As a frequent traveler through Central and Latin America, I often find myself commuting in Panama City. I rarely have more than 2 or 3 hours between flights and I usually make the most of my waiting time stocking up on duty free items or resting and snacking at a VIP lounge.
This time, I turned my commuting into a one-night stopover in Panama to explore a city I had only been to airport gates before. So what’s there to do in town, besides hiding your fortune at Mossak-Fonseca?
If you find yourself in Panama for one day or night, note these down and enjoy 🙂
Panama City is not really your cultural, sightseeing Mecca. Ok, maybe there’s more to see than you think, like the brand new BIOMuseo, but hey, you just have a few hours in town!
Best way to appreciate the city when in a very short stay would be by car (again, UBER is your best bet). Ask your driver to take you by the Cintura Costal. You will get a glimpse of Panama City’s trade-mark skyline of crowded and shiny skyscrapers.
After your very fast and not so furious ride, ask your driver to drop you off at Casco Viejo, the city’s picturesque, hype and freshly renovated colonial neighboorhood.
Old Panama City : Casco Viejo
Get off your car and walk around the Casco Viejo. You’ll find reminiscences of other Caribbean colonial cities like Cartagena (Colombia) or Havana Vieja (Cuba).
The odd thing in Panama City is that renovations are pretty recent and still on going so you’ll probably see a lot of scaffolding and/or closed and in-ruins colonial demeures waiting to be pimped-up. Walk around the Parque Central and the Basilica to get a sense of colonial Panama, design stores, high end handcrafts boutiques (hi Franklin Panama silk treasures!) and cheap souvenirs shops in view. The area is relatively small and totally walkable.
DINING (YUMMY TIME!)
Now that you are in Casco Viejo, get ready for some serious yummy experience.
If in time for sunset intagramming, head to Capital Bistro Panama to get a glimpse of Panama City’s golden skies. Sit by the deck for your first stop of the night. You can also go across the street and hit lovely rooftops with cool views in a cool vibe.
For hype and cool dining head to very lovely and in vogue Ocho y Medio.
If in like for pasta, find L’Osteria a few blocks away. Yummy pizza here folks!
After dinner, head to Gatto Negro rooftop bar at Casa Nuratti. Go across the restaurant hall and take the elevator 4 floors up to the rooftop. DJ playing, convenient cocktails and a cool night view of Panama bay will be the finest end to your fast and furious day in Panama City.
On a budget ? Head to Luna’s Castle. This very conveniently located hostel will let you enjoy all the best of Casco Viejo – if you don’t mind a noisy night…
If you are a serial boutique-hunter, the lovely Las Clementinas will be a good option for you, for the night, for breakfast or for a drink in a lovely colonialish decor.
A huge touristic attraction in Panama is learning how to spend your money wisely. I couldn’t give you tips on banking or off shore capital handling as I’m not wealthy enough (yet 🙊). Even tho I’d strongly advise to go for handcrafts and local beauties as molas, I know that most Panama travelers are looking for a shopping spree. There you go:
You might see a lot of people making the most of their waiting time at Metromall. Not far from the airport you will find everything you need, like, love or are looking for. Ask for the Metromall shuttles at the airport to make things easier for you.
Maybe (surely) the largest mall in Latin America. You’ll definitely find everything you want with on-going discounts all year long. Make sure to bring you Credit Card and comfortable walking shoes. 3,2,1: go!
*GETTING AROUND FROM/TO THE AIRPORT
Best way to get to the city would be hiring an Uber so you can get there faster an make the most of your time. Tip: Uber ride from the airport to the city is about 12$.
Please mind that traffic jams in Panama can be a *serious* struggle, so don’t go to places like Metromall if you don’t have at least (!) a 6 hours stop.
Even though Panamanians or residents will tell you their city is safe, they usually mean it is safER than it was 10 years ago. Avoid walking in lonely streets, do not wear flashy signs of wealth and always take a cab at night. Casco Viejo is pretty safe at night, do not go walking outside the touristic area (you will definitely notice when it becomes off limits). And enjoy !
We arranged our fast and furious day in Panama with the kind advice of a lovely former Panama-resident and Casco Viejo lover (gracias 😘)!
Hope you can make the best of your next stop over in town. So… are you ready for a fast and furious day in Panama City?