The Must-Visit Attractions in Panama City, Panama

View over Ave Balboa, Panama City | © Tvshoppingpty/Pixabay
View over Ave Balboa, Panama City | © Tvshoppingpty/Pixabay
Photo of Alex Robinson
7 May 2021

An old Spanish colonial center, a vibrant nightlife, beautiful beaches and islands on the doorstep, as well as wild rainforests only a short drive away – the capital of Panama has plenty to keep you busy besides the canal. Here are the must-see attractions in Panama City to help you navigate your stopover or longer stay.

The Canal

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Panama, Panama Canal, Gaillard cut & Centennial bridge
© Rolf Richardson / Alamy
Top of the list is the Panama Canal – a 48mi (77km) artificial waterway connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, which can be seen from the Miraflores Visitor’s Center. Despite plans dating back to the 16th century, the canal wasn’t constructed until 1914 – resulting in the annexation of the region by the United States from Colombia and the eventual creation of the country of Panama itself. Some 14,000 ships transit the canal every year.

Casco Viejo

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Plaza de la Independencia, Plaza Mayor or Plaza Catedral in Casco Viejo in Panama City
© Mabelin Santos / Alamy
The terracotta roofs, café-bars and bell towers of the old quarter huddle over the sea in the city’s south. Built in the middle of the 17th century, after the abandonment of the original settlement, it was reputedly set alight by Governor Don Juan Pérez de Guzmán in 1671 (to save Panama from pirate plunder), rebuilt, left to become a slum and finally gentrified in the late 20th century. It is now part of the Historic District of Panama Unesco World Heritage site.

The Biomuseo

Museum
Map View
The colourful Biomuseo (The Biodiversity Museum) (Panama Bridge of Life), Panama City, Panama, Central America
© Michael Runkel / Alamy
Completed in 2014, the world’s first biodiversity museum is a colorful clutter of metal – looking like discarded Meccano as it rises over the water off the Amador Causeway. It was designed by Frank Gehry (of the Bilbao Guggenheim) – his first project in Latin America. There are eight galleries exploring the biological history of Panama, including its emergence from the sea three million years ago, connecting North and South America, and the impact of humankind on the environment.

Panama Viejo

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Panama Viejo
© Mabelin Santos / Alamy
Not to be confused with the Casco Viejo, or old quarter, Panama Viejo is all that remains of the original colony, founded in 1519 by conquistador Pedro Arias Dàvila. It is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas – protected, together with the Casco Viejo, as a Unesco World Heritage site. Come and wander among the ruins – a stone church tower and crumbling walls – set in a leafy park.

El Tornillo

Building, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Panama City,Panam - march 2018: The famous  F&F Tower,  office building and skyline of   Panama City, Panama
© hanohikirf / Alamy
Like a giant verdigris screw jutting from the heart of the Financial District, topped with a vicious-looking spike, the 797ft (243m) F&F Tower (aka El Tornillo or the screw), is the most striking skyscraper in Panama. It was built from reinforced concrete and stacked stories of green sheet-glass in 2011 in the Calle 50 neighborhood. The building was designed by the local firm Pinzón Lozano & Associates – the creative force behind many of the vertiginous business towers in Panama City.

Soberania National Park

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
The Chagres River and the Soberania National Park in the distance
© Mabelin Santos / Alamy
Ultra-modern and resolutely urban Downtown Panama City may be, but it’s only 45 minutes from some genuine wilderness: Soberania National Park, which is protecting some 55,000 acres (22,257ha) of steamy rainforest ribboned with rivers. The park is particularly popular among birdwatchers, and it’s possible to see more than 400 species, including parrots and eagles, along the easy-to-access Pipeline Road – remarkable when you consider that’s just under half the number of bird species found in the whole of Costa Rica. There are still more to be seen on the deeper jungle trails.

The Cathedral

Cathedral, Church
Map View
Panama City Cathedral iin a sunny day and Indipendence square. Image shot 02/2019. Exact date unknown.
© Zoonar / Marco Bonacini / Alamy
Built in the 17th century, Panama Cathedral was left to fall into ruin, along with the rest of the Casco Viejo, before it was renovated and finally reconsecrated by Pope Francis in 2019. As you might have guessed, the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Antigua embodies Panama City’s turbulent history. The original Rococo façade, covered in statuary, sits between two heavy-set bell towers. Step inside, and you’ll find a whitewashed arcade of Romanesque arches processing along the nave to a restored Rococo altarpiece covered in gold leaf.

Iglesia del Carmen

Church
Map View
Panama City - Catholic church Our Lady of Carmen - Iglesia Nuestra Senora del Carmen
© Marko Reimann / Alamy
Brilliant-white under the tropical sun in the city center, this Neo-Gothic church is hard to miss. The building was completed a few years after World War II as the ceremonial headquarters of the contemplative Carmelite monastic order in Panama. The architecture was inspired by the Gothic churches of Toledo in Spain but is a good deal less ornate – the interior is plain but for a colorful reredos with an illuminated statue of the Virgin Mary. Visit for a contemplative half an hour or so.

Einstein's Head

Architectural Landmark
Map View
On January 4, 1933, the world’s most famous physicist and his wife paid a visit to Panama en route to California. They bought souvenirs for their children at the markets, rode in a horse-drawn carriage in Colón and crossed the Panama Canal in the steamship Belgenland. Cabeza de Einstein (Einstein’s Head) is a giant bust positioned on a traffic island amid whirling vehicles on Via Argentina (in the vibrant central neighborhood of El Cangrejo). Measuring about 10ft by 10ft (3m by 3m), it was sculpted by Carlos Arboleda, one of Panama’s most renowned artists, for a long-gone Jewish community and inaugurated in 1968 to commemorate the event.

The Miraflores Locks

Building
Map View
Panama Canal at Miraflores Locks - Panama City, Panama
© Diego Grandi / Alamy
The Visitor Center at the Miraflores Locks is more than just a viewing point for the famous Panama Canal and the huge ships as they pass through the narrow walls and vast gates. It is a destination in its own right: with a series of exhibits tracing the history of the waterway and an excellent 3D movie showing how the giant locks and the canal as a whole function and were constructed.

The City Center

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Panama City ocean promenade, Cinta Costera Balboa avenue / sidewalk with skyline backgound, Panama City_2B9YGBD
© Alfredo Maiquez Photography / Alamy
While the Casco Viejo oozes sleepy colonial charm, Downtown Panama City is upbeat, urban and modern-metropolitan. There’s nowhere better to people-watch than the main pedestrian causeway, just off the Avenida Central, where businessmen in suits rub shoulders with street hawkers and performers. Experience also the Cinta Costera, a long waterfront park against a cityscape of skyscrapers. It’s busy with people playing volleyball and football or gathered, ice-creams in hand, to watch the golden sunset.

Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Resort, Hotel
3.7/5 (396 Reviews)
Butterfly Farm at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, Soberania National Park, Panama
© Tricia Toms / Alamy
From $130 Per night per room
The Gamboa Rainforest Resort is a 340acre (138ha) resort a 30-minute drive from the city center. Right at the crossing between the Chagres River and the Panama Canal, the resort boasts sweeping views over the Soberania National Forest and a wide selection of activities for overnight guests as well as day visitors. Choose from the Night Safari, an Aerial Tram, the butterfly farm, a tour to the indigenous villages of the Emberá or wildlife-spotting boat tours.
More info

Punta Culebra

Natural Feature
Map View
Punta Culebra, Smithsonian Research Center, Panama City, Panama.
© JJM Stock Photography / Alamy
On one of the Amador islands, connected by a causeway to Downtown Panama City, the Punta Culebra Nature Center is an educational project run by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. There are short forest trails, a small beach, touch tanks and a little zoo with rehabilitated sea turtles. Spend time with the numerous displays that profile Panama’s biodiversity, as well as the different environments and ecosystems in the country and Central and South America as a whole.

Ciudad del Saber

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Ciudad del Saber front view - City of knowledge Panama
© Urs Hauenstein / Alamy
Immediately east of the Miraflores Locks, the Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge) is a former US military base converted by the Panamanian government into a gated residential neighborhood and Business District. This is where a number of key tech companies, UN bodies and academic organizations have their headquarters. With sports amenities in a big public park, it’s a popular residential area for migrants, and one of the best places to watch the opening and closing of the Miraflores Locks.

The Bridge of the Americas

Architectural Landmark, Bridge
Map View
PANAMA CITY, Panama--A view of the Bridge of the Americas, spanning the Panama Canal, from the top of Ancon Hill. Ancon Hill is only 654-feet high but commands an impressive view out over the new and old sections of Panama City. With views out over both t
© Have Camera Will Travel | Central & South America / Alamy
The Puente de las Americas stretches across the Panama Canal, connecting Panama City by road with the rest of the country. The views over the locks to the Pacific are impressive, and, at the western end, there’s a lookout. Stop here a while to take a photo and pay your respects at the poignant Chinese Memorial monument. It was built to commemorate the back-breaking work of 700 or so Chinese migrant laborers, many of whom lost their lives in the construction of the 1850s Panama Railroad.

Metropolitan Natural Park

Park
Map View
Three-toed Sloth, Bradypus variegatus, in the 265 hectares rainforest Metropolitan park, Panama City, Republic of Panama.
© Oyvind Martinsen-Panama Wildlife / Alamy
The Parque Natural Metropolitano is an isthmus of tropical rainforest stretching from the wilderness reserves of the Parque Nacional Soberania and the Forest Protector Arraiján into urban Panama City. The visitor center and entrance point are on Av Juan Pablo II, just north of Curundu Heights. The park is cut with trails and rich with wildlife – including capuchin monkeys, sloths, toucans and trogons – seen most easily very early in the morning or late afternoon.

Fish Market, Panama City

Market
Map View
PANAMA CITY, Panama--The buzzing Mercado de Mariscos (Seafood Market) on the waterfront next to Casco Viejo in Panama City. In one section, vendors sell fresh seafood of all types, while next to it are a series of outdoor seafood restaurants where ceviche
© Have Camera Will Travel | Central & South America / Alamy
Whether you are looking to have a cheap and delicious plate of ceviche, to buy fresh seafood directly from the fishermen or simply to people-watch, the Mercado de Mariscos is an essential port of call – especially in the early mornings around 6am, when the catches of the day are brought in from the Pacific; or at lunchtime, when local Panamanians from all walks of life flock here to eat and converse.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Library, Museum
Map View
Visitors run the artistic exhibition on French-Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez entitled 'El Color Haciendose' (lit: The color doing itself) at the Contemporary Art Museum (MAC) in Panama City, Panama, 30 July 2019 (issued on 02 August 2019. The hypnoti
© EFE News Agency / Alamy
The setting is fairly modest: a mock Spanish-colonial building in leafy surrounds, on the edge of the wild Reserva Cerro Ancón, just off the Pan-American Highway. And, yet, Panama City’s Museum of Contemporary Art (M.A.C.) showcases the best of the country’s art scene, with regular exhibitions, shows and art performances. The museum also preserves a big, historic movie poster collection and has a decent little art shop selling prints, T-shirts and art books in Spanish.

Cerro Ancón

Park, Natural Feature
Map View
View of the Ancon Hill from the "Mirador de las Americas", a
© Mabelin Santos / Alam
The Cerro Ancón (Ancon Hill) is a lush green peak set in tropical forests and is visible from almost every part of Panama City. There are no cars, just running tracks and forest trails leading to a summit planted with the Panamanian flag. From up here, you get impressive city skyline and Panama Bay views. It’s a popular place for a day’s light hiking, and you’re sure to see toucans and capuchin monkeys in the trees along the way.

Amador Causeway

Bridge, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Amador Causeway Bike Rental Panama City
© Genevieve Vallee / Alamy
Essentially, this is a thin strip of land jutting into Panama Bay, connecting Downtown Panama City to the Amador Islands. It was created with the rocks that came from the excavations of the Panama Canal. Recently renovated, it is so much more than the sum of its parts: the area is a favorite free-time destination for both tourists and locals, who rent cycles, have lunch or take a run along the causeway, enjoying great views over the ocean and the city.

Martina Gili contributed additional reporting.

These recommendations were updated on May 7, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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