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.

LONG WEEKEND GETAWAY

FRIDAY

  • Fly into in Panama City on Friday. Walk around the modern, downtown area before heading to Panamá Viejo, the archaeological ruins of old Panama which includes a museum & a bell observation tower.
  • In the evening, head to Casco Viejo (old town) to have dinner at Tantalo. Afterwards, head upstairs to check out their rooftop bar. You can walk to the Mirador del Pacifico for sweeping nighttime views of the city’s skyline before heading back to your hotel.

SATURDAY

  • Spend the day cruising through the Panama Canal. There are two options for these cruises — partial day (~6 hours) or full day (~12 hours). We opted for the partial day cruise that took us through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks which was more than enough. Breakfast and lunch were provided.
  • In the afternoon, drive over the Bridge of Americas for another view of the Panama Canal and along the Cinta Costera before being dropped off in Casco Viejo.
  • Explore the historic district and enjoy dinner at CasaCasco’s rooftop terrace. You can later head down to the nightclub.

SUNDAY

  • Grab Panamanian coffee at Bajareque Coffee House before exploring Casco Viejo. Visit sites including Iglesia de San José, Plaza Simon Bolivar, Independence Square, Panama Metropolitan Cathedral, Plaza de Francia, and Arco Chato. Everything is walking distance from one another.
  • If you are interested in rum tasting in the afternoon, I’d recommend visiting Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar, Panama’s first craft rum distillery. Enjoy sampling Pedro Mandinga Rum or try one of their house cocktails with salsa music playing in the background.
  • Swing by your hotel to pick up your luggage and head to the airport to fly back home.

LOGISTICS

VISA REQUIREMENTS

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.

GETTING AROUND

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).

LANGUAGE & CURRENCY

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).

HIGHLIGHTS

PANAMA CANAL CRUISE

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.


ROOFTOP BARS & RESTAURANTS

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.

  • CasaCasco: Try to visit CasaCasco’s avante-garde rooftop terrace just before sunset. Grab a round of drinks and dinner while taking in the views of the Panama Bay and Casco Viejo. If you’re up for it afterwards, head downstairs to their nightclub to dance the night away.
  • Tantalo: Enjoy dinner in ground floor restaurant and then take the elevator up to the rooftop to take in the sparkling skyline and panoramic views over Casco Viejo while sipping on a carefully crafted cocktail. They also host different events frequently such as ladies night and live music.
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