Just mention the great metropolis that makes up Panama City, Panama and you’ll hear many of the locals compare their home to Miami. And they’re not far off — here, nearly 13 million inhabitants live among a glittering skyline that’s brought in visitors from around the globe. Jetsetters mingle with surf studs, natty business folks walk among the Panama hat-pursuing tourist. Whether it’s nature or glitz or anything in between, this city has it. Here are just three ways to discover Panama City.
For the Canal Curious
You’d be remiss not to visit the historic Panama Canal on your trip to the capital city. If you prefer taking a guided tour, we suggest doing so with Gamboa Tours, a reliable company that offers half- and full-day tours in and around the canal. Its Panama Canal Full Transit takes you from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in one day, while getting the area’s full history and vibes. You’ll see the Canal’s in-depth operations, including the famous locks. For those interested in a nature bend, the Gatun Lake Expedition allows you to experience the canal via speedboat. During the ride, you’ll see an abundance of wildlife, including crocodiles, birds, and friendly howler monkeys — who may hop from the lush trees and straight into your boat.
For the Cosmopolitan Cool Kid
Panama City is built for buzzing around during the day and into the late night. The skyline is dotted with massive skyscrapers, mostly with an abundance of banks and a massive amount of hotel options. Stay at the Grace Panama and you’ll be in the thick of it. Situated in the Obarrio’s Twist Tower building, this property is where you can lounge at the rooftop pool during the city’s steaming hot daytime hours. Want to retreat indoors? Take a break from the sun in the afternoon for a spin around the nearby Soho Mall, which offers visitors ultra-swish options like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and a stunning Laduree restaurant. Come evening, it’s all about the nightlife. Start the night at the Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis, where you can sip swanky (and pricey) cocktails on the 62bd-floor rooftop lounge. As the evening progresses, head to Habana Panama or Relic Bar in Casco Viejo, the colonial neighborhood and UNESCO World Heritage Site, to dance the night away at Habana Panama or Relic Bar. Pro Tip: Pack your stilettos — Panamanians don’t salsa in ballet flats.
For the Foodie
Panama City is bursting with incredible cuisine. From arepas to empanadas, grab-and-go snacks practically have been created for exploring while noshing. But we also highly recommend sitting down with a bowl of sancocho: a soul-satisfying stew — most popular during Carnival — that’s comprised of chicken, veggies, and coriander. For an inexpensive and very local experience, take a spin around Mercado de Mariscos, the city’s seafood market, that sits at the foot of the historic Casco Viejo district. It’s here that you’ll find rows upon rows of outdoor cafes that specialize in serving ceviche — each stuffed with prawns, octopus, squid, or corvina. Wash it all down with an ice-cold Panama beer for an afternoon snack that’s less than a five-spot. Afterward, walk the waterfront and grab a $1 bag of mangos tossed with vinegar and spices.
But it’s not all street eats; Panama City doesn’t lack high-end dining either. Casco Viejo, on the edge of the city, is home to The American Trade Hotel’s Dining Room, where you’ll find impossibly chic guests tucking into plates of freshly caught grilled octopus ($17) and pulled pork on plantains ($11) from chef Clara Icaza. La Clementines boasts a bounty of fresh and local cuisine created by chef Javier Lamarca. Snag a seat on the patio, where you can dine under breezy palm trees.