PanamaTravel Guide

Panama is a narrow strip of land, forming a bridge between North and South America and with the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean on either side. It’s a fascinating destination with its unique combination of old and new, and a rich cultural heritage influenced by indigenous tribes, Spanish colonisers, and African-Caribbean people. Spanish is the official language here, but many locals speak English too.

The exciting capital is Panama City, said to be the most cosmopolitan in Central America, with top restaurants and shops and a popular night scene. It also boasts a charming old quarter, Casco Viejo, dating back to 1673, and dotted with colourful buildings, many major attractions and buzzing plazas.

Some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world can be found in Panama, where surfing, snorkelling, and scuba diving are popular activities. Nature lovers also flock to the country for its diverse natural beauty, from rainforests and cloud forests to coral reefs and several national parks and reserves.

Our Panama Travel Guide has all this information and more. Read on!

Panama quick facts

Language

National language

Spanish

Beverages

Bottle of Coke/Pepsi (330ml)

CAD $2.13

Local time

Monday

5:17am

Currency

United States dollar

CAD $1.00 = USD $0.73

Eating out

Restaurant meal (casual dining)

CAD $10.92

Electricity

Plug type: A

2 or 3 pins • 110V

Explore Panama

Where to stay in Panama?

It’s tough deciding where to stay in Panama City. There’s a hotel for every budget and a variety of beautiful districts to choose from. Here are a few ideas to help you on your way.

If you’re a first-time visitor wanting to soak up the essence of Panama, then it’s a no-brainer. You simply have to stay in Casco Viejo which is Panama City’s historic district! This charming neighbourhood and Cultural World Heritage Site is where you can explore most of Panama’s attractions from museums and churches to a monument that was a fortress against pirates! Hotel La Compañia is arguably the hotel to stay in for both luxury and a history lesson. It’s made up of three wings: the French Colonial wing, constructed by Jesuit priests in 1739; the Spanish Colonial wing, dating back to 1688; and the American wing, originally an upscale department store, first built in the early 1900s. The five-star Central Hotel Panama Casco Viejo is another winner, situated on the Plaza de la Independencia and featuring a spa, swimming pool and rooftop bar.


Isla Grande is in the Colón province with a tiny population, which means that you can look forward to peace and quiet in abundance, while enjoying beautiful white sand beaches. It’s one of the best areas to stay for a classic beach holiday experience. Coco Tal Hotel is a budget-friendly option, boasting its own private stretch of beach. Then there’s Paradise Island Beach Hotel, close to Punta Beach, which also has private access and offers fun activities like beach volleyball and a game zone.


del Toro comprises part of Panama’s mainland and a huddle of islands in the Caribbean Sea. It’s a wonderful escape for nature lovers, offering a balance between relaxation and adventure. Eco-certified Hotel Bocas del Toro has glorious waterfront views, and extras such as kayak rentals and in-room massages. Slightly easier on the pocket is Playa Tortuga Hotel & Beach Resort. It’s also on the beachfront with an outdoor pool and a choice between standard rooms and suites, including a Presidential Suite.


Believe us when we say, this is just the start. Book your accommodation today!

  • Woman paddle boarding in clear water next to floating resort
    • A Coati walking across a fallen tree trunk in Biodiversity Park
    • Sun setting over mountain ridge looking over a lake and railway tracks
  • Woman paddle boarding in clear water next to floating resort
    Woman paddle boarding in clear water next to floating resort
    Woman paddle boarding in clear water next to floating resort
  • A Coati walking across a fallen tree trunk in Biodiversity Park
    A Coati walking across a fallen tree trunk in Biodiversity Park
    A Coati walking across a fallen tree trunk in Biodiversity Park
  • Sun setting over mountain ridge looking over a lake and railway tracks
    Sun setting over mountain ridge looking over a lake and railway tracks
    Sun setting over mountain ridge looking over a lake and railway tracks

Things to do in Panama

Featuring some of Mother Nature’s finest work, Panama is a haven for anyone searching for a rejuvenating escape. Explore rainforests and cloud forests (tropical forests with a cloud canopy), lounge on a white sand beach on the Pacific or the Caribbean coast, or trek through the man-made desert in the Sarigua National Park. Another selling point? There’s also a whole lot to do in the capital city!

The Panama Canal is an engineering masterpiece and a world-famous, highly impressive attraction in Panama. Tours of the canal are available where you can learn about its history and how it operates.

Highly recommended is taking a Panama Canal cruise to appreciate this magnificent artificial waterway responsible for connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and dividing the Americas. Luckily these cruises are sought-after worldwide, so you’re spoilt for choice with providers for this once-in-a-lifetime experience! But you don’t need to be aboard a cruise ship to see the canal. Head to the Miraflores Visitor Centre in downtown Panama City to see the Miraflores Locks where the huge ships are lifted or lowered into the water of the Pacific Ocean port of Balboa. You’ll also be able to see other vessels passing through the canal.


Panama has had a massive impact on the planet’s biodiversity after the formation of the isthmus, which “split” the ocean in half and caused changes in currents and climates, while linking two continents. It’s less than 64km (40 miles) at its narrowest part. The Biomuseo showcases the efforts the country and its people are making to safeguard the environment. Explore eight galleries and various temporary and permanent indoor interactive exhibits before strolling through the Biodiversity Park.


The hot springs of Caldera are a collection of springs all of varying temperatures, heated by the thermal energy from Barú Volcano, where you can relax, soak your travel-weary body and take advantage of the many benefits of the mineral-rich spring water. You’ll need to book a 4x4 safari to get there – check if your hotel offers this excursion.


Treat yourself to one of the greatest train rides in the world – the Panama Canal Railway. The journey lasts around an hour from Panama City’s Pacific terminus to the Caribbean port of Colón. On the way, you’ll speed through gorgeous jungle scenery and cross over Gatun Lake, admiring these sights thanks to the panoramic windows. Be sure to have a tour booked on your arrival (the train departs for Panama City again in the afternoon) or board the bus to return to Panama City.


The Soberanía National Park just 45 minutes out of Panama City is a must for families looking for a fun-filled day out wildlife spotting, surrounded by the sounds and smells of the dry rainforest and the Chagres River. A dry forest, by the way, has several months without rainfall and is home to a wide variety of animals. Alternatively, lace up your hiking boots and work up a sweat with a hike up Pipeline Road, known for its abundance of feathered beauties (it broke the record for the most bird species spotted in a 24 hours).


The San Blas Islands are an archipelago of about 365 islands and cays. Spend a day island-hopping by boat. Plenty of tour operators in Panama City can take you to San Blas by 4×4 and water taxi (lancha). If you opt for the 4x4, it leaves from Panama City and takes you on a 2.5-hour journey through the mountains to the main port of the San Blas Islands, Cartí. From here, you will be able to visit the islands by boat.


Looking for an immersive experience? Then a tour is the way to go.

Flights to Panama

Panama food and drink

Panama is a melting pot of cultures, so you’ll find a dash of African, a sizzle of Spanish and a drizzling of Native American influences in almost all the local dishes. Panamanian cuisine features tropical fruits (plantains are popular) and vegetables, rice and maize and, as you would expect, seafood, plus chicken, pork and beef.

There are countless world-class eateries across the country, but one that always pops up on the “best restaurants” lists is Maito, serving up authentic Panamanian favourites made using ingredients sourced from small-scale farmers and producers. You’ll find it in the upmarket suburb of Coco Del Mar, just off the Pacific Coast.

Another must for local fare is El Trapiche in Panama City. This restaurant has been delighting its patrons with a mouth-watering mix of satisfying comfort food and gourmet masterpieces since 1983.

For casual dining at its best, head to Magoo’s Fish Tacos in Panama City and fill up on, yes, you guessed it, fish tacos and beer and fabulous cocktails


If you’re already familiar with classic Spanish and Mexican street food, plenty of what you’ll find in Panama will look and taste familiar. Tuck into a chicken and pineapple empanada (hand-held pie) or munch your way through a tortilla with delicious fillings. It shouldn’t be too challenging getting your hands on street-food either – there are vendors stationed on almost every street corner, especially in the main cities. You can even opt for a street-food eatery and taste your way through the menu. Concolon is a popular spot on St Luke Street in Panama City.


Get a real taste for the local cuisine by booking a tour.

Panama through your eyes

Where to shop in Panama?

Most of the best options when shopping in Panama can be found in Panama City. If you’ve got your Travel Money Card ready, you’ll find plenty of ways to put it to good use, whether you’re trawling the US-style shopping malls or scoping out bargains at one of the local markets.

Which is the largest, most famous shopping mall in all of Panama? Albrook Mall, hands down. As the second-largest one in the Americas, it offers access to a variety of the best shops in Panama City. It’s mapped into different segments, each carrying the name of an animal to make it easier to navigate, and there are loads of entertainment options too, from a cinema to a bowling alley.

Multiplaza Panamá in Punta Pacifica, a Panama City neighbourhood, is another popular mall, ideal for shoppers looking to splurge on upscale brands like Cartier and Gucci. It’s known for its “Luxury Avenue”, sporting more than 30 high-end local and international stores, sure to satisfy every shopaholic.


Buy local during your visit by going to one of the many markets scattered across the country. You’ll find your fair share of local artists and artisans on Avenida Central, a famous pedestrian street close to Casco Viejo, dotted with family-owned cafés, department stores and small-scale vendors. Panama is also full of bustling flea markets, fish markets, farmers’ markets and artisanal markets – all great for grabbing a bite to eat or even a souvenir. The America’s Market in San Miguelito, 15 minutes on the subway from Panama City is a goodie. Here, you can find everything from local handicrafts to kitchenware, watches to antiques.


Looking for a safe and simple way to bring your money when you travel? Our Travel Money Card has you covered!

When is the best time to travel to Panama?

Panama has a tropical climate – hot and humid, with a long rainy season that’s most of the year from May to December, and for this reason most travellers will agree that Panama is at its best during the first half from January to around mid-April. This is the country’s dry season when the beaches are warm, sunny and inviting, and temperatures peak at around 31⁰C (87.8⁰F) during the day. Of course, this is also the busiest time of the year and when you’re likely to pay the highest rates for accommodation.

Panama doesn’t have four seasons, just two: wet (winter) and dry (summer)! Panama is also rarely overcast, making it a year-round destination, so if you don’t mind visiting during the rainy season when short, heavy afternoon showers are common, you’ll still enjoy lovely weather with average temperatures of 30⁰C (86⁰F). The coldest it gets is around 26°C (78 °F) on either coast (and that’s not even cold!).

The roads in Panama are generally in good condition, which is good to know if you’ve hired a rental car, but for public transport information, the Moovit app is your best guide to getting around in Panama. It includes all the options from buses to the Metro and ferries. Many Panamanians opt to get around by bus. Several bus operators offer quick rides from point A to point B, as well as long-haul trips. Travelling by bus is a good idea if you’ll be spending most of your time in Panama City, San José de David or Santiago. The Metro is also a convenient and cost-effective way to get around.

There are two Metro lines in Panama and 30 Metro stations.

Got your sights set on Panama’s archipelagos, such as Bocas del Toro? Unless you’re an especially strong swimmer (just kidding!), you’ll need to get there by water taxi (lancha), or boat – several operators in Panama offer scenic boat tours. And what exactly are the lanchas? These small boats are for transporting people mainly, while the ferries available in Panama are large boats designed to transport cars, trucks and buses, in addition to people. Find a ferry operator on your Moovit app.

Unmetered, yellow taxis are common throughout Panama, and the most popular routes have a set fare. Make sure of these prices ahead of your trip to avoid being taken for a ride (see what we did there?).


Don't miss out. Book your flight today!

What are the best beaches in Panama?

You really get the best of both worlds when it comes to beaches in Panama. As mentioned, the country boasts beautiful sun-drenched sandy stretches on both the Caribbean Coast and the coastline of the Pacific Ocean.

Starfish Beach in Bocas Del Toro is so named due to the many starfish that speckle the ocean floor. These creatures are visible through the waves, to the delight of snorkellers. The waters at Starfish Beach are calm, making it a great spot for travellers with children, and its leafy palm trees and year-round clear skies add to its picture-perfect appeal.


You can access this pristine white sand beach with a visit to the ever popular Red Frog Beach Island Resort, also in Bocas Del Toro on Isla Bastimentos. It’s popular among loved-up couples and one of the best beaches to make the most of the Caribbean Coast, lined with bars and restaurants to enjoy in between all that fun in the sun. And keep your eyes peeled for the beach’s namesake: the red frog


Isla Perro (Dog Island) Beach can be found in the magical San Blas archipelago, which comprises a whopping 360 islands (with over 300 of those uninhabited). That’s a whole lot of beach to choose from! Isla Perro is undoubtedly one of the most magical, offering the clearest, warmest waters and a fascinating shipwreck just waiting to be explored. So, grab your snorkelling gear! This is an underwater adventure you don’t want to miss.


...loading

The current requirements for travelling to Panama

Talk to a Panama Travel Expert

Our dedicated team of experts know all the ins and outs of travel and love sharing their knowledge. If you're looking for help planning specific sections of your trip or full itinerary planning, our team is ready and waiting to help create your perfect holiday.
Enquire now
Flight Centre

© Flight Centre Travel Group (Canada) Inc.

*Conditions apply. Prices are in CAD. All advertised prices include taxes & fees. Air travel in economy class unless otherwise stated. Package, cruise, tour, rail & hotel prices are per person, based on double occupancy for total length of stay unless otherwise stated. All-inclusive vacations include airfare on a per person basis. Prices are for select departure dates and are accurate and subject to availability at advertising deadline, errors and omissions excepted, and subject to change. Taxes & fees due in destination are additional and include, but not limited to, local car rental charges & taxes, one-way rental drop fees which are to be paid upon arrival, resort fees & charges, and airline baggage fees. Additional important conditions and supplier terms may apply. For full terms and conditions visit please speak with a Flight Centre Travel Consultant. CPBC#2790, TICO#4671384, OPC#702971.

Future Travel Credit Terms & Conditions | Green Policy | Anti-Spam Policy