Panama City, Panama is a large cosmopolitan city in Central America. In fact, it rivals Miami for high-end shopping. It also ranks third (after New York City and Chicago) for most high-rise skyscapers per square mile. This city seriously sizzles! We planned a quick trip to area and learned a lot about the city during our time here. I will openly admit that I did not do much planning or researching prior to our trip. This is unusual for me, but I just had too much going on in life at the time. Here’s what we learned and what you need to know to travel to Panama City.
We stayed at Eurostars Panama Hotel primarily due to the price. It also met our needs as far as amenities and cleanliness. The location of this Financial District hotel was within walking distance to many spots including two metro stations, main streets, and other hotel hot spots. There is also free WiFi throughout the property. Our room was plenty big and came with a nice sized closet, safe, comfortable bedding, well appointed bathroom, and great view. Be advised – there aren’t any signs on this building and a lot of taxi drivers aren’t overly familiar with it.
For good dining choices outside of the property, be prepared to head a few blocks away for better options. The hotel itself offers a great breakfast ($16/pp) and other dining options with great views of the skyline. Perhaps the best view from the property is at the rooftop pool located on the 27th floor. Get here early to claim your space and skip the bar service – there are limited chairs and the small size of the drinks are not worth the high cost. We highly recommend this hotel!
We took the hotel shuttle to and from the airport. There are also plenty of taxis available. Either way, it will cost about $30 to get to the city center. Once there, familiarize yourself with the metro system. Although there are limited stops currently available, rides are only $.35 per person, and it is spotless and safe. You must buy a metro card at one of the machines for $2.00 as of this writing, and then load it with only a few dollars at a time (paper bills required). That amount will last you several rides. One card is good for two people to share – pass it back to the next person after you swipe.
When traveling to places the metro cannot take you to, opt for a cab but be sure to ask the cost before getting in. Rides will range from $5-$20 depending on the zone. Want to save a few bucks? Take the metro to the closest possible stop, then take a cab from there. There are also buses as another option. However, we are an active pair and prefer walking. We walked where ever we could and averaged about 10 miles per day by foot (75,943 steps logged on my FitBit during our 4 day visit).
As a word of caution, be extremely careful when walking in the city center. Traffic is very busy and moves incredibly fast. I’m pretty sure we were used as target practice a time or two. Some areas have pedestrian bridges – try to find those if you can.
The USD is the primary form of currency, although they also have their own – the Panamanian Balboa. Be sure to carry a lot of small bills with you as many businesses and vendors do not accept large bills. You may get change back in USDs or Balboas. Credit card use can also be limited at local businesses, so again it is best to have plenty of cash on hand. Taxis are cash only.
I have been learning Spanish over the last few years and know some basic phrases. Anyway… communicating here was difficult. The primary language in Panama is Spanish, but take into consideration the use of slang and local dialect. The locals tend to cut off or combine multiple words, making it difficult to understand. Even in the heavy “tourist” areas, communication using basic Spanish skills was very challenging. This was our fault, not theirs and was a reminder that we need to expand on our Spanish language knowledge even further. I actually Googled this upon our return and found that Panama is one of the hardest countries in terms of being a non-native speaker. A very small amount of the population speaks limited English.
The food scene in this city is also incredibly hot and diverse. There is something for everybody here. However, we found the best food in Casco Veijo. The restaurants here are trendy and upscale. Just walking by them is very enticing. Because there are so many to consider, here is the list with location and food types which we ate at:
- Nazca 21 – Peruvian food located in Casco Veijo. Dinners were about $13 each. Rated as the #5 restaurant in Panama City!
- Diablicos – Traditional Panamanian food located in Casco Veijo. Lunches were about $15 each and were big enough to share. We highly recommend the Ropa Veijo – it is delicious!
- Bajareque Coffee – Coffee shop located in Casco Veijo. You can try a cup of the famous Geisha Coffee for $9 (it sells for $160 or more per pound!)
- Finca Del Mar – Bar and Grill in Casco Vejio. Offers incredibly flavorful drinks and tasty, moderately priced lunch options. Waste away the afternoon in the bar swings!
- Mahalo – Fresh and inventive food in Casco Veijo. Try either the Coconut Curry Chicken or the Casco Salad while enjoying a quiet evening on the patio!
- Salsipuedos – Luxury dining in the heart of Panama City. The food here is amazing, but it has a price tag to match. Dinner for two cost us a Benjamin, but it was worth the price!
And, if you’re looking for a great spot to grab a drink, the city is famous for it’s variety of rooftop bars. We visited The Roof which sits atop the Best Western in the city center, as well as Tantalo in Casco Veijo. There are plenty more hot spots to choose from here too!
There are plenty of activities in Panama City! While personal tastes may vary, we did tons of amazing things during our stay in the city and we crammed it all in to four days!
We visited in late May which is the shoulder (wet) season, but it was still hot and humid. This gave the temperatures a “real feel” of 105-115 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to drink plenty of water, wear moisture-wicking clothes, and also use sunscreen, even on cloudy days. We also encountered plenty of mosquitoes at Panama Viejo and the Metropolitan Park. Even with mosquito repellent, we received several bites. Be sure to bring repellent and some itch cream. Of course, you’ll want to other take proper precautionary measures related to the Zika virus.
The only time we ran into other “tourists” was when we were cruising the Panama Canal, so for those seeking comfort provided by being around other “tourists”, keep in mind that you may not find it here. Therefore, I would say that if you are a beginning traveler without knowledge of the Spanish language, this probably isn’t the best place to start your travel adventures. Again, it’s not that we didn’t love it because we absolutely did… we just wouldn’t recommend it to people who aren’t travel savvy or experienced. Tourism just hasn’t hit in Panama like it has in neighboring Costa Rica. Panama City is amazing and I would gladly return here at some point!
We hope you find this guide helpful for your visit to Panama City!
Disclaimer: We received daily breakfast compliments of Eurostars Panama City and send out a big ‘thank you’ for providing our morning meal! This post also contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we might make a little extra travel money, at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are our own.