Things to do in Panama City

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    The Bridge of the Americas: Gateway to Panama

    Photo courtesy of LisaStrachan/iStock

Get Your Bearings in Panama City

By Amber Nolan
Travel Expert

Stay
Eat
See & Do
Party
Shop

Where to Stay

Surprising to many, Panama City’s hotel scene rivals that of Miami, with more trendy high-rises being erected each year. While Casco Viejo, the city’s historic area, is still in a state of redevelopment, central Panama City along Via España and Balboa Avenue are seeing a flurry of luxury hotel openings including Trump and Intercontinental.  Budget options are still widely available, and beachfront hotels (just outside the city) offer a peaceful break within reach of the cosmopolitan center.

Hot Tips:

If you're on a very tight budget, there are several hostel options in the city for under $20.

What to Eat

The good news for travelers on a budget is that dining in Panama is inexpensive if you steer clear of the tourist traps. Fresh mangoes, pineapples and other tropical fruits are in abundance, and since it borders two oceans, fish is a staple in the local diet. The most authentic food comes from street vendors; ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice) and tamales (corn dough stuffed with meat and wrapped in banana leaves) are everywhere. The sprawling city has a number of eclectic restaurants as well if you're looking to splurge on a night out. 

Avoid:

Tourist-heavy areas (if you are seeking affordable meals).

Things to See

Visiting the Miraflores Locks (Panama Canal) is a must-do, but after about a half an hour and several photos, most people head out to other attractions. The historic area of Casco Viajo should not be missed, and there are a number of beaches near the city if you're in search of some rays. Overnight trips to the San Blas islands are life-changing experiences, and the train to Colon offers a beautiful scenic trip - although Colon itself doesn't offer much (and can be dangerous). 

Avoid:

Walking around Casco Viejo at night.

Hot Tips:

If you are visiting the Canal, go around 3 pm for the best chance at catching ships passing through.

Places to Party

Panama City loves to party until the wee hours of the morning, and they turn up the volume on the sound systems as high as it can go. The entire country shuts down in February just before Ash Wednesday and costumed performers fill the streets in Panama City. Most tourists flock to the bars between Avenue Balboa and the Bella Vista neighborhood where you'll find every type of music imaginable. 

Caution:

Take a cab if you plan on being out late at night, and go in groups when possible.

Where to Shop

The main streets, Via Espana and Avenida Central, are where you'll find great bargains on just about anything - from souvenir shops to clothing stores. The shopping district spans nearly 20 blocks. Albrook Mall is one of the largest shopping centers in Central America if you prefer air-conditioned shopping, but you'll find fewer traditional stores and more American brands.

Caution:

Watch your wallet!

Hot Tips:

Be aware that many places shut down on Sundays.

Best Local Souvenir:

A woven cloth square from the women of the Kuna Tribe or a Panamanian hat.

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