This gem of a country may be home to one of the seven wonders of the modern world, but there’s more to it than the Panama Canal. Although most of Panama is covered in dense vegetation, its ultra-modern, fast-growing capital is one-of-a-kind: imagine new-world innovation juxtaposed with old-world charm, bordered by tropical rainforest on one end and the blue waters of the Pacific on the other. Let us guide you in and around Panama City to some of Panama’s most enchanting things to see and do.
Make the most of your vacation in Panama by checking out these must-see attractions:
Reminiscent of Miami’s towering high-rises, Panama City’s skyline is the only one of its kind in Central America, ranking among the world’s 25 most impressive cityscapes. Must-see structures of this cosmopolitan capital include the twirly Tornillo office building that spirals into the sky, and the 932-foot, sailboat-shaped Trump Ocean Club, Latin America’s tallest and most iconic skyscraper.
Panama City’s colourful Old Town is a myriad of plazas, churches and ruins, some of which date back to the conquistador era. Especially breathtaking are Plaza de la Independencia and its Metropolitan Cathedral, as well as the ancient Arco Chato (Flat Arch). The contrast between old and new is rather striking: notice how the capital’s dominating structures loom in the background, giving the colonial architecture of this World Heritage Site a futuristic backdrop.
Serving as a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Pacific, the Panama Canal was completed in 1914 and generates one-third of the country’s economic activity. On average, it costs US $54,000 for vessels to cross the waterway. Want to see the locks in action? The Miraflores Visitors Center is 12 km from Panama City and offers a close encounter from its viewing decks, just a few metres from transiting ships. Fun fact: the lowest toll ever paid to cross the canal was 36 cents by American travel writer and adventurer Richard Halliburton in 1928. Why so little, you ask? Believe it or not, he swam!
Explore Panama’s unique food and drink:
Panama literally means “abundance of fish”, and rightly so, with seafood dining options as plentiful as the Pacific. Ranging from inexpensive and traditional to pricey and exotic, Panama City’s restaurants are giving a whole new meaning to ceviche. Ego y Narciso in the Old Town is famous for its unconventional deep-fried version, while Segundo Muelle in the San Francisco district serves creative variations of the heavenly dish.
If fish isn’t your thing, go for something meatier like ropa vieja (melt-in-your-mouth shredded beef drenched in spicy tomato sauce) or sancocho (an intoxicating stew of chicken, ñame and culantro often used to remedy hangovers), with a side of fried plantains, coconut rice or yuca fries. Wash it all down with a glass of chicha de arroz con piña, a frothy Panamanian beverage prepared with boiled rice and pineapple (rind and all). You can also find many uncommon fruit flavours including soursop, tamarind, naranjilla and cashew apple.
Excursions and things to do in Panama:
El Nispero Zoo
Nature lovers will be delighted to know this exotic destination harbours several unique species found nowhere else in the world, like the critically endangered Panamanian golden frog. Endemic to the Anton Valley and appearing in local mythology, the amphibian has become a national symbol and is thought to bring good luck. See it for yourself at the zoo’s El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center.
Once used by the infamous Henry Morgan to spy on local armies in the pirate days, this 654-foot mountain topped by an oversized Panamanian flag offers trails to better spot the armadillos, birds, sloths, monkeys and other creatures inhabiting this patch of protected jungle. And if that wasn’t rewarding enough, spectacular views over Panama City, the Miraflores Locks and the Bridge of the Americas can be seen from the top!