The only thing I knew about Panama City before I visited was that the famous Panama Canal was located there. When I arrived I was surprised to find such a beautiful city. The city sits along the water and although there is a very modern financial district with luxury hotels and shops, the old Casco Viejo part of the city ended up being one of my favorite places in Panama. It reminded me of a little bit of an older, miniature Cartagena with it’s old buildings and streets. Many of the beautiful houses and buildings are slowly being renovated and restored in the area and the growth of restaurants and hotels/hostals is rapidly increasing.
There are two airports in Panama City, one for more local flights and another for more international ones. You can easily take a taxi to/from either one. If you end up taking any taxis/car services around town ask the driver to quote you a price to take you there, often it is less than the hotel might quote you and you can schedule a pickup time.
You can catch a taxi everywhere around the city but I found that Uber was much cheaper. If you are in the Casco Viejo area it is easily walkable.
Although Panama has their own currency, the Panamanian Balboa, you will just use US Dollars. The exchange rate is 1:1 and you will receive change in dollars. You might receive Balboa in coin form as change from time to time.
Currency: Panamanian Balboa & the United States Dollar
ATMs: There are several banks with ATMs around the city
Hotels: Accept cash and most accept credit cards
Restaurants: Cash/credit depending on the restaurant
Shops: Cash/credit depending on the shop, the smaller markets prefer cash
Most of the brand name hotels are in the more modern financial district downtown but I highly recommend you stay in the Casco Viejo area of Panama City. I splurged and stayed at the American Trade Hotel for a few nights before I visited the San Blas Islands.
La Rana Dorada: A brewery with beer flights and classic brick oven pizza.
Unido: If you’re looking for a midday break, stop in this coffee shop attached to the American Trade Hotel.
Mahalo: Part restaurant/part gallery, the patio out back is perfect for a breakfast or lunch.
Super Gourmet: Another casual breakfast/lunch spot with great sandwiches.
Ocho Y Medio: One of my favorite meals, the decor was beautiful. You might want to make a reservation ahead of time.
Panama Canal: I am a nerd and loved this! It is broken up into several different locks and the Miraflores Locks are open for visitors. Make sure you stay long enough to see a ship passing through the locks while you are there!
Casco Viejo: My favorite part of Panama City. Get lost wandering between the old streets and beautiful buildings.
San Blas Islands: Highly recommended! You can go for a day but I suggest you take at least one night.
Metropolitan National Park: If you are looking for a hike, this one is not too strenuous and there’s a nice view over the city. Depending on the day you can see different wildlife. I saw a sloth!
Souvenirs: This was the best place I found in Panama to buy souvenirs, there are stalls along the water in Casco Viejo as well as some small shops and markets.
Fish Market: I didn’t make it here but heard that the ceviche was not to be missed.
Ancon Hill: For the best view looking over the city, hike up to the top or drive all the way.
Panama Viejo: This wasn’t as amazing as I anticipated. It’s a pretty small and underwhelming ruins but if you haven’t been to many ruins before it’s an alternate activity.
Cinta Costera: The walkway/park along the water that loops from the financial district, around Casco Viejo and over to the causeway, good for people watching.
Amador Causeway: If you are looking for a dinner along the water by the marinas take a taxi to a restaurant along the causeway.