Panama City is the financial and shipping hub of Central America. It’s also the capital of Panama and features some delicious food, good nightlife, and stunning history. The old part of the city (Casco Viejo) is the real heart of the city and has some stunning restaurants. On the opposite side, you’ll find the ruins from colonial days. Overall, Panama City a good place to spend a few days, eating, and organizing your trip around the country. Other than that, it’s not a memorable city.
- Hostel Prices: Hostels in the city costs between $10-12 USD for a dorm room. Private rooms in hostels begin at $30 per night.
- Budget Hotel Prices: Budget hotels cost between $50-70 USD per night for a room with A/C, hot water, and private bathroom.
- Average Cost of Food: Local food stalls meals will cost around $4. For that price, you will get a plate of chicken, rice, and beans. It’s a staple dish. Western food such as pizza will cost around $10 per meal. For a nice meal with wine, expect to pay around $30-40. There are a lotof nice, stylish restaurants in Casco Viejo.
- Transportation Costs: To travel from one side of Panama City to the other is around $4 USD. Buses can be as cheap as .50 cents.
Top Things to Do
- Visit Casco Viejo – Stroll through Casco Viejo, the 333-year-old Spanish colonial sector built in 1671, to witness the colonial and Canal Era historical buildings, which showcase Panama’s colonial past. Most of the buildings are now empty, dilapidated, and in ruin, but most are in the process of being renovated. Nevertheless, the area has a lot of old world Spanish charm to it. There’s a lot to see in Casco Viejo, such as a beautiful promenade, the Canal Museum, History Museum, and Presidential Palace. You’ll also find some amazing food in the area. I highly recommend the weekend market in Plaza Independence for its delicious and cheap meals.
- Panama Viejo – The original part of the city, Panama Viejo, was founded in 1519. All the gold from the Inca Empire went through this area, and it was once a thriving city of 10,000. Today’s extensive ruins are the result of an attack by English pirate Henry Morgan in 1671. There is in depth museum at the visitor center, but the exhibits are mostly in Spanish. Luckily, there are a lot of visuals to look at if you don’t speak Spanish. The main reconstructed church offers sweeping panoramic views of the area. The ruins take a few hours to explore and are peaceful due to the lack of crowds.
- Amador Causeway – With its spectacular views of Panama City’s skyline and of the Panama Canal, the Amador Causeway is a major attraction. The Causeway connects four small islands made up of rocks excavated from the Panama Canal, which serve as a breakwater for thee Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. The islands used to be bases for US forces, but have since been turned into a place many Panamanians spend their weekends jogging, riding a bicycle, skate boarding, or having a meal or drinks at one of the many restaurants and bars on the islands.
- Explore the Metropolitan Park – The Metropolitan Park is a section of the jungle watershed preserve for the Canal Zone. It’s a giant park located right in the city that houses many rainforest animals, birds, and plants. The park is fairly big but there are only 8km worth of trails so you can hike the whole thing in a day. From the top of the trail, you’ll get views of the entire city and the Panama Canal Zone. When the craziness of the city gets to you, come here for an afternoon and relax.
- Eat out – Panama City has some amazing international food. I don’t like the local Panamanian food. I find it plain and lacking a lot of the spices and flavors you find elsewhere in Central America. But as a major international hub, the city has some great international fare. If you want to stretch your budget out, you’ll find delicious food throughout the city that’s worth busting your budget on. Casco Viejo has many high-end restaurants as does La Exposicion.
- Panama Canal – The highlight of the city is, of course, the Panama Canal. That’s the main attraction everyone comes to see. You can view the city from Miraflores Locks (one of the three locks in the canal). There’s a very good museum at the welcome center that features a lot of audio and visual displays, the lock, and a short film about how Panama got the canal back from the US. Make sure you go in the morning or afternoon so you can see a ship pass through the lock.
- Eat at the local stands – Meals at local food stalls cost between $3-4 USD. You’ll get rice, chicken, beans, and maybe another side plus a drink. I didn’t love the food in Panama but at the price they had, it made eating very cheap.
- Avoid taxis. Buses are only .50 cents and go everywhere in the city. Take the bus and save lots of money over taxis.
- Stick to Beer – Beer is usually .50 cents to 1 dollar during hostel happy hours. Otherwise, a local Panama or Balboa was $1.50. Mix drinks are usually $2 USD. So stick to beer, spend less, and save more without cutting into your good time.