Things to do
Most travelers don’t think about staying a few extra days in Panama City on their way to/from the islands or the ‘interior’. But Panama City and its surroundings have a lot to offer. You can easily spend 3-5 days in Panama City without getting bored.
Here are a few ideas to wet your appetite on how to spend your time in Panama City and beyond. And best of all, they won’t cost you an arm and a leg. See our Travel Guide section for more specific information .
Want to visit the beach? A nice 1-day trip to Santa Clara beach (just over a 1.5 hr drive on a nice 4-lane highway) is one option. The picture below is on a “busy” Sunday.
For an afternoon trip, Veracruz beach is another possibility – make sure you go to the Veramar Restaurant. If you have small kids AND a rental car, this is a good option (20-minute ride). Also with the new highway to Colon ready, a whole new coastline opens up for day trips. From Balboa to the Gatun locks (see picture below) it’s less than a 1 hour drive. Cross the locks and visit Ft. Lorenzo and one of its 2 nearby beaches (check out this post).
If you can stay the night over, one of our favorites – and of our kids – is Isla Mamey near Puerto Lindo, home of the Bambu Guest house. From there you can also explore Playa Blanca, only accessible from the sea. You should set apart 2 nights for this trip and combine it with visits to Portobelo.
A visit to a nearby Embera indian village
An absolute must for any visitor to Panama is to visit an Embera Indian village up the Chagres river. It’s a great experience, especially if you have kids. The contrast between 2 cultures living only 2 hours away from each other could not be bigger. We arrange these tours with Anne Gordon of Embera Village Tours to make sure you have a first-class educational experience and that the money you pay actually arrives at the village and does not stay with the middle man.
Explore the Casco Viejo, Panama’s Colonial Quarters and Panama La Vieja: Panama’s first settlement before the pirates burned it down. It’s only a 5-minute ride from the Balboa Inn and well worth a few hours of your morning. Don’t forget the Interoceanic Canal Museum there and the Swiss-owned ice cream salon.
The nearby fish market is a great place for an excellent and very affordable seafood lunch.
A boat ride to Taboga
If you don’t have much time and still want to visit a beach, Taboga Island is a good option and great excursion.
Visiting the Panama Canal – a must
Ten to 15 minutes away from the Balboa Inn is the Panama Canal Miraflores visitor center. A must see, period. Even our Dutch guests used to seeing ships and digging canals are impressed :-). The visitor’s center has a great exhibit. BUT -this is important ! – go in the afternoon (not morning) to see the big vessels come through the locks in the south-bound transit. This is easily combined with a morning visit to the Casco Viejo and a lunch – if you started the day early enough – at the Amador Causeway.
And no trip to Panama is quite complete without a visit to Kuna Yala (San Blas in Spanish). If you are interested in going please let us know so we can give you advice on where to stay and help make reservations if need be. Currently the road to Cartí is badly damaged and flying is the only practical option.
And you wanted to see Panama in just one week?