When people think of Panama, often their minds go to the canal and then struggles to go further. This unimposing Central American country is the link between North and South America and is bordered by Colombia on the south and Costa Rica on the north. This location gives it a diverse and thriving culture and is only one of the reasons why a stop at its capital, Panama City, is something you should look forward to on your world cruise.
Panama City is the country’s capital, and it has a long and interesting history. Originally, the city of Panama was founded in 1519 but was destroyed by fire in 1671. They re-established the city only two years later just 5 miles away from the original site, which is still in ruins. Panama City is now home to over 1 million Panamanians, and its main language is Spanish.
In this article, we are going to look into what you can expect to see when you visit Panama City.
We spoke to Johanna Castro, blogger at Lifestyle Fifty, who has cruised the Panama Canal before. We asked her why she was inspired to visit the canal: “We were interested in the history and the formation of the Panama Canal, and the fact that it is arguably one of the seven modern man-made wonders of the world. We were also intrigued to find out that a ship travelling from New York to San Francisco can save approximately 12,500 kilometres by going through the Panama Canal, instead of having to go around Cape Horn, and wanted to experience this unique passage for ourselves.”
Jo also told us about her experience passing over Gatun Lake, one of the best sights along the canal: “Gatun Lake lies between the Gatun and Pedro Miguel locks, and the hills bordering the valley of the Chagres open up widely around the area of the lake making it a naturally beautiful area. We cruised across Gatun Lake, watching the scenery change, marvelling at the pristine rainforest, and loving the way the colour of the lake seemed to change constantly; from blue to green to murky brown. It was hot and humid with little breeze but the experience was so tranquil after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. With no waves, our crossing was smooth, almost breathless, as if we were gliding silently across a millpond.”
The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is the number one city attraction, and for good reason. This incredible feat of human engineering means that your world cruise can cut across Central America instead of having to go around South America completely.
If you want to get up close and personal with the canal, the best place to do that is Miraflores. These are the locks that sit slightly inland on the Panama City side of the canal. The Miraflores Visitor Centre allows you to get a fantastic view of the locks, where you can see how the canal works and experience a boat traversing it from a new angle.
Whilst at the visitor centre, you’ll also have the opportunity to learn more about the history of the canal, including how it was built. This is great for anyone interested in the mechanics of one of the world’s most famous stretches of water!
We spoke to Claire Archer, blogger at Past The Potholes, who told us why she was inspired to visit Panama City: “Since living in Mexico we have really loved Latin America. We have heard so many great things about Panama and, with excellent air connections, the mix of modern cosmopolitan life and historic Latin culture in Panama City intrigued us."
When in the city, Claire visited the Panama Canal Visitor Centre, we asked her about that experience: “Have you even visited Panama City if you haven’t seen the canal? We visited the Panama Canal more because it was something that should be done when in Panama City than because it was of particular interest to us. However, we arrived to be told that a large ship was just passing through the locks and to head straight to the top floor observation deck. We watched in awe as it slowly passed through the narrow channel, barely avoiding scraping the sides. In addition to the actual canal, there is a short film to watch on the canal's history and a four-story museum filled with information and artefacts. Before leaving we went back to the observation deck and watched an even larger container ship pass through the locks. It turns out the Panama Canal is an incredibly interesting place to visit in Panama City and well-worth an afternoon!”
Finally, we asked Claire where else she thinks someone should go if they only have one day in the city: “Panama City has so many things to see and do in one day. We highly recommend a stroll around Casco Viejo, the historic centre. It’s also a great place for a meal and a drink.
“One of our absolute favourite places in Panama City is the Cinta Costera, a long winding path dotted with gardens, parks and sports areas following the coastline. Similarly, the Amador Causeway is a great place for a walk or bike ride and is home to the famous Biomuseo.
“If you are really hoping to see some exotic wildlife, there is nowhere better than a walk in the Parque Metropolitano where you will find yourself in a rainforest within the city and a chance to see monkeys, sloths and toucans among other living things.
We also spoke to Jane and Duncan Dempster-Smith for To Travel Too, who told us why they travelled to Panama City: “Central America always intrigued us as travellers. We had just spent time in Nicaragua and Costa Rica and Panama were next on our list. Panama City is modern, it could be a city that would be very comfortably located in either the USA or Canada. Not only is it modern, but it is contrasted with the old Spanish influenced Casco Viejo, (old town) with its restored colourful buildings, trendy boutique hotels and restaurants just across the waterfront from Panama City’s skyscrapers and 5-star luxury resorts.”
Jane told us about why she believes everyone should visit the Panama Canal: “The Panama Canal should be on everyone’s list to visit. Check the timetable of the ships on the day that you want to visit, the canal is quietest at lunchtime. It is one of the world’s most significant engineering feats. At the Miraflores Canal Visitors Centre, just a short 20-minute taxi ride from Panama City, you can view the large cargo and passengers’ ships travelling through the canal and visit the interactive museum. There is even a restaurant for dining, reservations are required.”
Finally, Jane told us what else she would recommend people do when visiting Panama City: “Cinta Costera, Panama’s large park that lines the waterfront and is the perfect place to stroll in the early morning or late afternoon. At the end of the park close by the Casco Viejo is the fish market where you can dine cheaply on the catch of the day and enjoy a cold beer or two.”
After the canal, the most popular thing to see in Panama City is Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo, Spanish for Old Quarter, is the historic district of the city. Although the capital is filled with towering skyscrapers and looks very modern, this section represents the 1673 settlement thanks to its architecture and charming streets.
View this post on Instagram
No podíamos resistirnos a compartir esta vista de Casco de ? @soydelcasco ¡Nos vemos mañana y que tengan un feliz domingo! #soydelcasco #casco #cascoviejo #cascolife #cascovibes #cascoviejopanama #cascoviejopty #cascoantiguo #cascoantiguopty #cascoantiguopanama #pty #panama #panamacity #visitpanama #panamagram #elweekly
Casco Viejo was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 for its outstanding universal value. The old buildings have great Latin influence and the town is completely beautiful. If you are interested in finding out more about the history of Panama, the walking through the streets of Casco Viejo will make you feel engulfed in it.
View this post on Instagram
Casco Viejo lookin’ postcard pretty. Palm trees and colonial buildings, me gusta. Got that Friday feeling - I’ve worked super hard this week (and kinda got a kick out of it) and I’ve decided to extend my stay at the wonderful @cascospanish because I learnt so much this week. Off to the San Blas this weekend, let’s pray for no thunderstorms!! • #cascoviejo #panama #panamacity #panamazing #colonial #plaza #girlslovetravel #instatravel #travelgram #glt #gltlove #womenwhowander #howdareshe #travelstoke #neverstopexploring #exploremore #liveauthentic #mytinyatlas #girlswhohike #getoutside #mountains #igpassport #exploretocreate #seehertravel #seetheworld #travelblogger #girlsborntotravel #livetotravel #cityscape
We spoke to Ellie Hattersley, travel blogger at Grad Gone Global, who told us why she was inspired to visit Panama City: “I think it was a combination of convenience and intrigue - I was on my way up north from South America and Panama City was a logical stop. I didn't know much about Panama City apart from some vague knowledge about the canal, but on researching it looked like a worthwhile place to visit with some intriguing history. Pirates and all! It was also a great hub to stay a while and learn some Spanish.
Ellie visited Casco Viejo whilst in the city, and we asked her about that experience: “I absolutely loved Casco Viejo. There's something great about the combination of crumbling ruins, colonial buildings and modern bars and restaurants, with everything from local cuisine to international dishes. It felt like a very cosy place to wander around and was an easy and pleasant place to spend my time.
Finally, Ellie gave us some more recommendations for anyone in the city: “I'd say head to the fish market for some cheap ceviche, or for something a bit more highbrow, head to Lo Que Hay - an awesome concept restaurant whose menu changes depending on what they have in that week, what's in season and so on. Also, a Panama speciality is Geisha coffee - some of the most expensive in the world. I really liked Bajareque Cafe for this, as it's super quiet and cute.
If abstract architecture and unique learning experiences are your thing, you won’t have to go far to find something for you in Panama. The Biomuseo located in the Amador district of the city is one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting buildings and contains a fantastic museum.
The building designed by Frank Gehry was constructed in 2014 although the idea first came about in 1999. The museum focuses on the natural history of Panama and includes 8 different galleries. Throughout the museum, they explore some of Panama’s natural wonders, how the country was formed over 3 million years ago and where it is now. A great experience for anyone who is interested in learning more about the world.
The Amador Causeway is a fantastic place to travel if you want to get a different vantage point of the city. The causeway connects the city with the Causeway islands, four small islands that sit slightly to the south of the capital.
The Amador Causeway is walkable and is a place locals often exercise so don’t be surprised if you pass a few joggers or cyclists! As you walk along it not only will you get a unique view of the city, you’ll also get to explore the islands.
Metropolitan Natural Park
If you are looking to explore some of Panama’s beautiful nature, then the Metropolitan Natural Park is a fantastic place for you to go. You’ll be surrounded by natural rainforest, as well as brilliant wildlife including sloths, colourful birds and monkeys! If you are looking to throw on your hiking boots this is the place you should go.
One of the best things to do is to head to the Mirador Cerro Cedro, which is a beautiful lookout. You’ll get 360-degree views of everything around from this hill within the park. As well as great views of the city you’ll have views over the rest of Panama, and the rainforest as well!
So, there you have it, just some of the amazing things you can do in Panama City!