Top things to see and do in Panama City

Panama City has positioned itself as a global transport hub, the ‘Dubai of the Americas’ if you will. The city’s Tocumen Inernational Airport acts as a gateway linking North America and Europe with South America – but if you have time Panama is itself worth a short visit.

Outside of Panama City, the country has a rich biodiversity, and eco-tourism is on the rise, but for those wanting a short lay over, two days in capital should be more than enough to see the highlights.

One thing to note is that Panama uses the USD so prices are more expensive than elsewhere in South or Central America. For example taxis or an Uber from the airport both cost from around $30 and take about 30 mins. Expensive compared to South America.

For those planning a short layover, here are some tips for visiting the main highlights in Panama City:

Miraflores Locks and Panama Canal:
The Panama Canal is connected on the Pacific Ocean side by the Miraflores Locks. The Locks are located about 10 miles outside of the city centre and costs approximately $6 via Uber or $10 via yellow taxi.

The Miraflores Lock Visitor Centre offers excellent views of the Canal and Locks in action, as well as a museum and short introduction video. Entrance costs $15 per person.

The Locks are open from early morning until 11am for east bound traffic and from 2.30pm until late for west bound traffic, so make sure you come at the right time.

During weekdays expect large numbers of school tours.

Casco Viejo
The historic Old Town of Panama is packed with colonial buildings, with an extensive renovation initiative underway to restore many of the dozens of crumbling ruins.

The area is easily walkable, featuring numerous bars and restaurants dotted around open plazas – perfect for enjoying a glass of wine and doing some people watching.

The highlights of Casco Viejo include:

The ruins of the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus church, which was originally constructed as a school and university before burning down in 1781.

The Catedral Metropolitana, one of the largest in Central America is currently undergoing refurbishment – so unfortunately you’ll need to expect scaffolding and workmen.

Bolivar Plaza is a great place to relax for good and drinks in the shadow of the ornate Iglesia San Francisco church.

The Plaza Francia was originally the main plaza of the old walled city and is dedicated to the original French design and attempts to build the Panama Canal. Above the monument on the old city walls you’ll find a local market and get great views of the ocean and across to the modern city.

Bio Museum
Just outside of the Casco Viejo, a 10 minute taxi ride away is the iconic BioMuseo designed by the architect Frank Gehry.

The museum and galleries provide an educational insight into the regions biodiversity and importance in the global ecosystem.

The museum is closed on Mondays, but open Tuesday to Friday 10am-4pm and weekends 10am-5pm. Tickets cost $18 for adults.

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