My Central America trip is coming to an end. Panama City is the last stop on my itinerary, but it’s one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. From the legendary canal to the colonial-era architecture and modern skyscrapers, this place has a lot to show me. So I’m going to spend my two days here discovering as many things to do in Panama City as I can.
Things to Do in Panama City
I arrive in Panama City at sunset after a flight from Nicaragua. The sky turns hot pink as my taxi speeds through the steel-and-glass downtown. Soon I arrive in Casco Viejo, the historic heart of the city where beautiful heritage buildings abound.
Casco Viejo is my home for the next two nights, and I’m staying at the Magnolia Inn. Set in a pretty purple building in the center of the neighborhood, it’s a great base for exploring the area. The staff are welcoming, my room is spacious and stylish, and I love the terrace overlooking the street.
I spend my first full day finding all the things to do in Panama City’s historic district. Casco Viejo is steeped in colonial charm, and there’s something to see everywhere I turn. I start by following the heritage trail that’s signposted throughout the neighborhood. It offers insights into local places of interest, churches, squares, and other landmarks, and gives a great overview of the area’s past.
Afterwards I walk out onto the old city walls, where I find a seafront promenade with vendors selling all kinds of local handicrafts. It has great views of the skyscrapers in the distance and the container ships waiting for access to the Panama Canal.
Below it is a monument to the 19th-century French attempt to build a canal in Panama. It’s a moving tribute to the leaders of the effort and those who lost their lives to disease and other tragedies as the building process took place.
Not far away I discover a vibrant local market in the Plaza de la Independencia. I get some food from one of the stalls, then sit in a rotunda under pink flowering trees to take in the scene.
Elsewhere in the neighborhood I find townhouses in every pastel shade, ornate churches and ruined ones, and balconies with intricate ironwork. There are stylish shops and good restaurants, and above all, lively venues for Casco Viejo’s famous nightlife scene.
And then there’s the fish market. Visiting the Mercado de Mariscos is one of the most popular things to do in Panama City, and given it’s located right next to Casco Viejo, it’s easy for me to get to.
I walk over and explore the indoor market, where vendors hawk their seafood under industrial lights. Afterwards I settle in at one of the many local restaurants and enjoy some of the freshest ceviche I’ve ever had.
At sunset, I wander back to the city walls and find them alive with locals celebrating everything from quinceaneras to weddings. Couples walk hand-in-hand along the waterfront, and girls carry roses from their special someones.
But as much as I love Casco Viejo, Panama City is best known for something else: the canal. I couldn’t visit Panama without going to Miraflores to see the ships going through the locks, so on my second day I head over to take it all in.
The ships only pass through at certain hours, so I’ve timed my arrival to coincide with their presence. I spend the first hour in awe of the boats, the locks, and the great feats of engineering that make it all possible.
Inside the Miraflores Visitor Center, I walk through floor after floor of exhibits on the canal’s history, biodiversity, expansion, and future, amazed at the effort that has gone into it over the years. I then watch a short film that covers some of the same information before heading back to Casco Viejo to collect my bags and head to the airport.
Despite only having a short time in Panama, I’ve managed to take in a lot and find a range of experiences. There are so many things to do in Panama City, and I’m glad I’ve been able to absorb history, food, culture, and canal in the two days I’ve spent here. As I fly back to London and leave Central America behind, I’m glad to have gotten an overview of six different countries and cultures on my trip. I knew relatively little about them before I traveled, but I discovered so much. I can’t wait to return someday for longer and dig deeper into each one. I hope that day comes soon.
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