Panama’s top destinations are a unique mix of Caribbean islands in Bocas del Toro, mountainous highlands such as El Valle de Anton, and the cosmopolitan capital of Panama City. With destinations this unique, it's no surprise that Panama's top things to do are equally diverse and range from forested hikes and white-water rafting, to sunbathing and snorkeling.
When you've had your fill of outdoor activities and want to treat yourself to some city indulgence, many of these destinations have excellent restaurant and nightlife options, which make them a great place to get to know Panama's people. With a solid array of accommodations, the nation's top destinations are some of the best all-around places to visit in the Panama.
#1: Panama City
Panama City is a major hub for travelers, with the country’s main international airport and the famous Panama Canal. This is an international city where you can experience a confluence of many different cultures. Guests can book luxury rooms in high-rises and casinos, as well as boutique accommodations in the historic district. Of course, you’ll find plenty of mid-range and budget options as well.
You don’t have to travel far to find incredible natural attractions. Near downtown, you can visit the Parque Natural Metropolitano, which protects a tropical forest. You can tour the canal’s locks and islands, where monkeys and birds chatter in the treetops. Many travelers leave from Panama City to visit some of the nearby surfing beaches.
See the history of the city in Casco Viejo — the original city center. It mesmerizes visitors with its wrought iron balconies and cobblestone streets, with buildings that blend Spanish and French architectural influences. In Panama Viejo, you can see carefully preserved ruins including the iconic cathedral tower.
Set next to the banks of the Caldera River, under the shadow of Volcán Baru, Boquete offers the perfect setting for an adventure in nature. Visitors to this area fill their days with hiking, whitewater rafting, and trips to visit coffee plantations. Besides the verdant valley setting, visitors also flock to this town for its idyllic ambiance.
There are several must-see attractions for spotting wildlife. Go birdwatching around the preserve called the Sendero Los Quetzales, and stroll through the Paradise Gardens to see monkeys like white-faced capuchins and tamarins, as well as exotic birds like toucans. There’s also zip lining and horseback riding.
When you’re ready to get pampered, head to the hot springs for a relaxing spa experience. Many of the hotels and lodges emphasize the health-giving properties of the environment with their own on-site spas. Most of the mid-range and upscale accommodations come with beautifully kept gardens and bucolic views of the surroundings.
#3: Playa Venao
Playa Venao is Azuero Peninsula's most popular surfing beach. It has good waves for every level of surfer, as well as boogie boarders. The mix of locals and visitors makes it an especially lively coastal destination.
During your stay, find yourself in accommodations that sit right next to the balmy shores. You can also find hotels and resorts that emphasize eco-friendly hospitality. While you’re in Playa Venao, you can flesh out your itinerary with tours that explore the history and culture of the Azuero Peninsula.
#4: El Valle de Anton
Venture into the highlands of central Panama to experience clement temperatures, authentic culture, and exciting adventure activities. Its lofty height leaves it cooler than the lowlands, making it a popular destination for Panamanians as well as international travelers.
Explore mountain culture on a trip to the outdoor market in the middle of town. Shop for traditional handicrafts, including Panama hats.
Try out adventures like the zip line that goes past the Chorro Waterfall. Get to know a bit about the history of the area on a walk to the La Piedra Pintada, a boulder festooned with ancient hieroglyphs. Los Pozos Termales offer a convenient place for you to relax in some thermal springs.
#5: Bocas Town
Bocas Town is the traveler’s entrance to the Bastimentos National Marine Park. It’s a small town with a nice selection of visitor services. Beach resorts run the gamut from cozy beachside bungalows to sprawling resorts. It’s a classically laid back Caribbean town, with colorful homes and friendly locals.
Leave from Bocas Town on tours to the surrounding islands. From here, you’ll visit the Cayo Zapatillas. It’s home to the Cayo Coral, which is one of the top attractions for snorkeling. Isla Bastimentos is home to mangroves and a beach where sea turtles come ashore.
Frequently asked questions
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- Where is the best fishing in Panama?
Don't just tell the story of how you caught your biggest fish ever, tell the story about the time you went fishing in Panama! Impress them all with your photos, and your knowledge of the fact that Panama is so much more than its famous Canal.Whilst your family is enjoying the beaches of Panama, you can treat yourself to some excellent deep-sea fishing. Places like the Gulf of Chiriquí, Coiba National Park, and Piñas Bay are stellar.
If you don't have time to venture out that far there are good options in Lake Gatún and along portions of the Azuero Peninsula as well.
You'll not only be able to catch a variety of fish, you'll also be able to set personal records when you hook larger catches. Panama's fish include marlin, sailfish, snapper, roosterfish, and yellowfin tuna. What you catch largely depends on both your destination and the time of year, so the best time to visit Panama is going to be relative to your itinerary.
Steps to telling better fishing stories:
- Determine how you're going to get to Panama — you can reach the country by air, land, and sea.
- Bookmark this page so you're prepared to meet the country's fluctuating entry requirements — prior to your departure.
- Pack everything you need for your Panamanian adventure.
P.S. Make a little time to see for yourself how Panama's Coiba Island transformed from prison to eco habitat.
- Where is the best surfing in Panama?
Surf's up in Central America! It's time to head to Panama for a beach holiday. Home of the Panama Canal, the nation also hosts epic waves for riders of all experience levels; so, keep reading, and book your wet and wild adventure today... Surf getaway destinations
So, you've finally arrived in Panama and are ready to ride some waves! Panama is loaded with good surf spots, both for beginners and more advanced riders. Bocas del Toro has a solid showing, as do beaches along the Pacific coast, including Playa Santa Catalina, Playa Venado, and Playa Cambutal. Some spots have beach breaks, while others have rocky point breaks.
For full details, you'll want to read our ""Panama Surfing Guide." Here you'll find everything you need to pick the best beaches for your needs. You'll also find insider tips regarding what to look out for in the water, and what to bring if you'll be visiting some of Panama's more remote surf haunts.
Prepping for your surf getaway
Your Panama surf holiday begins with a bit of planning. Panama entry requirements can vary, so you want to be sure that you're getting the most up to date information before your trip. Bookmarking our Panama entry requirements page will be a big help. Essentially, you'll need a valid passport, and proof of US$500 and onward travel. With the legalities out of the way, it's time to focus on the fun part of trip-planning...
You can get to Panama by bus or boat, but flying is typically the most convenient and comfortable method of transportation. The best time to visit Panama (especially for surfing) is during the dry season, when the contrast of warm sunshine and cool ocean waves will be at its most pleasurable. This occurs during the months of mid-December to mid-April. The exception? If you're heading to Bocas del Toro, the driest months are September to October and February to March, so you have two seasonal opportunities to book your getaway.
What to bring to Panama depends on when you visit and which activities you plan on doing besides surfing, but a good rule of thumb is to pack light, moisture-wicking clothing to combat the warm humidity.