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A few months ago Rachel and I were chatting about our summer plans and when we realized we both had the same two weeks in August, Rachel was like, let’s visit Panama together!
Travel Tips Panama
Neither of us had been to Central America before, so we were excited to explore a new area, but also where we should actually go. In the end we chose Panama, and I’m so glad we did because I can’t imagine a better introduction to Central America.
Panama City Travel Guide For Backpackers
Basically we wanted to go somewhere with lots of beautiful nature, fun towns and cities, beautiful boutique hotels, and a variety of things to do so we wouldn’t get bored in two weeks. And Panama fully delivered.
In travel planning. You may have seen the spreadsheets and Google Docs that went into planning this Panama trip. It was a little over the top, to say the least. I probably spent more time researching the best things to do in Panama and the best places to see in Panama than I did actually, well,
We drafted many different Panama travel possibilities and it seemed as soon as we had decided where to go in Panama, we were looking for another great place to go. But in the end we managed to nail down a two-week Panama trip that I loved.
So, if you want to fall in love with Panama too, here are my top picks for things to do in Panama:
Travel Guide, Panama
I spent four days in Panama City and absolutely loved it, so you definitely shouldn’t miss it! Originally we planned to stay in Panama City for three days but when we got there we liked it so much that we extended our stay for an extra day.
I expected Panama City to be the essential starting point for our trip, but in fact the city turned out to be a highlight of my entire time in Panama. It’s a beautiful and diverse city with so much going on, and I think I could have spent a whole week there exploring.
Here are some things to do in Panama City, Panama (and you can scroll down below the stars for things to do in Panama outside of Panama City)
Ok, you guys know I’m not usually one for museums and historical sites, but I was so excited to see the Panama Canal in real life! And while I had a sneaking suspicion that the canal would be underwhelming in person, it was actually pretty cool and one of the highlights of my time in Panama City.
Time To Visit Panama! Discover The History, Culture, Affordability And Engulfing Tropical Warmth!
You may remember from your middle school history class, but the Panama Canal was a huge project – in fact it was started several times before they actually figured out how to complete it. And it has had a huge impact on the country. The Panama Canal Museum goes through all the history of the project, and then you can go outside and see the canal in action.
I really enjoyed Panama City and could have happily spent more than four days there, and my favorite area was definitely Casco Viejo.
The area was originally very run down, but now Panama City is investing heavily in it and many of the old buildings have been renovated and turned into boutique hotels, stylish cafes and restaurants and cute little shops.
I asked a local what he thought of the transformation of Casco Viejo and he said that in a way it’s a bit sad to see the area change, thankfully the revitalization has had a really positive effect on the locals and It’s great to have an area that has that. Tourist appeal as well.
Panama Adventure Tours
Plus Casco Viejo is the best place for a photoshoot! I mean, you can’t expect two bloggers to go anywhere without taking embarrassing photos for Instagram. what can i say
I split my time between two amazing hotels in Panama City, and I really can’t say which one I enjoyed more!
First I stayed at the American Trade Hotel, a great luxury hotel experience in the heart of Casco Viejo. The rooms were beautiful and the breakfast was delicious, and I felt like I was on a movie set. You can read more about my stay at the American Trade Hotel here.
And then for my last two nights in Panama City I stayed at Las Clementinas, which has beautiful apartments. It was so much fun to pretend I was a local in Casco Viejo, and they had so many cute touches like stocking my fridge with breakfast foods. You can read more about my stay at Las Clementinas here.
Panama City Beach Travel Guide
The best meal I had in Panama was at El Trapiche in the city center. I loved that it’s in a less touristy area of town, but still very easy to get to (our taxi driver knew the name of the restaurant so we didn’t have to bother with directions).
It also felt like the most authentically Panamanian food in Panama City, and our waiter was really friendly and gave us some more recommendations on what to do in Panama City. Definitely stop by and try one of their sandwiches if you get a chance!
Super Gourmet is like an American-style deli with a Panamanian twist. Another place worth checking out for lunch! We both had sandwiches and ordered some cookies for takeaway, because who can resist a good old fashioned chocolate chip cookie? Definitely not me.
Granted the place was full of Americans when I visited, so you might not get the most “authentic” experience here. But hey, I don’t live in the US and really miss American food, so I really loved feeling like I was back home in Massachusetts for half an hour!
Bocas Del Toro, Panama Travel Guide — Laidback Trip
This is another lovely place to visit in Casco Viejo, where they make their chocolate. They use local flavors and I could seriously spend an entire afternoon sampling their amazing chocolates. You can stop here for a while and get a coffee or hot chocolate to drink.
It would also be a great place to pick up some gifts for the folks back home – as long as it’s the end of your trip, because those chocolates will definitely be melting while you’re in San Blas.
If you visit you can read about the interesting history of the altar (which I won’t spoil here!), plus it’s right in Casco Viejo so there’s no reason not to pop in to see it. You only need five minutes to see the altar, so pop in and get a quick taste of Panamanian history.
Casco Viejo has many beautiful rooftop bars to choose from, and they have the best views! I went to Barlovento which had a great lively yet relaxed atmosphere. It’s definitely a backpacker hub so a great place to meet people – but don’t worry, it doesn’t feel crowded.
The Panama Cruising Guide 5th Edition
Young I’m in my 30’s and didn’t feel too old there (unlike some other Panama City bars haha).
I’m not usually one for walking tours, but Rachel loves them so she signed us up for the PTY Life Panama Detour. And it totally won me over!
We spent five hours exploring Joy’s favorite areas, stopping at food trucks, using public transportation, and sipping cocktails at a rooftop bar. It was a great introduction not just to Panama City, but to Panama as a whole, and it was really interesting to get an American expat’s perspective on the city and country.
I know I said to drink at a rooftop bar in Casco Viejo, but as part of our walking tour we also stopped at the rooftop bar at the W Hotel, which is in the new part of town, and it was really cool to see. . On the contrary! There’s a pool and it’s a great place to hang out away from the hustle and bustle of the city below.
Read This Before Visiting The San Blas Islands, Panama: 2023 Guide
It’s also a bit more of a nice crowd, if that’s what you’re looking for. Feel free to wear your most beautiful cocktail dress here!
And this is another thing we did on the hike. Panama City’s subway is really easy to navigate, it’s clean, tickets are like 30 cents and I always find that riding public transportation is a great way to get a feel for a new city. Just maybe try to avoid rush hour, as it can get very crowded.
If you head towards Avenida Central from Casco Viejo, you will reach Santa Ana, and right next to the church you will find a small covered market. Here you can find local handicrafts at local prices – better than the fancier tourist boutiques in town.
We tried on local sandals, hats and jewelry and it was a fun way to get to know a little bit of the local culture here.