things to do in panama city

Pay a visit to the Biomuseo. (Photo: Eric Mohl)

Panama City

8 of the Best Things to do in Panama City, Panama

Panama City, Panama is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas, and the city celebrates its 500th birthday in 2019.

Here are eight top things to do and see in the most historic and most cosmopolitan city in Central America.

1. See the Panama Canal (of course)

things to do in panama city
(Photo: Eric Mohl)

It’s not a trip to Panama without seeing the canal. (Photo: Eric Mohl)

The most famous must-do in Panama City is to explore the Panama Canal. There are two ways to do this. The easiest way is to visit one of the observation facilities located over three important locks in the canal. Or you can get on a tourist boat and cruise through some or all of the Panama Canal.

2. Tour the Biomuseo

It took 10 years for architect Frank Gehry to finish the striking Biomuseo on the Amador Causeway in Panama City. The primary colors in the roof panels were inspired by colors worn by members Panama’s indigenous Kuna and Embera groups. The angled installation of the roof panels is meant to mimic the jumble of containers that pass through the Panama Canal and the geographical upheaval caused by the Isthmus of Panama.

Inside, the effects of that isthmus are explored in depth through slick displays that show how the land bridge changed migration routes, evolution, and the climate when it was created millions of years ago.

3. Spot Panama’s tropical creatures — in the city

Continue down the Amador Causeway to the Smithsonian Institution’s Punta Culebra Tropical Research Institute to see sharks, turtles, and reef fish in tanks and displays (there’s even a touch tank). You can also walk along short trails where iguanas, sloths, and armadillos can be spotted. This is a particularly family-friendly destination.

4. Stroll through the park

Metropolitan Natural Park is a 570-acre protected wild space in Panama City. It’s a haven for birds, tamarins, and other wildlife, and a key destination for those hoping to get a glimpse of these jungle creatures while exploring the park’s five short and well-maintained trails.

5. Dig into Panama’s past

things to do in panama city
(Photo: Eric Mohl)

Check this UNESCO World Heritage Site off your to-see list. (Photo: Eric Mohl)

UNESCO inscribed the Panama Viejo area of Panama City on its list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1997. Today, the Panama Viejo archaeological site includes a small museum where maps, artifacts, dioramas, and re-creations take you through the founding of Panama City by the Spanish in 1519 to its sacking by Sir Francis Drake. An earthquake leveled most of the original settlement, but you can tour much of what’s left.

6. Breathe in the sea breezes

things to do in panama city
(Photo: Eric Mohl)

Cinta Costera, a waterside walkway, is good for strolling or exercising. (Photo: Eric Mohl)

Panama City is a seaside town and the city has a lovely waterfront walkway, called the Cinta Costera Park, which offers miles of pathways and many athletic facilities, perfect for walking and exercising. Volleyball courts along the malecón are particularly popular with women from the Kuna indigenous group, who play the game in their vibrant traditional clothing.

7. Explore hip and happening Casco Viejo

The Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panama City is the place to find street art, colonial architecture, and some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, and shopping. You could easily spend hours here, exploring one of the most popular neighborhoods of the Panamanian capital.

8. Go to the highest point in Panama City

Ancon Hill rises 650 feet above the city and served as the US headquarters for administering the Panama Canal until 1977, when control of the canal reverted to Panama.

It’s the highest point in the city and trails wind through the jungled flanks of the hill before reaching the top (about an hour each way), where a giant Panamanian flag waves in the breeze. Start early and stay alert if you want to see the sloths, monkeys, and birds that live there.