serve as a reminder.

With gravel in hand, the ceremony celebrating the commemoration of the Thatcher Ferry Bridge, as it was known at that time, took place on December 23, 1958. At this ceremony, United States Ambassador Mr. Julian Harrington and Panamanian President Mr. Ernesto de la Guardia Jr. were present, as were numerous other dignitaries. The actual physical construction began on October 12, 1959, and took nearly two and one-half years to complete. The inauguration took place on October 12, 1962, during which time gold metals and other commemorative items were distributed.

While it is currently referred to as the Bridge of the Americas, it was originally named after Mr. Maurice H. Thatcher who cut the tape during the inauguration services.

On the western side of the bridge and just off to the right side of the road, you’ll find a look-out area. From here, one can get a reasonably good view of the bridge, Ancon Hill, and Panama City in the background. If you look north towards Miraflores Locks, you can see more of the Panama Canal. This is the only look-out area near the bridge. You are not permitted to walk across it or stop while driving over it.

For more information regarding the Bridge of the Americas, we recommend you visit the Panama Canal Museum in Casco Antiguo. They have plenty of written literature and numerous photographs dating back to the construction phase.

Getting to the Bridge of the Americas

Google Map - Bridge of the Americas

There are no public buses that service the look-out area so you will need to take a taxi.

With its picturesque buildings, restaurants, expansive balconies, churches, ruins, and museums, the historic community of Casco Antiguo has become one of Panama’s most popular tourist destinations. Once the commercial center for the Americas, Casco Antiguo has since lost its economic importance with the expansion of Panama City, but the area is currently experiencing a renovation. Many of the government buildings and old, Spanish-style architectural buildings have been fully restored, and now exhibit beautifully maintained exteriors.

Among the many meaningful structures, you’ll find the Metropolitan Cathedral, Municipal Palace, Church of San Francisco, National Theater, Colonial Hotel, French Park, French Embassy, Arco Chato, and ruins of the Convento de Santo Domingo. Casco Antiguo is also home to numerous upscale restaurants, bars, boutiques, hotels, and souvenir shops. Street vendors, primarily of indigenous descent, congregate on street corners where they sell paintings, molas, etc.

Visitors to Casco Antiguo should visit the Panama Canal Museum situated in front of Cathedral Park, for an in-depth, historic look at the Panama Canal.

If you would like to see more pictures of Casco Antiguo, we invite you to look through our photo gallery.

Getting to Casco Antiguo

Google Map - Casco Antiguo Google Map - Cinta Costera (Balboa Ave.)

There are no public buses that service Casco Antiguo. If you wish to walk, you can follow the Cinta Costera to its end. The path runs along Panama Bay and offers wonderful views of the city and park-like surroundings. It passes just behind the fish market, a.k.a "Casa de Mariscos."

altar de oro church of the golden arches casco antiguo panama city panama casco antiguocathedral casco antiguo panama city panama casco antiguo
map of casco antiguo panama city panama

Additional Information

Most of the stores in Casco Antiguo sell the same products, which is not surprising given the limited number of suppliers. Those products include t-shirts, hats, indigenous crafts, bags, keychains, magnets, hammocks, coffee cups, drinking glasses, assorted clothing, etc. Most of the items are imported, with indigenous craft one of the few exceptions. Indigenous craft from Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Guatemala are also available and include hammocks, ponchos, shirts, table cloths, and fashion bags. Generally speaking, the larger the store, the greater the variety.

There are a few stores that specialize in certain items:
For indigenous craft, e.g., bowls, plates, Molas, etc., we recommend Galeria de Arte Indígena. They have the largest selection of handmade crafts from Panama’s Embera and Guna Yala communities.

For Cuban cigars, you should visit La Casa del Habano (#20).

For cruise ship passengers participating in an excursion, the amount of time you’ll have to shop is limited. So, we recommend the following stores because they are closest to the tourist sites you are most likely to visit. Angie Panama Hat & Souvenirs (#4), which resides adjacent to Saint Joseph’s Church/Golden Altar, is your best bet. Next would be Bellezas de Panama (#5/#6), which lies catercorner to and alongside the “La Compania” Ruins. The third would be Souvenirs Arco Chato (#17), which is located across from the Flat Arch (Arco Chato) Ruins.

metropolitan natural park panama city panama

The Metropolitan Natural Park, encompassing approximately 265 hectares, is situated just outside the city district and serves as a wonderful retreat for those wanting to escape from the neighboring city. The park has four trails, all of which are well maintained and offer visitors something different.

For more information about the Metropolitan Natural Park, click here or visit their website.

Getting to Metropolitan Natural Park

Google Map - Metropolitan Natural Park

There are no public buses that service the Metropolitan Natural Park so you will need to take a taxi.

panama viejo ruins panama city panama

Located just east of downtown Panama City along the water’s edge is Panama Viejo, or the Panama Viejo Historical Monument Complex as it is currently known. It was the first location of Panama City. The Colonial City was founded by Spanish colonialist Pedrarias Davilá on August 15th, 1519, and is the oldest Spanish settlement on the Pacific. At one time, a thriving city, Panama Viejo benefited from the Portobelo trade fairs and Spain’s great bullion lifeline —shipments were said to pass through Panama while en route from Peru’s silver mines to Europe. The city quickly became a primary hub for merchants and landowners, with a population that reportedly reached 10,000 by the mid-17th century. In 1671, Panama Viejo was destroyed during Sir Henry Morgan’s invasion and never rebuilt. It was abandoned for two centuries, during which time the city’s location shifted to what is known today as Casco Antiguo.

Declared a Historic Site in 1976, the ruins enjoy government protection. Since 1995, Panama Viejo Historical Monument Complex has been administered by the foundation Patronato Panama La Vieja. On July 5th, 2003, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee added the Panama Viejo Archaeological Site to the World Heritage list, joining Forts San Lorenzo and Portobelo.

The ruins at Panama Viejo serve as a window into Panama's rich history and are scattered across 70 acres (28 hectares), and include 18 different historical sites. Many of the Colonial City’s most meaningful buildings remain in some form. The grounds are clean, uncluttered, and manicured, with well-defined paths connecting relevant sites, making it easy to move around. Most of the structures are well-preserved and display descriptive text in both English and Spanish. Some of the ruins have been reinforced with bricks and cement to ensure their structural integrity.

The Cathedral, measuring nearly 100 ft. (30 meters) in height, is preeminent and the best-preserved of its buildings. It is also the structure you will most likely want to view and photograph. Inside the Cathedral is a square, steel staircase that leads up to the lookout. There are three levels or platforms, each separated by eight flights of stairs; each flight consists of 5 short steps. Large, open windows on all four sides, at each level, offer panoramic views of the ruins and surrounding area, including Panama City. You’ll find plaques in English and Spanish on the walls at each level with information related to the Cathedral.

Another building worth mentioning is the “Conjunto Conventual de La Concepción,” which lies along the gravel road and midway between the entrance and Cathedral. While not as well-preserved as the Cathedral, it is the only other structure that retained its original form. For a complete listing of all the historical sites, we recommend you download and view the Circuit Map; in PDF file format. The "Conjunto Conventual de La Concepción" is site #6 on the map.

The walking path around the grounds is mostly flat and measures approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) in length. Depending on your physical condition and level of interest, 1-1.5 hours should be sufficient to see all there is to see.

The Panama Viejo Museum (Museo de La Plaza Mayor) resides alongside the Cathedral. It contains a wealth of information relating to the Colonial City and the Isthmuses' first inhabitants. Exhibitions include photographs, paintings, digital presentations, and a vast array of authentic artifacts housed in glass enclosures. In one of the rooms, you’ll find a large, interactive reconstruction of the city. Overall, the museum is very well presented and a must-see for anyone visiting the ruins. It’s so good, it’s worth a visit all its own. You should allocate 45-60 minutes for your visit.

If you would like to see more pictures of Panama Viejo, we invite you to look through our photo gallery.

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Getting to Panama Viejo

Google Map - Panama Viejo
Google Map - Albrook Bus Terminal
Google Map - Panama Viejo Bus Stop

All Metro buses that read ”Panama Viejo” pass by the ruins. They depart regularly from the Albrook Bus Terminal, and their route takes them along the Cinta Costera and in front of Punta Paitilla. You will want to get off at the Coco Bay Bus Stop, which resides just before the entrance. From there, you can walk. To return to the Albrook Bus Terminal, you’ll need to cross the street and take any bus that reads “Albrook.”

Before the entrance, off to the right, is a two-story souvenir center where vendors sell indigenous sell arts and crafts. Immediately following the entrance, to the left, you'll find a bookstore/library.

The trip from the entrance to the Cathedral consists of a short walk on a flat, gravel road. There are ruins scattered along the road on both sides. For those who prefer not to walk, there is a free shuttle service. In what resembles an open golf cart that accommodates 16-20 people, visitors can hop-on or hop-off at any time. There is no minimum number of visitors required, so even you arrive alone, the shutter service will accommodate you.

pipeline road panama city soberania national park panama

Arguably Panama’s most famous birding destination, Pipeline Road is located inside Soberania National Park. The park, measuring 48,287 acres (19,541 hectares) in size, was established in 1980 and contains numerous trails, one of which is Pipeline Road. Measuring approximately 10.5 miles (17 km) in length, the road is very well maintained and composed primarily of dirt and stones. The first 5 miles (8 km) are relatively flat and easy to walk; there are several small bridges you’ll need to cross. The second half is a bit more challenging with some fairly steep hills to climb. Most of the trail is lined with dense forest, leaving very few, if any, areas with expansive views.

Getting to Pipeline Road

Google Map - Pipeline Road Google Map - Albrook Bus Terminal

There are no Metro buses that reach Pipeline Road; they only go as far as Summit Gardens. You will need to coordinate your own transportation.

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rainforest discovery center pipeline road panama city panama

Just off Pipeline Road, approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) in from the park entrance, is the Rainforest Discovery Center. The facility offers visitors a 130 ft. (40 m) observation tower, hummingbird feeders, and a network of trails. The observation tower clears the canopy and offers spectacular views of the surrounding forest, which is home to a variety of bird and animal species. It is ideal for birders and nature lovers alike and best enjoyed very early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Getting to the Rainforest Discovery Center

Google Map - Rainforest Discovery Center

We recommend you consult with them prior to arrival.

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sightseeing bus tours panama city panama

Sightseeing Panama is an international company that offers bus tours throughout Panama City. Your ticket allows you to "HOP ON" and "HOP OFF" at any of their many stops, some of which include Albrook Mall, Miraflores Locks (Panama Canal), Museum of Biodiversity, Flamenco Island (Amador Causeway), Casco Antiguo (Viejo), Multicentro Mall, Panama Viejo, and Multiplaza Mall.

Visit their website for more information.

statue of balboa panama city panama

Situated along the Cinta Costera, the Vasco Nuñez de Balboa Statue is a historical monument that pays tribute to the Spanish adventurer and first European to glimpse the Pacific Ocean, in 1513. Holding the Spanish flag in his left hand and a sword with his right, the Vasco Nuñez de Balboa statue overlooks Panama Bay and is surrounded by benches and well-manicured plants and flowers. The statue was sculpted by Miguel Blan and Mariano Benlliure and later donated by King Alfonso XIII of Spain. With representatives of some 15 Latin American countries present, President Belisario Porras inaugurated the monument on September 29, 1924.

Getting to the Statue of Balboa

Google Map - Vasco Nuñez Statue of Balboa

Any Metro Bus that runs along Balboa Avenue (Cinta Costera/Albrook) passes by the statue of Balboa.

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summit gardens panama city panama

Located just 30 minutes outside Panama City, Summit Gardens' 700 hectares are primarily dedicated to recreation and animal viewing, with a smaller section set aside for plants and orchids. Visitors have an opportunity to view a small sample of the many animal species found in Panama including several different species of monkey, tapir, scarlet macaw, and puma. Signs point to areas of interest, which are connected by narrow, well-maintained trails.

Summit Gardens has two unique offerings: the Harpy Eagle Museum and Jaguar Exhibit. The Harpy Eagle Museum, while relatively small, has plenty of interesting facts, illustrations, and photos of these magnificent birds of prey, which just happen to be Panama’s national bird. Behind the museum, a large, outdoor exhibit retains a pair of captive eagles, which can be observed throughout the day through a mesh screen. The other exhibit, better known as "Jaguar World," is a small enclosure where visitors can view these powerful cats up close.

Getting to Summit Gardens

Google Map - Summit Gardens Google Map - Albrook Bus Terminal

Metro buses to Summit Gardens depart weekends only from the Albrook Bus Terminal, and take approximately 30 minutes.

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taboga island panama city panama

Clean and quiet, Taboga Island contains a network of well-maintained cement paths, many of which are lined with colorful orchids. Small eateries and grocery stores line the main path, where you can purchase soft drinks and a variety of local food dishes. The roads are particularly narrow and not designed to accommodate automobiles, There are, in fact, no automobiles on the island. Aside from the network of paths that run along the water’s edge and up into the hillside, there is only one trail of importance on the island for visitors.

The "Cerro de las Tres Cruces" trail guides you to the observatory at the top of Taboga Island where, on a clear day, you'll have expansive views of Taboga Island, Amador Causeway, Panama City, Bridge of the Americas, and neighboring islands. The hike to the top takes approximately 1–1.5 hours, depending on your condition and interest in the local flora and fauna. Blue Morpho butterflies, small lizards, and a variety of different bird species can all be observed during your hike. Most of the trail, though well maintained and easy to navigate, is uphill aside for a few small sections, and there is very little, if any, cover. Vegetation, depending on the time of year, can be sparse.

Some of the island’s interesting attractions include the museum, Church of San Pedro, and altar honoring the Christ of Buga. On the south side of the island lies the Taboga Island Wildlife Reserve, which serves as a refuge and reproductive site for a variety of different sea bird species during December–July.

Getting to Taboga Island

Google Map - Taboga Island Google Map - Albrook Bus Terminal

Two companies offer regularly scheduled ferry service to Taboga Island. Barcos Calypso departs from La Playita on Naos Island; just before reaching the entrance to Punta Culebra turn left and head for the pier. Taboga Express departs from the Fuerte Amador Marina on Flamenco Island, the third and largest of the three islands. We recommend you visit their websites for more information regarding departure times and prices.

Metro buses to Amador Causeway depart every 30 minutes from the Albrook Bus Terminal; look for the bus that reads "Amador." They do not depart from the same area as most other buses, but from just behind the Metro train station.

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