Panama City

Panama City

Casey Siemasko

The most cosmopolitan city in Central America, Panama City is often called ‘Little Miami’ due to its waterfront skyline and modern appeal. But this five-centuries-old capital city is so much more than its sleek skyscrapers and pulsating nightlife alone. Panama City is a hub for both Eastern and Western cultures. It’s a gateway to lush rainforest. And it’s a vibrant destination overflowing with culture and history unlike any other destination in Central America.

Where to stay

Panama City can be a bit overwhelming. When you need to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, El Otro Lado provides the perfect retreat. Located in Panama’s Portobelo National Park, it boasts a spectacular infinity pool, stylish villas, and a superb location alongside Portobelo Bay. But perhaps the best part is that Panama City is only about an hour’s drive away, making it easy to explore the city and then return to your villa to retreat in paradise.

The stunning American Trade Hotel is located within the historic district of Panama City, and just a stone’s throw away from popular tourist attractions of the Presidential Palace and Plaza Herrera Square. If you’re seeking a luxurious outdoor pool, jazz bar and stylish air-conditioned rooms, then this is the choice for you.

Nestled in the heart of old town (Casco Viejo), Las Clementinas is a fabulous boutique hotel—one of the most memorable accommodation options you’ll find anywhere in Panama City. Originally a 1930s apartment building, the elegant corner townhouse now boasts 6 large suites. Expect high-vaulted ceilings, restored wood floors, and one-of-a-kind art pieces.

American Trade Hotel | Photo: Spencer Lowell

American Trade Hotel | Photo: Spencer Lowell

Explore

Begin your exploration in the historic neighbourhood of Casco Viejo. Restoration and UNESCO World Heritage Status have transformed Casco Viejo into one of Panama City’s trendiest places to be. Its historical roots date back to 1673, and the unique fusion of Spanish, French and American influences remain today. As you wander along the cobblestone roads and crumbling pastel-coloured buildings, keep your eyes peeled for the Presidential Palace and La Iglesia de la Merced, one of the oldest buildings in Panama.

Additionally, the lovely residential neighbourhood of Ancon makes for a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle within the city centre. Don’t miss hiking up to the 654-foot high Ancon Hill for panoramic views of Panama City, including a glimpse of the nearby Panama Canal.

Top things to see and do

The most popular tourist attractions in Panama City are easily a stop at the Panama Canal as well as a sightseeing tour of Panama Viejo (Old Panama.) While these sites are certainly worth a visit, leave some extra time in your itinerary for additional exploring. First, head to the Amador Causeway, where you can enjoy six kilometres of walking and cycling paths with excellent views of the skyline.

Then it’s time to experience the wild side of Panama City with a trip to the Metropolitan National Park. Panama City is one of the only capital cities in the world where a rainforest is located right within the city limits; it would be a shame not to experience it! Arrive at the national park early when the heat is less oppressive, and don’t be surprised if toucans, monkeys and sloths make appearances during your hike!

Finally, don’t forget that Panama City is just a hop away from stunning beaches. Santa Clara is perhaps the most accessible option for a day trip that is well worth the journey.

Photo: Dan Moore

Photo: Dan Moore

Eat, drink and be merry

For an intimate affair, head to Donde Jose. This 14-seat restaurant allows patrons to get up close and personal to Chef Jose as he prepares an exquisite meal based on New Panamanian cuisine. If you can, request a seat at the chef’s table (it only seats four.) However, no matter where you’re seated, expect the staff to walk you through each course while they explain the local ingredients and significance of the dish. If you can’t get a reservation at Donde Jose and you’re in the neighbourhood of Cangrejo, then stop by the lovely Riesen. This family-run restaurant features beautifully prepared farm-to-table Panamanian cuisine.

Panamanians love to party, and you’ll certainly have no shortage of venues to dance the night away. Calle Uruguay is arguably the most glitzy, full of renovated clubs and fancy lounges. BLG is perhaps the nicest gay club in Panama City, and located here.

If you prefer a glass of wine and a fantastic view, then Tantalo Rooftop Bar in Casco Viejo is a glamorous but unpretentious choice. For something a bit less formal, head to the Amador Causeway where you’ll find a handful of open-air bars and lounges. Sip on a cool cocktail and enjoy the tropical sea breeze.

Finally, you don’t have to be a savvy salsa dancer to enjoy Habana Panama (also in Casco Viejo). The dancers at this vintage salsa bar will leave you spellbound.

Donde Jose

Donde Jose

Where to shop

True shopaholics might be interested in exploring the largest mall in Central America, the Albrook Mall. However, we suggest avoiding the malls in favour of a few unique finds throughout the city. Imagen Galería de Arte is one of the best places to find a piece from a local artist. The vast selection ensures something for all personalities. Another one-of-a-kind souvenir is a mola. Molas are traditionally an outfit for indigenous Kuna women on the islands between Panama and Colombia, but you will also find handmade molas for display and decoration. Flory Saltzman Molas is the best place for this.

Don’t miss the Mercado del Marisco for the most mouth-watering fish anywhere in Panama City. Meander around the stalls downstairs, then head upstairs to the restaurant to find the freshest selection prepared on demand. Whether it’s octopus, fish, shrimp or king lobster, you can expect it all (and more) here. If you prefer Panamanian arts and crafts to fish and squid, then the Mercado de Buhonerias y Artesanias is the perfect choice. Located on Av. Central España, you’ll discover fantastic handmade souvenirs in this outdoor market.

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