Every so often we have guests that come to Panama City with no idea of what to see and only have perhaps 1-2 days to explore. For guests like this we put together a Day in Panama sheet that will quickly give them a few ideas for their time in Panama, it’s not the final word on what to explore but it’s definitely a list of what you don’t want to miss while you’re in Panama City. The best part of this list? Most of these places are within walking distance or a short (5min) taxi ride from the Balboa Inn!
Canal Administration Building
Take a walk up the stairs and see where they hold the canal’s offices but more importantly check out the murals they have in their rotunda of the building. The murals are a tribute to the work and hardship that went into the construction of the canal. The administration building lies on a large hill just a 5 minute walk from The Balboa Inn and can also be a great spot to just relax and enjoy some lunch al fresco.
This hill lies right behind the Balboa Inn. It is an hour hike up or a short taxi ride ($4), you can see great views of the City and of the Canal and maybe even some wildlife (monkeys, ñeques, etc). This might be an early morning trip before heading into the city and should be done before 3PM around 4PM. To walk up Cerro Ancon, head to the Canal Administration Building, walk up the stairs and around the right-hand side of the building, from there you’ll see a road that heads up the hill. If you’re staying with us just check the front desk for our map. Make sure to wear sunscreen, bug repellent and bring a bottle of water!
A beautiful corner of Panama, this is the ‘colonial quarter’ of Panama of which you’ve probably read much about in your Lonely Planet or Frommers. Even if you’re here for just a day we always recommend a stop in Casco Viejo. Ask to be taken to Plaza Francia, walk along the Bovedas, and have ice cream at Granclement. Also try to see the Panama Canal Museum in Plaza Bolivar but remember they’re closed on Mondays. There are also plenty of old churches and beautiful buildings to admire in this old part of Panama along with great restaurants and some bars i.e. Ego/Narciso, Platea, and Relic Bar. Always take a taxi to get to Casco Viejo and when you need to leave. If you can try to arrange a free tour with the Oficina de Casco Antiguo.
Rent a bike or talk a walk along the beautiful Causeway and have lunch at Alberto’s (Italian) or Mi Ranchito (Panmanian/seafood). Alberto’s is in Flamenco shopping area, facing the pier and Mi Ranchito is on the first island near the Smithsonian Nature Center. The Causeway is within walking distance from the Balboa Inn although walking to the end will probably take almost an hour. It is safe to walk just be very careful with traffic.
Miraflores Visitors Center
You can’t come to Panama and not see the Canal, but you don’t need to spend $100 either. Take a cab to the Miraflores Visitors Center and check out the great exhibitions they have there (9AM-4:30PM). You should head around 3pm, enjoy the exhibition then maybe have a drink or late lunch at the Miraflores Restaurant, it’s been described as overpriced but you’ll have great views of the ships passing through.
Metropolitan National Park
A beautiful piece of the Panama rainforest at the city limits, this park is just a 5 minute taxi from the Balboa Inn and will give you a small taste of the natural beauty of Panama. No need to go with a guide, they have maps of the different trails and it’s a safe park, just show up well covered in sunscreen, bug repellant, and bring a bottle of water. You won’t be disappointed.
Mercado de Artesania
You can’t leave Panama without a few gifts to show you were here. Within 5 minutes walking from the hotel, you can find every type of souvenir you would want to bring home. This Artisan Market is located in a large yellow building behind the old YMCA building; you can ask the front desk for a little map of how to get there. If you want to explore more there is another artisan market up the same straight (exiting Calle Las Cruces to the left), this market is smaller and focuses only on the artisan goods of the Kuna indigenous tribe (i.e molas).
Want to do some shopping? Check out Panama’s Malls:
This is a huge mall located next to the main bus terminal. At just a 5 minute taxi ride you can find most anything you’ll need in Panama. You can get lost for hours shopping deals in the various department stores here. The mall along with tons of shops has pharmacies, several food courts/restaurants, a bowling alley, a movie theater, and a supermarket (Super 99). If you stop by make sure to take the customary picture with the animal statues.
This is a much smaller and quieter mall with pretty much the same selection as Albrook. The Panama Hard Rock Café is located here along with a small movie theatre.
This is definitely the higher-end/designer mall of the 4. It is located by Avenida Balboa, about 15-20 minutes away from MultiCentro. Avoid this mall during rush hour (3-6PM) because getting out of Avenida Balboa at rush hour is very difficult.
The newest mall in Panama, a large 3 story mall that rivals the Albrook Mall in size and looks, though the location is not as convenient, it is about 10 minutes from the Tocumen Airport and 30 minutes from the city.
For some traditional Panamanian food try on of these two spots:
Las Tinajas-in Bella Vista
This restaurant serves delicious traditional Panamanian food and they have a dancing show nightly that you don’t want to miss (9pm). It is $5 for the show with a minimum consumption of $12 p/person but it’s definitely worth it. Try the yucca pie dish and the corvina.
El Trapiche-on Via Argentina
This is another top restaurant that serves traditional Panamanian food but at more moderate prices. El Trapiche is on a residential street near Via Espana, try the sancocho.