Panama City, the capital of the Isthmus of Panama is a bustling and busy city. Not surprising, given the fact that Central-America’s most cosmopolitan capital accommodates over 1.4 millions citizens and is considered to be a hub for international commerce. A vibrant city where there is always more than enough to do and discover, but where the high level of traffic and the hot temperatures, can at times become quite overwhelming. While that may sound pretty negative, there is nothing wrong with wanting to escape the rush of the city to enjoy the tranquility and beauty the capital also has to offer. And the good news is, you don’t have to travel far to find peace and green sceneries during your stay in Panama City.
5. Cinta Costera and the Mercado de Mariscos
Between Avenida Balboa and Casco Viejo you will find the Mercado de Mariscos; Panama City’s seafood market. While going inside the mercado to check out the variety of fish, lobster, and shrimp is definitely worth it, don’t forget to pay a visit to the food stalls outside of the market. Get some ceviche, fish marinated in lime juice, which you can enjoy while walking along the Cinta Costera. The Cinta Costera offers you a great view to the old town of Casco Viejo and the modern city with its skyscrapers. The Cinta Costera is popular amongst runners, families and people who simply want to watch the sun rise over the city and sea. On Sundays from 6 am to 12 pm, the Cinta Costera turns into a ciclovia (“bike path”). A perfect moment to enjoy this part of this city, which is usually packed with traffic during the week, in a safe and relaxed way.
4. Cerro Ancon
Panama City is a city of many contrasts. The modern city with countless skyscrapers, Casco Viejo with its colonial building, rainforest and of course the famous Panama Canal. The best way to clearly see this contrast and take some great panoramic shots of the city and the nature Panama’s capital has to offer, is to make it to the top of Cerro Ancon (Ancon Hill). For the nature enthusiasts that long for the outdoors, hiking to the summit of this urban forest hill is a must. On your 30-minute hike to the top, you will not only have an impressive view over the city, you are also likely to spot frogs and iguanas in this tropical oasis.
3. Parque Natural Metropolitano (Metropolitan Natural Park)
A piece of rainforest in the city. That is the best way to describe Panama’s Metropolitan National Park. The park offers great opportunities for birdwatchers with over 267 bird species, including Toucans, Tyrannulet and the Collared Aracari. But that’s not it. The Metropolitan Natural Park is very rich in biodiversity and you may find butterflies, reptiles, monkeys and sloths. Only a 20-minute drive from the city, the park features different trails of between 0.7 and 1.1 km such as the Mono Titi and the Camino de Cruces. The Cedar Hill Lookout Point offers a stunning view over the city, the Canal and islands such as Taboga and Naos. For an even better experience, you can book a guided tour which includes a hike and a visit to the Canopy Crane. This crane was placed in 1990 by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute crane and plays a significant role in scientific research. Tourist now also have the opportunity to experience this 42 meter crane to get a 360-degrees view and enjoy the park from high above.
2. Panama Viejo
While you will most likely not be the only person visiting Panama Viejo, we do recommend you to pay a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site during your holiday in Panama City. In the 1500s, the Spaniards arrived in Panama where they founded Panama Viejo in 1519. In 1671, a fire destroyed the city after it had been attacked by Henry Morgan and the Spaniards moved to what we now know as Casco Viejo, on the other city of Panama City. The quietness and silence of Panama Viejo is a stark contrast to the hecticness of the modern city full of skyscrapers. The ruins are all that remain of what once was a rich city full of churches, with the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción being the best-preserved building of the ruins.
1. Panama Canal
You didn’t really think we would end this without mentioning the Panama Canal, did you? Visiting the 8th man made wonder of the world is a must during your vacation in the Isthmus of Panama. With its 81 km, the canal connects the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and is one of the most important shipping routes in the world. Last year, the canal celebrated its 100th birthday and currently about 14,000 ships pass through the canal each year; between 35 and 40 per day. The canal is currently undergoing an expansion to allow larger ships to pass through the canal and the expansion is expected to be ready by October 2016.
Each ship has to transit the three locks that make up the canal system: the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks on the Pacific Side, and the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic size. If you want to understand better how the canal system works and watch the process of a ship going through the locks, we recommend you to pay a visit to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center. The visitors center is open from 9 am – 5 pm every day, but make sure you go before 9.30 am or around 3 pm in the afternoon if you want to observe ships going through. For a different view of the canal, as well as Lake Gatun and the beautiful nature Panama has to offer, consider taking a train ride from Panama City to Colon.
We have just provided you with five recommendations on to do’s and to see’s during your holiday in Panama City. You now know where to go if you want to escape the chaos of the city and find peace and nature in the capital of Panama!