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Our Tips for Panama City

We spent four nights in Panama City and tried to get to know this fascinating Latin American city as best we could. During this time, we not only saw the spruced-up tourist highlights, but were also able to take a brief look behind the scenes. Even that didn't dampen our enthusiasm for this vibrant melting pot of tradition and modernity.


Man beachte die Skyline von Panama City im Hintergrund.
Note the Panama City skyline in the background.

As part of our six-month family trip, Panama was also on the agenda and what would a visit to this country be without spending a few days in the famous capital. We started our trip to Panama in San Jose (Costa Rica) and had to take the 80-minute flight in the middle of the night: Take-off was at 5.50am, not exactly our favorite time. But what the heck, if you want to travel you have to suffer a little.

The flight with Copa Airlines was extremely punctual and went without a hitch, so that we landed at Tocumen International Airport on the outskirts of this major city shortly after 8.00 a.m., including an hour's time difference - not a trace of tiredness. After a rather time-consuming immigration process, we found our suitcases already assembled next to the baggage carousel (a first!) and had an Uber take us to our hotel.

Things to know about Panama City

The city with a population of just over 800,000 is not exactly a destination around the corner. As far as we know, there is no direct flight from Vienna to the Latin American metropolis and the flights on offer with stopovers in Amsterdam, Madrid, the Dominican Republic or Toronto all take between 14.5 and 16.5 hours - so you'll need a lot of sitting time. The modern city is located in the south in the province of Panamá on the Pacific coast, directly east of the Panama Canal and is the economic, political, tourist and cultural center of the country.

We have already visited several cities on our travels and Panama City can easily keep up with other world cities. No wonder, the city experienced an enormous economic boom with the construction of the first railroad line and the Panama Canal in the late 19th and especially in the 20th century. The city with its numerous skyscrapers is still growing massively, which - behind closed doors - may also be due to the laundering of Colombian drug money. However, it is also an internationally important banking center, which is not least due to the country's liberal tax policy.

Incidentally, Panama City is home to eight of the ten tallest skyscrapers in Latin America, including 22 skyscrapers over 200 meters high. Right from the start, the city reminded us of New York. There is a lot to see here.

F6F Tower
With its shape and height of 242.9 meters, the F&F Tower is one of the tallest and most famous buildings in Panama.


Our tip: After four days in Panama City, we can recommend three different ways of getting around.

1. Walking: Panama and, in most parts of the city, Panama City are very safe. Especially in the areas that are heavily frequented by tourists, there are a lot of police on the streets. We set off from our Tryp by Wyndham hotel a few times on foot and explored the surrounding area. We never felt unsafe and we found the hotel surroundings very appealing (more on this below).

As with all our city trips, we also walked a lot in Panama City.

2. Take the subway: There are two metro lines in Panama City. The two metro lines connect the south and east of the metropolitan region with the city center. The first section of the line was only opened in 2014, so the entire infrastructure is correspondingly new and modern - no comparison with the metro in New York, for example. The "Iglesia del Carmen" metro station was only a 5-minute walk from our hotel. If you want to take the metro in Panama, you have to buy a metro card from one of the many ticket machines. The card costs 2 dollars (or "Balboa") and can then be topped up as required. For each individual journey, 35 cents are then debited from this card. The good thing about this is that several people can go through the barriers one after the other with one card if you swipe it over the sensor several times. The Metro is a great alternative here.

Metro Panama
The subway in Panama City is an excellent and inexpensive alternative.

3. Take an Uber: Another wonderful way to explore Panama City is Uber! We love our Uber app - especially in Panama. We've never taken an Uber as cheaply as here. Our 30-minute ride from the airport to the hotel only cost 10 dollars. We never paid more than 5 dollars within the city and even for the trip to the Panama Canal, which is just outside the city. Uber is practical and convenient, the amount is fixed in advance and transferred via Paypal. In Panama City, we also never had to wait longer than 5 minutes for an available driver (usually only 2 minutes).

Caution: We were advised not to take one of the many yellow cabs - tourists in particular are often shamelessly ripped off.

Our Uber angel

We were very lucky with our first Uber driver. Manuel was a former flight attendant, spoke very good English (a rarity) and gave us lots of tips for Panama City on our first trip from the airport to the hotel. We hit the jackpot with him.


Our small, fine city hotel

City hotels are very similar all over the world. The rooms are usually well equipped but relatively cramped and the service is good. We opted for the 4-star Tryp by Wyndham hotel because of its location and good value for money. A good choice!

Of course, we arrived at the hotel far too early for check-in at 3 pm, but we were able to leave our luggage and take a walk through the city and into the nearest Rey - one of Panama's large supermarket chains. We were even lucky at check-in: the air conditioning in our reserved family room was broken and instead of a room with a double bed and bunk beds, we were given a room of the same size with two double beds. We had to pay 100 euros less for this - good for the travel budget.


Center of commerce

In Panama City you can get everything you need and more. The density of stores, markets and large shopping centers is truly remarkable. Our Uber angel Manuel recommended the Albrook Mall to us. On the very day we arrived, we took the four metro stops to the final stop, the huge Albrook bus station (Gran Terminal Nacional de Transportes). To put it mildly, this is where the action is. Immediately after crossing the wide pedestrian bridge and the bus station building, we entered the mall and stood open-mouthed in the biggest food corner we had ever seen. Here, on two levels, one restaurant is lined up next to the other and all the well-known fast food restaurants are represented here. It is almost impossible to go hungry here. Compared to other malls in the city, Albrook Mall is less focused on big brands and more on budget-friendly shopping. We bought a cheap carry-on suitcase here as we were running out of space in our luggage.

King Kong Albrook Mall
In the Albrook Mall you meet unusual characters.
Relaxation with a view

After the noisy and quite exhausting Albrook Mall, we took advantage of the pool on the roof of the Tryp by Wyndham. We particularly enjoyed the view of part of the impressive skyline from the small whirlpool. A subsequent meal from the pool bar and a cold beer rounded off this intense day.

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Dach Tryp Wyndham
Am Dach des Tryp by Wyndham lässt es sich aushalten.


Phone calls and SIM cards in Panama

As we had planned a 4-week round trip in Panama, we also wanted to get a cell phone SIM card this time. The two biggest providers here are Mas Movil and Tigo (at least the ones that advertise the most). We bought a Mas Movil card for 3 euros and a top-up code for 10 euros. Activation was more tedious than expected.

Our tip: We definitely recommend asking a local for help when activating a Panama Simcard to avoid the hassle we had.


The old town of Panama City

On the second day, we visited the old town. In 1671, the city was destroyed by the English pirate Henry Morgan and rebuilt two years later about five kilometers southwest of it. Ruins of the former settlement still exist and are called Panamá la Vieja. We took the metro to 5 de Mayo station, from where we walked to the historic center. The footpath took us past a few street stalls and a surprising number of barbershops and through a huge fish hall. Here it's a case of "close your nose and walk through", because the smell is sometimes breathtaking - it's definitely an experience.

The old town itself is an absolute must for visitors to the city. It's the perfect place to escape the chaotic city center. In the midst of the old Spanish colonial buildings, you quickly get the feeling of being in a completely different country, even though it is only a few minutes' drive from the banking district with its high-rise canyons.

The old town of Panama City offers a beautiful view as well as many Spanish colonial buildings.


Multiplaza Pacific Mall

The following day we had something to celebrate: it was our son's 14th birthday - in Panama City of all places. For this reason, we let him plan the day. After breakfast, we made our way on foot through a large part of the banking district to the Multiplaza Pazific Mall. For some reason, the boy really wanted to pay a visit to the local Lego store. If he has to ...

Multiplaza Mall is the complete opposite of Albrook Mall. The brands and flagship stores rule here and the prices are correspondingly higher. At least Steffi finally got her long-awaited "good coffee with milk foam" here. If that's what it takes ...

Afterwards, we took an Uber to the Panama Canal visitor center. It's definitely a must ...

Panama Canal - an impressive experience

We have wanted to visit the Panama Canal for a long time. Whether it would ever happen was not certain, but at the end of March 2024 the time had finally come. We visited one of the most famous structures and a true wonder of the world and it was completely different to what we had imagined. It was better!

Familie bei Panamakanal
Endlich haben wir es zum Panamakanal geschafft.

In our imagination, the Panama Canal was a dirty body of water in a heavily industrialized zone, but that was not the case. Located just outside the city, the face of actor Morgan Freeman greeted us on arrival. He is the narrator of the IMAX film that is shown several times a day in the visitor center. There really is a cinema atmosphere there, as you can buy popcorn, tortilla chips and soda in advance.

Imax Panama
The Panamakanala IMAX actually had a real movie theater atmosphere.

The movie itself is very well made and informs with a lot of 3D effects about the history of the world-famous Panama Canal. Its creation is a long story full of obstacles and many sacrifices. As early as 1513, the Spaniard Vasco Núñez de Balboa and his followers were the first Europeans to cross the isthmus between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The idea of connecting these two oceans was finally suggested by Emperor Charles V in 1523. In 1527, he commissioned Hernando de la Serna to search for a suitable route for the construction of this huge project. However, it was to take a very long time.

It was only after the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1869 that it was assumed in France that such a canal would be easy to build. Wrong thinking. A lockless canal across the Isthmus of Panama with a length of 73 kilometers was planned. The actual construction was not only much more expensive than planned, but more than 20,000 workers died in the unfortunate operation due to the yellow fever transmitted by mosquitoes and malaria. Construction began in 1881 and was stopped again in 1889. Unfortunately, there was still no finished canal.



Panama Canal: The second attempt

In 1894, the Americans ventured into this project and with the "Spooner Act" passed in 1902, Congress cleared the way for it. However, Colombia, on whose territory the planned canal was still located at the time, refused. In 1903, US troops landed, occupied the territory and proclaimed the independent state of Panama. But even after that, the Americans still had to contend with major difficulties. The mosquitoes were just one of them, which was eventually brought under control with new means. More than 5,600 workers died from accidents and disease during the second construction period from 1906 to 1914, but on August 3, 1914, the small freighter Cristobal became the first vessel to pass the full length of the Panama Canal.

Since that day, ships have been spared the trip around Cape Horn or through the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America. But a trip through the Panama Canal is expensive. Small sailing ships pay from around 1,000 dollars for the waterway, which is up to 82 kilometers long, while large transport ships can pay as much as 800,000 US dollars. But it's still worth it!

We were lucky and were able to watch ships sailing in and out of the canal right after the movie screening. A great experience. We would love to sail through the canal ourselves.

La Calzada de Amador and the Bio Museum

On our last full day in Panama City, we were lazy and only went to the Calzada de Amador - a long and narrow artificial island that stretches out into the sea at the southernmost point of Panama City. The approximately 4.5-kilometer-long road is lined with clean sidewalks and bike paths and runs parallel to the entrance of the Panama Canal. Here you can take a long stroll, visit the famous Bio Museum or the Luna Park on Isla Perico. There are great views of the Panama City skyline along the entire route.

Bio Museum Panama
The Bio-Museum on Amador is a building that will be remembered for a long time.


Onward journey with the rental car

After four nights in Panama's capital, it was time for us to move on! We were lucky again this time, because we didn't have to pick up our pre-reserved rental car at the airport, but at the Europcar city office. This was practically around the corner from our hotel, just a 2-minute walk away. We recommend a rental car to anyone planning a tour of this exciting country. The prices are reasonable and the roads are well developed and getting better all the time!

Panama Schriftzug Amador
Panama City really surprised us in a positive way.


Panama City surprised us in a very positive way. The city is safe, colorful and modern and has everything you would normally look for as a city traveler. You will find what you are looking for here. There are many good and even inexpensive accommodations in safe districts. On our walks and during our Uber rides, we also passed through poorer areas that tourists don't normally get to see. The streets there look neglected, it's dirty and more dangerous than in the banking district or the old town, for example - but we didn't feel unsafe and, as is often the case, we were probably just lucky again. For us, Panama City scores above all with its great contrasts. On the one hand, there is the atmosphere of a modern and bustling city, while on the other, the well-kept old town exudes a historic and traditional flair.

The people are friendly, the food is good (and there are plenty of fast food chains if you get stuck) and the local beers ensure that you never get too thirsty. Panama City, you'll see us again after our round trip and we're looking forward to it.

We also look forward to you following us on Facebook or Instagram,

best regards,

Steffi, Max and the kids

our shopping tip for Panama city:

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All our trips and excursions are self-paid - we do not give paid recommendations! Exception: Affiliate links. Most of the links in our blog are affiliate links, i.e. advertising. We try to recoup some of the costs of our blog and ask for your understanding.

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