Top Things to Do in Panama: A Visitor’s Guide

Top Things to Do in Panama: A Visitor’s Guide

This summer, I decided to visit Panama, a country that perfectly combines rich history, vibrant shopping scenes, and breathtaking beaches. With some helpful tips from friends who are locals, I started my journey in Casco Viejo, Panama City’s historic district.

Here’s a guide to the top things to do in Panama that you shouldn’t miss!

shopping in panama (1)

Why Visit Panama?

Panama is a hidden gem in Central America that offers a diverse range of experiences for every type of traveler. From its bustling capital city to its serene beaches and lush rainforests, Panama has something for everyone. The country’s unique position as a cultural and geographical crossroads makes it an exciting destination filled with history, adventure, and natural beauty. Whether you’re interested in exploring ancient ruins, shopping in modern malls, or relaxing on pristine beaches, Panama is the perfect place to create unforgettable memories.

best places to visit in Casco Viejo Panama (7)

Explore Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo, the historic heart of Panama City, is a charming neighborhood filled with colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and vibrant nightlife. As I strolled through this UNESCO World Heritage site, I couldn’t help but marvel at the beautiful blend of old and new. From the picturesque plazas to the lively cafes and shops, there’s something for everyone in Casco Viejo.

Explore Casco Viejo

Explore Casco Viejo


Visit the Panama Canal

Watching giant ships move through the Panama Canal is an experience like no other. This 80 km-long engineering marvel connects the Pacific Ocean with the Caribbean Sea through a series of enormous, mechanized locks that raise and lower ships over the continental divide. The Miraflores Locks, just outside Panama City, are the most popular for visitors, offering an easy and reliable way to witness this incredible feat. It is important to book a tour or make sure you will arrive there before a ship passes, as it can take hours for the next one to pass making you lose half a day. With your ticket, you will also get to watch a movie.

Top things to do in Panama for first-time visitors

Top things to do in Panama for first-time visitors

For a grander view, head to the Agua Clara Locks on the Caribbean side, which were completed in 2016 to accommodate the massive “Neo-Panamax” ships.





Shop at Albrook Mall

If you love shopping, Albrook Mall is a must-visit because you will find not only hundreds of stores but some with really great prices. As one of the largest malls in Latin America, it offers a wide variety of stores, from international brands to local boutiques. You can spend an entire day exploring its vast array of shops, food courts, and entertainment options. Whether you’re looking for fashion, electronics, or souvenirs, Albrook Mall has it all. We spent 5 hours there and found lots of great items.

Top things to do in Panama for first-time visitors

Check Out the Amador Causeway

The Amador Causeway is a scenic and bustling area perfect for a leisurely day out, while crossing it in the van we could admire people strolling, others walking and some just sitting admiring the vistas. This narrow land bridge connects three small islands to the mainland and offers stunning views of the Panama Canal and the city skyline. The causeway is lined with restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues, making it an ideal spot for dining and relaxation. Rent a bike or take a walk along the causeway to enjoy the ocean breeze and panoramic vistas.

the Amador Causeway Panama (2)

the Amador Causeway Panama (2)

Relax at Bijao Beach Resort

Located on the Pacific side of Panama, Bijao Beach Resort is the perfect getaway for relaxation and adventure. We liked that it had shows for all ages, activities throughout the day, including stretches and games, a well-equipped modern gym, and some water sports options too. Speaking of which, I tried stand-up paddling for the first time here and, although I didn’t quite master standing up, I had a lot of fun and challenged myself. The resort offers a range of activities, from water sports to relaxing by the pool, making it an ideal destination for families and solo travelers alike.

Bijao Beach Resort Panama (1)

Bijao Beach Resort Panama (1)

Day Tour to the San Blas Islands

The San Blas Islands are a true paradise on earth. These islands are part of the indigenous Guna Yala community and offer an authentic and serene experience. With no electricity or internet, the islands provide the perfect escape from modern life. Spend your day sunbathing, swimming in crystal-clear waters, and enjoying fresh seafood. For a deeper cultural experience, consider an expedition cruise to learn about the Guna’s rich textile traditions, including their famous Mola blouses.




Surf and Swim in Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is a tropical haven for surfers and nature lovers. Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or a beginner like me, the surf schools here offer lessons for all skill levels. Besides surfing, the waters around Bocas del Toro are teeming with marine life, making it an excellent spot for snorkeling and swimming. Dive into the vibrant underwater world and swim with schools of colorful fish in this stunning Caribbean destination.

Where to Stay:

Panama offers a variety of accommodations to suit every traveler’s needs. Here are the top 5 hotels to consider for your stay:

  1. American Trade Hotel
  2. Central Hotel Panama
  3. Hilton Panama
    • Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Hilton Panama provides luxurious accommodations, a spa, and several dining options. It’s ideal for both business and leisure travelers.
    • Book your accommodation at Hilton Panama 
  4. Red Frog Beach Island Resort 
    • Located in the stunning Bocas del Toro archipelago, Red Frog Beach Island Resort offers a luxurious escape surrounded by nature’s beauty. This resort boasts a vast, lush garden and a refreshing pool, all set in uniquely designed architecture on a hillside, just a short walk from the beach.
    • Book your accommodation at Red Frog Beach Island Resort 
  5. Bijao Beach Resort
    • This all-inclusive resort on the Pacific side offers everything from comfortable rooms to exciting water activities. It’s perfect for a relaxing beach vacation and it is my personal favorite.
    • Book your accommodation at Bijao Beach Resort

Best Time to Visit Panama

Panama can be visited year-round, but your experience may vary depending on the season. The dry season, from December to April, offers sunny skies and warm weather but attracts more tourists and higher prices. The rainy season, from May to November, is quieter and more affordable but comes with more rainfall.

Personally we had a lovely sunny and let’s say, humid time while there, and only one evening there were heavy rains, that was when we decided to be by the beach in the Pacific Ocean side.

Consider the timing of Panama’s festivals, such as the lively Carnival in February or the religious processions of Semana Santa, when planning your trip.

best places to visit in Casco Viejo Panama (7)


Panama is a country that offers a little bit of everything, from historic landmarks to beautiful beaches and exciting shopping destinations. Whether you’re exploring the charming streets of Casco Viejo, marveling at the engineering wonder of the Panama Canal, or relaxing on the pristine beaches of the San Blas Islands, there’s no shortage of amazing experiences to be had. Plan your trip today and discover the top things to do in Panama!


Book a tour

Packing list

When packing for a trip to Panama, consider the tropical climate and planned activities.

Lightweight clothing made of breathable fabrics like cotton or linen is essential to stay cool, including both short-sleeved and long-sleeved shirts for sun protection. Bring a mix of comfortable shorts and lightweight pants, as well as sundresses and skirts for women. Swimwear is a must for beach trips and pools. Since Panama has a rainy season, a lightweight rain jacket or poncho will be useful. Comfortable walking shoes are important for exploring cities, and a pair of sandals will be perfect for the beach. Don’t forget a wide-brimmed hat and UV-protection sunglasses to shield yourself from the sun. For evenings or dining out, pack a slightly dressier outfit. Essential items include high SPF sunscreen, insect repellent, a reusable water bottle, a travel umbrella, a daypack, and personal hygiene products.

Optional items to consider are a light sweater or shawl for cooler evenings, a beach towel or sarong, a portable charger, and snorkeling gear if you plan to snorkel.

With these items, you’ll be well-prepared to enjoy Panama’s vibrant cities, beautiful beaches, and stunning natural landscapes.


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Top things to do in Panama for first-time visitors


insiight guide panamaIf you want more in-depth information and a guide you can bring along during your trip, I recommend the travel guide Insight Guides Panama | Optimize Your Travel and Arrange Your Unforgettable Journey to the Crossroads of the Americas. This is an excellent source of information, tips, maps, and everything you need if you plan on visiting Panama. I like the option of having a hard copy version where I can take notes.

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Take a look at this list of travel resources to plan your trip and travel in South America. Are you daydreaming about your trip to South America? Order here your Free Ebook. I share some valuable tips & resources for a memorable trip! I invite you to follow me on FacebookTwitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. Besides, you can subscribe on YouTube. You can also send an email to help plan your trip: info(at) visitecuadorandsouthamerica(dot)com.

Top Things to Do in Panama: A Visitor’s Guide

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