Panama is an exciting place, with a topography and geographic location that provides interesting choices for everyone. There is something to fulfill the desires of every kind of visitors, from beautiful mountains that provide an excellent quiet retreat, to rivers that offer an exhilarating white-water rafting experience, tropical rainforests and beautiful beaches. Panama is an excellent destination for those who like to see the natural fauna and habitat up close combined with the modernity of one of the world’s greatest cities.
If you are the kind of tourist that believes fun is always near to the ocean, coastal areas have some of the best beaches in the world, with several attractions such as: fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, and spectacular coral reefs with colorful marine life. And if you wish to be surrounded by luxury, there are terrific tropical islands nearby for those who wish to make a short leisurely cruise by boat.
Panama City is an amazing city to visit. This place gives to the visitor the opportunity to experience a spectacular cosmopolitan life as well as the “shopper’s paradise”, where you can find an excellent variety of goods from all around the world. For those who enjoy going out at night, Panama City offers a very lively nightlife featuring sports-bars, discos, pubs and casinos, where you can access safely taking a taxi from your hotel. This is a very beautiful city, located near the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. This perfect location on the crossroads of the world has turned this magical place into one of the most important U.S. dollar based banking centers in the world. Whether the visitor prefers to get in touch with the modernity of Panama, he can also find exiting places that will transport anyone into the history of this magical place, such as Panama La Vieja and the Casco Viejo; also there are several places to enjoy nature related activities for those persons who are more outdoorsy.
Panama La Vieja
Founded in 1519 by the Governor Pedro Arias Dávila, it was the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific Coast, that later on became the place of arrival for several galleons from Peru loaded with gold, silver and spectacular treasures going to Spain, this fact gave as a result, that Panama City was at the time one of the most magnificent and richest cities of the New World, known as the “Pacific Pearl”. On 1671 the pirate Henry Morgan attacked, plundered and burned out the city leaving the ruins that now can be appreciated such as: the convents of San Francisco and La Compañía de Jesús and the churches of La Merced and San José, the San Juan de Dios Hospital, the Royal Houses, the Matadero Bridge and Puente Del Rey (King’s Bridge). At the location, there are museums displaying pre-hispanic and colonial objetcts, as well as a model of the city from XVIII century.
Located in a small peninsula jutting south into the bay on the southwest of the city, the Casco Viejo, is known as the historical district, providing to the tourists the chance to enjoy a delightful mix of colonial architecture and renovated luxury homes. It was built by the Spaniards after the destruction of the first Panama City due to the attack of the pirate Henry, it was surrounded by walls seeking to provide protection from pirate attacks; this construction was called by the UNESCO as World Heritage. You can see remnants of the Spanish fortifications, that includes: Las Bóvedas (the Vaults), a sea wall containing dungeons and several buildings, such as the colonial Cathedral built in 1673; the Presidential Palace, the Golden Altar of the Church of San José (made of pure gold), and the National Theater. These sites were the scene of crucial moments to the birth of Panama into independence. The Casco Viejo is being constantly restored, to keep the buildings and constructions in good conditions. The visitant can have fun walking trough picturesque public squares and impressive cathedrals, or just relax and enjoy a good cup of coffee, a glass of wine or the delicate Panamanian cuisine in one of the several outdoor restaurants.
International Banking Center of Panamá
The International Banking Center of Panamá (Centro Bancario Internacional de Panamá – CBI) was formally created on 1970 by the decree No. 238. This is the most successful and modern banking centers in Latin America, transforming the country into a major point of reference in the finances business around the world. The use of US Dollars as local currency, the existence of several foreign companies operating in the country, the protection and confidentiality given to the clients and the enactment of special banking laws, are some of the reasons why the CBI is considered a “safe haven” in terms of finances. There are more than 85 banks from 35 countries represented, like: Citibank, HSBC, Dresdner, Bank of Boston, International Commercial Bank of China, Banque Sudameris and many more. It doesn’t matter if you are interested in developing business or just visit the biggest financial center in Latin America; you can’t miss the opportunity to see this dynamic place full with beautifully modern buildings. The access is easy; most of the banks are concentrated in Calle 50 and Vía España.
Colon is one of Panama’s most touristic provinces; thanks to the stunning beaches, resorts, cruise ports, islands and shopping centers for tourists such as Colon Free Zone (Zona Libre Colon). This province is located on the north side of the country, and limits with the Caribbean Sea. The importance of this city lies on the fact, that Colon is the main port for the imports and re-exports of Panama; having the most important port system in Latin America including two major ports for cruises. It also offers some of the most spectacular beaches in the Caribbean Sea; where the tourist can relax to the most, getting benefit from white sand beaches with crystal clear waters, gorgeous coral reefs and many more. Some of the places you can visit are: Isla Grande, Nombre de Dios, Langosta and Palenque Beach, Portobelo, San Lorenzo Fort, Colon Free Zone and a variety of many places to satisfy all tastes. There are several options to arrive to Colon: by buses on a ride that takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes (departing every half hour from the Albrook Bus Terminal). By airplane trough flights offered daily by the national airlines from the Albrook Airport. By train departing at 7:15 from Corozal train station and returning from Colon at 5:30 pm (approximately 1 hour travel).
Portobelo is one of the most beautiful and historical cities of Panama. It is located in the Caribbean Coast in the province of Colón as a midpoint between the Panama Chanel and San Blas. It was discovered by Columbus on 1502; who admired not only the beauty and natural environment of the site, but the magnificent harbor and topographical conditions perfect for the movement of gold, silver and other treasures originated from Peru and Mexico to Spain. Because of the city’s richness, it was attacked several times; giving as a result the construction of many fortress and castles such as: San Felipe, Santiago de la Gloria, San Jerónimo, San Fernando, San Cristóbal and more that can be seen on your visit to this magical place that will transport you to a different time. Don’t miss out one of Portobelo’s traditions: the “congos” dance, brought to America from Africa by the slaves in the colonial era. You can access to lovely place, from Panama City by car in about an hour and a half through the Transístmica Highway. If you want to spend some more, there are also flights of 20 minutes long, available from Panama City (Marcos A. Gelabert Airport) to Colón City (France Field Airport) followed up by a car ride of 40 minutes approximately. Enjoy this experience that will give you an idea of the importance of Panama from colonial times.
Colon Free Zone
Located on the Colon Province, the Colon Free Zone at the Atlantic gateway to the Panama Canal, has access to a variety of maritime routs, and therefore a very big frequency of transports turning this place into a privileged place for international commerce and also a major distribution center where several merchandises are imported from all around the world and re-exported to Latin America and the Caribbean. Actually more than 1600 companies use the installations and services of the Colon Free Zone, to import, storage, assembly, re-pack and re-export various merchandises like electronic appliances, chemicals, drinks, tobacco, furniture, clothing, footwear, jewelry, etc. This site is the commercial window to the continent; on top of that, one of the most interesting things to do for tourists is to shop duty free when presenting their passports; and the free US dollar circulation facilitates it. If you love to go shopping this is the right place for you, and if you don’t you will find a new pleasure in doing it, because the variety of products, the special offers and bargains are incredible. Don’t forget to take your passport to enjoy all the benefits of being a visitant.
The Panama Canal
This wonderful construction of 80 kilometers long between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, was inaugurated on august 15 on 1914; and took approximately 10 years to finalize it and more than 400 millions of US dollars. The Panama Canal works 24 hours, during the 365 days of the year, offering transit services to ships from all around the world. The Canal uses a system of locks -compartments with entrance and exit gates. The locks function as water lifts: they raise ships from sea level (the Pacific or the Atlantic) to the level of Gatun Lake (26 meters above sea level); ships then sail the channel through the Continental Divide. It is considered as one of the great wonders of engineering works built in the world. Perhaps it is the best- known and most popular attraction of Panama, providing those who visit a memorable and impressive experience. Besides the view of the Canal you can enjoy several other activities in the proximities: The Panama Canal Administration Building, The Amador Causeway, The Gamboa Lake Recreation Center, Gatun Lake and Gaillard Cut, Gatun Visitors’ Center, The Pipeline Road, The Panama Canal Railway.
Miraflores Visitor’s Center
It is located on the east side of the Miraflores Locks, and its main objective is to give information and knowledge about the canal to all the visitors, in addition to provide all the necessary facilities to those who are enjoying the Canal. Allowing the visitors to observe transiting vessels from a near distance of a few meters, the Miraflores Visitor’s Center also instructs the tourists on interesting information, history, importance and operations that take place in the Canal. Once arriving in the center, you have at your disposal a fully equipped theater, three observation terraces, two snack bars, a restaurant with panoramic view, a gift shop, and a hall for special events. Most areas are available for rent. The heart of the Miraflores Visitor’s Center is constituted by four exhibition halls including historic pieces, interactive modules, video presentations, models of the Panama Canal, and objects used in Canal operations. These halls are: The History Hall, The Hall of Water, The Canal in Action and The Canal in the World.
Panama Canal Administration Building
It was inaugurated on July 15, 1914 and it is located on the top of a hill, prominently overlooking the Canal, the town and port of Balboa, and parts of Panama City. The administration building is used as the headquarters of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) and houses administrative offices. Its best feature are the beautiful and colorful murals adorning the ceiling, painted by William B. Van Ingen. The murals represent four key scenes of the construction of The Canal: the Culebra Cut excavation, the Gatun Dam Spillway construction, the Miraflores locks construction and the building of one of the colossal lock gates. Don’t miss this visit to understand the effort printed in the construction of The Canal.
Moving into the southern entrance of the Panama Canal you can find the Amador Causeway; a picturesque causeway that shows a magnificent view of the Canal and Panama City. Here the visitor will be delighted with great restaurants, lovely hotels, shopping places, marina and a fabulous convention center. This place is perfect for persons who enjoy walking, jogging, biking, skating and roller-blading. Marine Exhibition Center of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) is located in the Causeway too; giving the visitors the chance to see and interact with exotic species of Caribbean and Pacific marine life, while learning about marine-coastal environments. Finally you can take a dip on the Pacific Ocean, or simply relax with the fabulous views.
At Gatun Lake, one of the world’s largest man-made bodies of water, which spans 163 square miles, you can enjoy several activities, such as the Gatun Lake Recreational Center, located on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus, the perfect place to initiate tours of areas located near the Atlantic entrance of the Canal, and where cruise passenger shuttle boats land. Also, at the Gatun Locks Visitor’s Pavilion several cruise passengers and tourist disembark, to start their journey though the Canal, allowing tourists to watch at plain sight the vessels undergoing a lockage from the Pavilion´s deck. Finally, you can see the Gaillard or “Culebra” Cut (an eight-mile channel built through solid rock) which is the canal’s narrowest section and most difficult part of the excavation. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience fishing in this magic place.
Soberania National Park
Located at the Soberania National Park, near the town of Gamboa along the banks of the Canal, you can find the Pipeline Road, and take pleasure in the diversity of plants, mammals, insects, reptiles, birds, and many other animals that have their homes in this area. This magical place where tourists can watch up to 500 species of birds in one day, has been recognized several times internationally because the abundant wild life that inhabits there, reason why this is a protected area. These great conditions are given because in the park you can find secondary forest, old growth forest, swamps and streams. At only 40 minutes away from Panama city, you will have the chance to see motmots, toucans, trogons, flycatchers, ant-birds, woodpeckers, tanagers, and hawks. Among the rare bird species in the park are yellow-eared toucans, crimson-bellied woodpeckers, sirystes, and rarely seen harpy eagles. Mammals in the park include white-faced capuchin monkeys, mantled howler monkeys, Geoffroy’s tamarins, two-toed sloths, three-toed sloths, anteaters, coatis, and agoutis. Green iguanas are also found in the park. Depending of the tourist’s taste a variety of activities is offered in this park, like fishing, eco-studies, bird- watching and hiking along the many trails of the park. And for those who enjoy adventure a little more, at the heart of the Park, The Canopy Tower is the perfect fit, providing visitors a unique aerial view of the forests of central Panama.
Camino de las Cruces National Park
With more than 4.550 acres of tropical forest, this magnificent park, have great historical and cultural value; because in the colonial times it was the route used by the Spanish to transport gold from Peru, Baja California and Chile from Panama City to Portobelo and then Europe. At only 15 kilometers from Panama City, the tourist can find several species in this park located between Soberania National Park and the Metropolitan Nature Park,, this location allows the continuous movement of animals such as crested eagles, red-and-green macaws, spaty-tailed trogons, titi monkeys , jujanás, gatos solos, ñeques, armadillos, green iguanas, three-toed sloths and several more. Enjoy the forest of this spectacular place that combines eco-friendly fun and history from Panama.
Metropolitan Nature Park
Just 20 minutes away from Panama City Downtown, you can enjoy 265 acres of nature. In this magnificent tropical forest several birds, animals and plants coexist. The location of this park within the limits of the city makes this reserve one of the most convenient birdwatching spots on the planet. This is the home of the yellow-green tyrannulets, the rufous-naped tamarins, tropical-kingbirds, streak flycatchers and dusky-capped flycatchers, woodpeckers, toucans, aracaris, and many more. The main Objective of the park is to Preserve a natural area within the city to contribute to maintain the balance between the park’s environment and the urban area, preventing pollution and maintaining a healthy environment. You can choose from several lookout points such as: Los Trinos, Cedar Hill and others; or you can walk trough different trails like: Los Momotides Trail, Caobos Trail, Roble Trail, Mono Titi Road or La Cienaguita Trail, each one with a marvelous uniqueness.
Have the most spectacular experience at the Metropolitan Nature Park that offers the opportunity to meet the highest part of the forest by using the “crane study of tropical forest canopy” used by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Climb high above ground and get a whole new perspective on the dense rain forest, experiencing the amazing diversity of this park. Currently there are 12 cranes in the world that are used for scientific purposes and two of them are in Panama where you can have access to them through a guided tour at the Metropolitan Nature Park, this is a unique experience that you cannot lose. Since 1990 until today this canopy crane plays an important role in scientific research, because most of the insects that inhabit the top of the rainforest have not yet been described by science. The Canopy Crane is a 42-meter tall construction crane that has been set up in the midst of the rainforest, and modified to fit the needs of researchers, scientists and nature enthusiasts; this is an ideal spot for bird watching, and is also great for spotting monkeys, raccoons, sloths, and exotic plants.
This attractive place is located at the foot of Ancon Hill in Balboa. Mi Pueblito is a miniature village-like replication of early architecture, construction and life throughout Panama. Mi Pueblito is a site visited by thousands of tourists in Panama City where they can find a combination of ecology and history. The historical part of this site is divided into 3 sections: The Colonial, The Afro-Indian and La Antillana. The section reflects the Colonial Spanish architecture dressed for many centuries our cities. Section Afro-Antillana concentrated whole culture and the challenge of ethnicity black Panamanian who contributed their labor in the construction of the Panama Canal. The Indian section shows the way of life of our indigenous peoples dating back many centuries before the Spanish conquest. Those who visit Mi Pueblito, will go back in time to the XIX and XX century, not only because the constructions, but also because the wardrobe, food, and dances of the people who live and work at the place. The town square has a beautiful fountain in the center and it is fully paved with river stones and natural stone slabs, and it is surrounded by the typical houses of these towns. And the delicious food diversity will give you the satisfaction of feeling part of Panama’s History.