Explore vibrant green rainforests and the Panama Canal on day trips from Panama City
Bounded by the Panama Canal to the west, Panama City is known for its interocean waterway and as a starting point for adventurous day excursions to the Panama jungle just beyond the city. But there’s plenty to do around the country’s capital city. You can duck into the historic district’s Iglesia de San José to see its golden altar, one of the few treasures to survive plundering by pirate Captain Morgan in 1671. Then discover Panama’s natural history at the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo, a color-splashed geometric jumble on the scenic Amador Causeway. In the evening, dine under the stars at a rooftop restaurant before the glass-and-steel backdrop of the downtown skyline.
More than a century’s worth of canal passages has helped create a medley of cultures, evident in Panama City’s culinary scene. From sizzling street fare to fine dining, the city’s cuisine draws on influences from Spain, India, Lebanon, the Caribbean, and across Latin America. For more local flavor, stroll the tree-lined avenues of the El Cangrejo neighborhood, where street carts sell sweet raspados (shaved ice), coffee lovers sip Geisha roasts at trendy cafés, and seco sugarcane-based cocktails fuel nightlife into the wee hours. Nature is always near with urban green spaces such as Metropolitan Natural Park and easy day trips to unspoiled spots like Gatun Lake and San Lorenzo National Park.
Reasons to go:
- The canal: Seeing one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” is one of the most popular things to do in Panama City. Hop a bus, Uber, or taxi to the Miraflores Visitors Center for up-close views of massive ships easing through the locks.
- Island escapes: Day excursions to the San Blas Islands mean early morning departures and nighttime returns to the city. Your effort is rewarded with a choice of more than 350 Caribbean isles with swaying palms, sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and the unique culture of the Guna Yala islanders. Looking for an easier island getaway? Take a 30-minute ferry ride from the city to Taboga Island.
- Ocean outings: Deep-sea fishing charters depart right from Panama City’s downtown docks, on course for Pacific fishing grounds flush with dorado, wahoo, and prized marlin. Boats also head out to spot humpback whales, as Panama has two whale-watching seasons, from July to October and from December to February.
- Casco Viejo day and night: While the colonial quarter is compact, it’s jammed with historical structures housing chic boutiques, upscale lounges, and inviting cafés. By day, Casco Viejo is perfect for relaxed strolls past vibrant street murals and colorful colonial buildings that are only outdone by the multicolored mola textiles sold by the indigenous Kuna community. After the sun sets, nightlife-loving Panamanians arrive in force to let loose at rooftop hot spots with dramatic views of the skyline across Panama Bay.
- Jungle adventures: The Soberanía National Park, a 45-minute drive from town, offers jungle immersion with boating trips down the Chagres River, visits to an indigenous Emberá village, and an aerial tram for a bird’s-eye view of the rainforest.
When to visit Panama City
Close to the equator, Panama City enjoys yearlong tropical weather with consistent daytime temperatures in the high-80s and nighttime lows in the mid-70s. Expect sudden bursts of rain from May to December, with little precipitation but often hazy skies the rest of the year.
November packs in celebrations of Panama’s flag, historic battles, and independence from both Spain and Colombia. These Fiestas Patrias feature raucous parties in neighborhoods across the city and parades with female dancers twirling traditional ruffled skirts called polleras.
As driving in Panama City is chaotic and prone to fender benders, forget a car rental and ride the Panama Metro. Its modern rail lines cross the capital with stops near Tocumen International Airport (PTY) and at the Albrook terminal, where buses run to the area’s top spots.
Are you up for lively tropical nights and inspiring day trips? Book with Radisson Hotels to experience the best of Panama City.
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