Screen Shot 2019 12 20 at 16 18 29

Panama City - Panama

Mixing colonial architecture with skyscrapers and traditional food with international cuisine, Panama’s capital is more than the sum of its parts. Daniel Neilson explores

Travel Time 1hrs 10min

Why go?

Panama City. The capital of the Republic of Panama is at the crossroads of America. It’s where continents collide; it’s where the Panama Canal – one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century – narrows at the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks; it’s the centre of vibrant Panamanian culture and cuisine. It’s also the gateway to the rest of Panama, a country that is increasingly attractive to visitors due to its volcanoes and wildlife, beaches and adventure sports. In recent years, Panama has improved transit options and hotels across the country, making it a coveted destination. The city is blessed with a lovely colonial old centre, exquisite restaurants and world-class hotels. The dry season, from mid-December to mid-April, is the ideal time to visit.

What to do

Even if the idea of looking at an endless stream of container ships, tankers and cruise liners seems a bit dry, few leave the Panama Canal unimpressed. The United States started building the canal in 1904, to link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, cutting through the Isthmus of Panama and avoiding the long, dangerous shipping route around Cape Horn. The canal stretches 82km, and a series of locks raise and lower the ships. At the Miraflores Lock there’s a visitor centre with a fascinating exhibition on the canal’s history and its biodiversity. There are several viewing platforms and an excellent restaurant, too. The best times to view big liners passing through are from 9-11am and 3-5pm. An unmissable part of Panama is the old colonial quarter of the city, San Felipe, also known as Casco Antiguo. It’s where you’ll find restaurants and bars, boutique hotels and galleries. It seems a world away from the high-rise buildings of the business district and still retains its neighbourhood feel. Close to the Casco Antiguo is the Mercado del Marisco. Fishing boats float in on the high tide to land their catches of sierra, snapper and langoustine on the wharf – be sure to pick up a cup of ceviche as you wander around. Also visit Panamá Viejo, the remains of the original capital, which was abandoned in the mid-17th century.

Where to stay

There are plenty of options in Panama City for accommodation, from international chains downtown to boutique hotels in the old town. The Bristol 00 507 264 0000, is set in the heart of the bustling financial centre. It’s an elegant hotel, with beds like marshmallows, a glitzy hall and concierge, plus excellent Panamanian food. Also in the centre is Le Méridien Panama 00 507 297 3200, marriott.coma thoroughly modern pick with top-notch service. Las Clementinas 00 507 308 6550, is a beautiful, relaxing little old town hotel. It houses a mixture of studios and apartments with hardwood floors, high ceilings and exposed brick walls. Also in Casco Viejo is the charming Magnolia Inn 00 507 202 0872, set in a French colonial mansion. It has 16 comfortable rooms and welcoming social areas to relax in.

Where to eat and drink

Food in Panama is a product of many cultures that make the country their home. The traditional food is usually hot, spicy and always served with rice. Ceviche is also a common dish, taking advantage of the abundant sea life off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. La Posta 00 507 269 1076, offers a modern take on classic Panamanian dishes. Restaurante Maito 00 507 391 4658, is not only one of the best restaurants in Panama but also among the best in Latin America. Chef Mario Castrellón serves a highly creative menu using the freshest ingredients, while remaining unabashedly Panamanian. José Carles, chef at Donde José 00 507 262 1682, tells the story of Panama through its food, using traditional techniques to turn out beautiful cuisine.

Time running out?

For around £10 passengers can board a bus, known as Chivas Parranderas, for an evening jaunt around the city. There’s even a mariachi band squeezed into the back. Several companies organise these trips – ask at your hotel.


Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the US dollar (USD). Time is 5 hours behind GMT. Flight time from London is around 13 hours.

Getting There

KLM flies from London City and Heathrow, via Amsterdam, to Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport.

Turkish Airlines offers flights from London Gatwick to Panama City, with one stop in Istanbul.


Visit Panama is the official tourist board, and its website offers plenty of sightseeing inspiration and handy tips.

Average daily temperatures and rainfall

Min Temp242425252525252524242424
Max Temp313232313030303030293030

Get Premium access to all the latest content online

Subscribe and view full print editions online... Subscribe