Lonely Planet's description of Panama City is pretty spot on, “The most cosmopolitan capital in Central America, Panama City is both vibrant metropolis and gateway to tropical escapes. Many worlds coexist here. Welcoming both east and west, Panama is a regional hub of trade and immigration. The resulting cultural cocktail mix leads to a refreshing ‘anything goes’ attitude, more dynamic and fluid than that of its neighbors." I was especially surprised at the city's expat population, especially the number of Americans that were in town. This city is truly the best of both worlds - an urban escape and tropical paradise. It makes for a great weekend getaway from the US. We paired this itinerary with Colombia, but I would also suggest extending your stay in Panama and exploring other parts of the country.
All visitors to Panama must hold a passport valid for 3 months. Citizens of Australia, Canada, EU, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, UK, and the US do not need a visa to enter Panama for up to 180 days. Nationalities who normally need to apply for a Panamanian visa may be exempted for 90 days if they hold a multiple-entry visa valid for at least 6 months at the time of entry, or permanent residency documents issued by Australia, Canada, EU, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, UK, or the USA. Check your country’s official resources to determine your visa requirements prior to arriving in Panama.
We found Ubers and taxis to be a pretty safe, convenient, and fairly cheap way to get around the city. We took Ubers to and from the airport as well. The excursion to the Panama Canal included transportation to and from our hotel (we were able to get dropped off in Casco Viejo).
The official language of Panama is Spanish. We found that Panama City is very international and most people can speak English. The official currencies of Panama are the Panamanian balboa and the US Dollar. I believe we used USDs for all of our purchases. As of February 2021, 1 USD = $1 Panamanian balboa (this conversion rate has been consistent for years).
A trip to Panama City is incomplete without a visit to the Panama Canal. One of the best ways to experience it is by taking a cruise through the locks — you can find and book one on Viator. You can go on either a partial-transit or a full-transit cruise depending on how much time you want to spend. The partial cruise takes you through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks — or the new Cocolí locks if you’re lucky — while the full-transit cruise takes you through those two plus Gatun Lake and the Gatun Locks. If you don’t want to take a cruise, you can view the Miraflores Locks from the Miraflores Visitors Center between 8am-6pm. The building has three levels from where you can see ships pass through the locks.
Panama City has tons of great rooftop bars and restaurants scattered throughout the city’s trendy Casco Viejo neighborhood that you should check out. We went to CasaCasco and Tantalo — and really enjoyed both. Some others we had shortlisted were Salvaje, Lazotea, and Compadre. Check out this blog to see other cool rooftop bars and restaurants that are worth checking out in the city.