After four years of living in the capital of Panama, trust me, I know what you should do to have a good time! So be ready for some touristy and local tips, here are my suggestion of things to do in Panama, the city.
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It is one of those places where I would suggest that you take a guide or an audio-guide otherwise it is just a bunch of rocks and ruins. But learning the history about why they chose this place and why and how the pirates destroyed it, makes it one of the things to do in Panama.
Casco is a classic, everybody knows about it but I couldn’t not mention it. Don’t be surprised however if there isn’t much people in the street, Casco is more popular by night.
What you will learn with Victor, your local guide, they don’t even teach it in Panamanian schools. Learn how the invasion took place and see how locals live their daily lives in an area where you would never have gone as a tourist.
Probably the most touristy things to do in Panama, but let’s face it, it is one of the most amazing engineering projects done by men. And it is cool to see those huge boats pass by, if you get lucky, sailors will wave or do some type of celebration (a Mexican crew once sang the national anthem while going through the canal).
I won’t lie, there isn’t a 100% chance that you will see animals, except for the turtles and probably some lezard. However, here are how to raise your chances :
Honestly, I have never not seen an animal while visiting this park, so there is a good chance that you will see one.
From Casco Viejo, walk towards the Fish market and go get yourself a ceviche. Panamanian ceviche is very basic, it is usually just lime, onions and your chosen seafood but it is delish. From there, just walk down the Cinta Costera and enjoy the view and the newly made coastal strip. I would suggest that you walk there late afternoon to not burn to death and also, you will then get to appreciate its buzzing life : young couples seating on the wall and looking at the sea, people playing basketball or tennis, men acting like gimnasts at the pull up station and so many street vendors! If there is one thing to do in Cinta Costera, Panama, it is to try a Raspao. A tipical Panamanian sweet: sirop on crushed ice. Ask your vendor which of the sirop is natural if you want to avoid a bomb of sugar exploding in your mouth.
If you get lucky, you’ll also get to see some racoons (yes, i know I am weird, I like to see racoons, I’m European and there is none of those in my country, I find them cute).
Rooftops are a thing in Panama, everybody loves them and pre-pandemic, they were always packed. But fortunately, even now, you canstill enjoy them if you make a reservation (to ensure the best view). Here are, the best ones:
The best passion fruit mojito in Panama.
A 360 view of the city: sea, Ancon Hill, the old and the new city. You’ll see everything. And sunsets are to die for.
For a more fancy vibe and delicious cocktails.
For a more quite time and an amazing cold meat and cheese board.
Some tacos, people to meet and, well, a view!
You can also stay there as it is an hostel (well, a hybrid, it has a lot of private rooms)!
I know it seems surprising that I am mentionning Dim Sum as one of the local things to do in Panama, but that’s a fact: eating at Lung Fung on Sunday morning is typical. Lots of chinese came to build the canal which means that there is a big Panamanaian Chinese community in Panama and this 3 floors restaurant has had its success since 1973!
Veracruz is a beach, 15 minutes from the city, right after the bridge. It is perfect for those weekends when you couldn’t make it to other beaches, although I would not recommend that you get into the water due to the proximity with the canal (and all the kerosene and boats letting go of their toilet water).
But it is the perfect place to enjoy some corvina frita (fried local fish) with a local beer: Balboa or Panama while listenning to music and people.
You will be surprised how many craft beers there is in Panama and good ones at that! A few streets away from park Omar, you will find both beers and food trucks.
My favorite, especially because their veggie burger is probavly the best of Panama: La Cocotuda.
They have free yoga and zumba class everyday, check their instagram and their website for more the schedule!
Honestly, even if it is one of the most expensive coffee in the world and you should try it, Geisha coffee taste like tea to me. In any case, if you like good coffee, you should go to Mentiritas Blancas in El Cangrejo. There, you can try and buy various types of coffee from Panama.
Do the turisty things
The Metropolitan Park
Act like a local
Cinta Costera: Exercise, ceviche and raspao
Rooftops: passion fruit cocktails with a view
Sunday Dim Sum Breakfast: embrace the Panamanian Chinese heritage
Sunday fried fish at the beach: 15 min from the city
Try Panamanian craft beer and a delicious burger in San Francisco
Take a free zumba class or play giant chest in Park Omar
Coffee in Mentiritas Blancas