Panama may be small, but it’s got plenty to do. Panama City alone has just about every activity you can imagine, from a national park to historic structures to several restaurants and performances. The museums and other cultural offerings make this an intriguing city to visit—and very family friendly too. Among the city’s best attractions is the world-famous Panama Canal. Away from the city lights, adventure prevails in this part of town—you can explore the jungle, tour coffee estates, raft on white water rapids, zip line, and more. If you want even more watersports, the hundreds of islands off both of Panama’s coasts offer lovely beaches, clear water and gorgeous underwater marine life. This little country holds so many amazing experiences that you’ll want to keep on coming back.
Other Destinations in Panama
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Mapping Out Panama
The thriving metropolis of Panama City offers an array activities and attractions. From parties and festivals to a jaunt down the Amador Causeway to a wide selection of varying degrees of night life, Panama City warrants a trip all its own. In western Panama, both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts offer some good surfing, and the rainforest in between teems with life.
Wrapped around the Gulf of Panama, the east end of this horizontal country is known for its vibrant scenery and wildlife. Most resorts are on the mainland, around 2 coasts and Panama City, though there are a few on the Panamanian islands. Wherever you stay, explore your options in this beautiful country.
Get ready. Carnival is the epic annual revelry, held 4 days before Ash Wednesday. Parades of floats, manned by marching bands, queens, dancers and more, roll through the streets in huge parades. The costumes are rococo, and the party is equally extravagant. Trucks drive by and spray hot revelers with water. Panama City pulses with carnival festivities, and the clubs are packed with partiers.
On Sunday, the pollera parade is the chance for the women and girls to show off their extravagant costumes. And on Tuesday, a blow-out parade takes over the city, as giant, glittering floats, marching bands and tons of revelers wind their way through the streets. In a more bizarre tradition, sardines are placed in tiny coffins and buried on the last day amid dancing and drinking. It may seem wild, but the festive spirit keeps people smiling and dancing and partying and burying tiny fish. Why not? After all, it’s carnival!
Finding a Beach on a Coastline
It can take some searching to find the really beautiful beaches in Panama, but fear not! We’ll show you the way.
First, head west from Panama City to Santa Clara Beach or the nearby Farallon Beach for whiter sand and bluer water.
For more beautiful beaches, keep going west to the Azuero Peninsula. There, you’ll find Playa Venado, an attractive strip of white sand that is protected by a cove, so the water is calmer and more swimmable than many of the other beaches that have strong riptides. We’ve given you some direction, so go find your beach!
Panama's Unsung Islands
If you’re really dedicated to finding the prettiest beach, listen up. Hands down, the best beaches in Panama are found in the Caribbean sea in the Comarca Kuna Yala region. The sand is soft and pearly and the water is clear and turquoise. Just off Panama's northern shore, this is actually a series of 350 islands that are overseen by the indigenous Kuna population.
Because the Kuna are partly independent, they get to make some different rules for their beautiful home. But not to fear. These rules are easy enough to navigate and a small price to pay for these gorgeous beaches. To get to Comarca Kuna Yala, you’ll need to arrange with a tour company that has permission to travel on the territory, and scuba diving is prohibited here. But the effort is completely worthwhile. You will not find more beautiful beaches in Panama.
Global Pulse Point: Panama's Canal
You’ve heard about it, now go see it. Put your finger on the pulse of international commerce as you watch ships from all over the world pass through this marvel of engineering that connects the Pacific and Atlantic. Once you’re in, you’ll watch a video about the canal and its history. From there, you’ll tour a museum that tells different sides of this remarkable story. Learn what motivated this massive project. See tools used during construction. View personal affects and first hand accounts from the people who built the canal. Hear this dramatic story of determination, danger, sacrifice and triumph.
Then you’re out to see the boats slowly move by you. From cargo vessels to cruise liners, ships of all sizes inch by from one ocean to another. With your newfound knowledge of how the canal works, you'll appreciate the mechanical magic taking place. You also have the option of riding a boat down the canal. Whatever you choose, you’ll be glad you saw this modern wonder of the world.
Eco-tourists have plenty of outdoor activities to do here. Starting with the abundant rain forest that’s right outside Panama City’s city limits, you’ll find something appropriate for every level of involvement.
If you prefer to have comfortable resort amenities as your base camp when you interact with nature, Gamboa Rainforest Resort is the way to go. Just 30 minutes outside of Panama City and right next to the canal, Gamboa offers tons of ways to discover the natural beauty of Panama, including nature tours, bird watching and more.
To spend time with the fishes, head to Pacific Ocean from July-October, when humpback whales are breeding. Sea turtles are also numerous on Panama’s shores, and the Azuero Peninsula is a nesting ground for the creatures. Zip line through the rainforest, or climb the beautiful Baru Volcano for gorgeous scenery.
Panama Quick Facts
Balboa (PAB) and US Dollar (USD)
110 V like in US
All U.S. citizens must have a valid passport when traveling to and from Panama.
Water in Panama City is mostly safe, but bottled water is recommended.
Central Standard Time (UTC/GMT -5 hours)
mid-December – mid-April