Panama is a country best known as a retirement refuge for those looking to move abroad to warmer locations later in life. It’s also a great escape for beach and city-lovers alike. Visitors can come to learn about Panama’s rich history, enjoy the pristine beaches, and/or zip line through the forests. If you want to check everything off of your vacation list for Panama, here are the ten best places to start!
The most obvious first stop you’ll have to make is, of course, the Panama Canal. There’s a visitor center here called the Miraflores Visitor Center, an interactive museum and view deck for the Miraflores Locks, and even a restaurant, where you can request to sit on the balcony for dinner and a view all in one. It would be a shame to visit Panama without stopping to see this historic accomplishment.
Easily accessible by metro bus, Panama Viejo is an archaeological site that marks the original Panama City. It was the oldest European settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas and was abandoned in the 17th century after being destroyed by English pirate Henry Morgan (so it is believed) in 1671. Panama City was, at that time, moved to what is now Casco Viejo, which is the city’s current historic center. Panama Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and you can tour the remaining ruins while abroad in Panama.
Panama’s current historic center is known for its storied look. It’s made up of restored Spanish colonial buildings that are now boutique hotels and hostels, residential buildings, and trendy bars and restaurants. It offers a different feel to the rest of modern Panama City and is full of historic sites of its own.
Only 40 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Panama City, you can find the quaint mountain town of Cerro Azul. The weather and scenery will make you feel like you’re in a different country entirely – something more like the Swiss Alps! There’s a mountain ride here that will take you to an altitude of about 3,000 feet so that you can take in the gorgeous mountain scenery. This is also a great place for admiring the vast array of fauna Panama has to offer. Orchids, rivers, and streams make for breathtaking views and stunning photography!
Parque Metropolitano and Ancon Hill
From the hike to the top of Ancon Hill in Panama’s Metropolitan Park, you can get the best view of not only Panama City, but also of the Panama Canal. The hiking trail is paved through a rainforest, where you can also come across sloths, birds, and all types of exotic plants. The hike up the entire trail and back only takes about an hour and a half, so you can easily take a taxi to the start and have it return in a couple of hours when you finish. There are two tours to enjoy at this location:
- Metropolitan Park Eco Tour
Guided nature tours are available through this hike if you’d like to have someone around to point out the wildlife and discuss the tropical rainforest along the way.
- Canopy Crane Tour
This tour takes you up in a crane that’s used by the scientists of the Smithsonian Institute to research the rainforest and its inhabitants. From this view you can get a close-up of the tropical environment, as well as the best views of the city and canal.
Comarca de Guna Yala
In northeastern Panama, there is a strip of land called the Comarca de Guna Yala that is under the jurisdiction of the indigenous Kuna people. It lines the coast of Panama and breaks off into hundreds of undeveloped little islands that are covered in thick rainforests and made up of tropical beaches that haven’t been overrun with tourists. Head this way to get a glimpse of paradise without the crowds.
Panama is a haven for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike, but there are still plenty of the regular vacation-type things to do, too. It only takes 30 minutes to travel from downtown Panama City to a gorgeous golf resort near the Canal, for example. There are city sightseeing tours also, as well as casinos, restaurants, and shopping. As long as you make sure and hit those top seven places above, you won’t have any risk of feeling like you’re missing out on anything while traveling abroad in Panama. Just to be on the safe side though, check out some of the day-trip excursions to make sure you hit all the tourist hot spots.