Panama is a colorful and diverse country with pristine beaches, rich history and exotic wildlife. I chose Panama City as my birthday destination and invited my friends to come along.  Unlike many cities where you can “wing it on the fly”, in order to truly see Panama you must either come with a plan or plan for an extended stay. 

I recommend 4+ days in Panama City.

Getting There

We flew from Chicago to Panama on a 6-hour flight via Copa Airlines. If you haven’t booked flights yet, set an alert to be notified when deals occur. Copa Airlines has many direct flights from cities across the United States to Panama.

The Panama City airport is located 35 minutes from Casco Viejo where we stayed. We took an Uber from the airport to the hotel, which cost us around $25. I would not suggest renting a car in Panama due to the crazy, heavy traffic and hard to read street signs.

We were originally scheduled to stay at an Airbnb in Casco Viejo. Unfortunately, the Airbnb wasn’t what we expected so at the last minute we booked a room at the Hotel Casa Panama, an affordable boutique hotel with modern touches and natural design.

Due to the Airbnb fiasco, our plans for the first day rolled into the second and we couldn’t make up time to see and do everything that we had planned on. This is the itinerary that I created if everything had gone according to schedule.


Getting through customs in Panama was fairly easy. It took us around 30-45 minutes to go through the entire process. It probably would have been a little shorter if we had been given the customs forms on our flight instead of having to hurriedly fill them out in line.

Day 1

Visit the Panama Canal at Miraflores

The Panama Canal has three locks. The locks are where they change the elevation of the water to meet the other channels. The closest locks to Casco Viejo are the Miraflores Locks.

At the Miraflores Locks, there is a museum that provides information on the history of the Panama Canal as well as a restaurant where you can grab a drink or a bite to eat as you watch the changing of the locks.

The best time to visit the Panama Canal is between 8am-10am and 2pm-4pm. You can also take a boat cruise down the canal for a different perspective.

Insider’s Tip: Have a drink at the Atlantic Pacific Restaurant and can skip the $20 ticket price. Reserve Your Spot

Check out Panama Viejo

Panama City has moved twice. The first Panama City, Panama Viejo, was destroyed in a fire when the city was attacked and looted by Henry Morgan. The second Panama City, Casco Viejo, is located five miles from the original city and the third Panama City is the Panama City that we know of today. You can still check out some of the ruins of the original Panama City in Panama Viejo.

Explore Casco Viejo

Take a walking tour of the second Panama City, Casco Viejo. Currently under restoration, Casco Viejo boasts a wealth of landmarks and hot spots.

Enjoy A Night On The Town

Casco Viejo offers many great rooftop bars and dining experiences. Start your night by grabbing dinner at one of the local favorites. Manolo, Rene Cafe, Fondo Lo Que Hay, and the Strangers Club are all highly rated options.

Once dinner is over, head over to Casa Bruja, the home of Panama’s first IPA to enjoy a flight of their finest beer.

Later, check out Casacasco and Tantalo rooftops for dancing and great views of the city.

Insider’s Tip: Many Panamanians don’t come out until very late in the evening. Don’t be surprised if the party doesn’t get started until it’s very late in the evening or early morning.

Stay: Hotel Casa Panama

Hotel Casa Panama is an affordable boutique hotel with modern touches and natural design. Located in Casco Viejo, the hotel is in walking distance of many bars and restaurants.

book:  || read reviews: tripadvisor


day 2

Visit the Panama Canal Museum

The Panama Canal Museum located in Casco Viejo offers in-depth look at the Panama Canal. The museum occupies three floors and provides displays, artifacts, and photographs related to the history of the Panama Canal. Be sure to get the English audio guide if you are not a Spanish speaker. Many of the displays are in Spanish.

Visit the Biomuseo

The Biomuseo is one of the best museums in Panama City. Designed by architect, Frank Gehry, the Biomuseo’s origami architecture is noteworthy on its on. At the Biomuseo, you will find a range of information and interactive displays related to the biodiversity of Panama, natural history, and evolution.

Bike the Amador Causeway

Need a little exercise? Bike the Amador Causeway, Panama City’s boardwalk. A 3 1/2 mile stretch of road, the Amador Causeway extends into the Pacific Ocean at the point where the Panama Canal meets the sea. Along the boardwalk, you can find shops, bars, and restaurants.

Stay: Hotel Casa Panama

Hotel Casa Panama is an affordable boutique hotel with modern touches and natural design. Located in Casco Viejo, the hotel is in walking distance of many bars and restaurants.

book:  || read reviews: tripadvisor


day 3

Take a Day Trip to an Island

There are many different islands to visit in Panama. The two islands that are best to visit for a shorter stay include the San Blas Islands and the Pearl Islands. For a longer stay consider Bocas del Toro.

San Blas Islands

The San Blas Islands are remote islands with pristine beaches. They are a bit of a trek from Panama City, but they are well worth the visit. Self-governed by the indigenous Kuta Indians, in order to go to the San Blas Islands you must be escorted by an Indian native. You can either hire a driver to transport you to the San Blas Islands or book a tour. Tours typically start earlier in the day around 5AM, so book your tour early.

The Pearl Islands

If you’ve ever watched the show Survivor, then you are familiar with The Pearl Islands. Located about 65 miles off the coast of Panama City,  you can set sail or take a ferry to the infamous islands.

There are three main islands that makeup the Pearl Islands – Soboga, Contadora, and Isla Del Rey. Contadora is the most developed and most populated of the three. It features many restaurants and hotels for visitors to enjoy.

Other Islands You Can Visit (listed by popularity)

Coiba Island

Boca Del Toro Islands

The Gulf of Chiriq

Isla Barro Colorado

Iguana Island

Monkey Island

Taboga Island


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