Panama City Travel Guide
Introduction to Panama City
Nicknamed The Crossroads of the World, Panama City is well-deserving of this moniker, as the canal that cuts through the country just to the west of the downtown core enables shipping interests in different parts of the world to reach each other weeks faster than it had been able to previously before the canal was built.
The wealth generated by this vital piece of trading infrastructure has drawn people from all around the world, and while some of them are directly involved with the daily dealings of the canal, others have been drawn by the region’s tropical weather and cheaper real estate compared to the Western World.
This has created the conditions for a thriving modern metropolis, which will impress travelers that are entering the nation of Panama. While many adventures lie beyond, there are plenty of attractions within the city limits that will keep visitors busy for several days.
Cultural Attractions in Panama City
The first cultural attraction worth checking out when in Panama City is its old quarter, Casco Viejo. Home to the second iteration of what would eventually become Panama’s federal capital, this small but charming section of what is otherwise a modern metropolis is filled with a wide variety of colonial buildings, churches, restaurants, and bars.
Points of interest that are noteworthy include the Metropolitan Cathedral, which is Panama City’s most important Catholic Church, and El Palacio de las Garzas, which is the main residence of the president of Panama. You’ll know when you’re outside the latter due to an abundance of heavily armed security guards, but as long as you don’t breach the perimeter, they are well mannered and polite.
One thing that you do have to be concerned about is going too far to the west, as Casco Viejo is situated right next to the neighborhood of El Chorrillo, which is responsible for the lion’s share of street crime that occurs in Panama City. When you arrive in Panama City, get a local to outline the boundaries of El Chorrillo for you on a paper map so you that you don’t accidentally stray into a danger zone.
Casco Viejo may have been where Panama City Expanded and grew to the city that it is today, but it wasn’t the site of the original settlement called Panama City. That designation belongs to Panama Viejo, which the first Spanish settlers laid out the town site back in 1519.
With the population increasing to about roughly 10,000 people by the time the latter part of the 17th century rolled around, disaster struck in the form of a sneak attack by the pirate Henry Morgan, who led an invasion force that marched across the Panamanian jungle from the Caribbean Sea. After overwhelming the militia, they set fire to the city after sacking it, leading to thousands of deaths.
Rather than rebuild from the smoldering ruins of their former homes, the residents selected instead to restart the city on the other side of the bay, leaving the ruins to decompose to the state that they are in today.
With work performed to maintain the conditions of the current ruins, Panama Viejo along with Casco Viejo have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making these attractions well worth the time of the cultural traveler.
Those looking for a cultural attraction that combines postmodern architecture with a cultural institution dedicated towards teaching visitors about the biodiversity of Panama will love visiting Biomuseo.
While people are deeply divided on the controversial design of this recently constructed museum, it provides travelers with an opportunity to learn more about the countless species of plants and animals that call the jungles and marine environments of this nation home.
Other Attractions in Panama City
While it may be a well-worn cliche for people visiting the city, it is hard to resist the impulse to visit the Panama Canal, even if civil engineering infrastructure isn’t your brightest and hottest passion.
While there are attractions that are more culturally interesting and visually stunning than this backbone of world trade, the scale of the canal’s construction, and the size of the container ships that go through the locks every single day will impress all but the most cynical of travelers.
In dire need of travel supplies, new clothing, or just want to spoil yourself after a long time on the travel trail in Central America? If so, the Albrook Mall is a temple to consumerism that you simply must visit while in Panama City.
Possessing an abundance of stores offering high end luxury products and bargain-priced staples, multiple food courts, and having 30,000 square meters more floor space than West Edmonton Mall in Canada (once the largest mall in the world), unrepentant mall rats will be able to enjoy a full day of shopping in an air-conditioned environment.
Looking to get away from the urban chaos that often reigns throughout the metropolitan area of Panama City? If so, a quick trip to the Amador Causeway will bring you to a boat dock that launches ferries that make daily trips to Isla Taboga.
Known as the island of flowers, this quaint island is home to just over 1,600 people, most of whom live in a tiny village on the island’s main harbor, which is famous for containing the second oldest church in the Americas (who knew?). The rest of the island is defined by its mountainous interior, lush jungles, and beaches, the latter of which can be found close to town.
Want to earn your swim? There are trails heading up into the hills beyond the town, leading to a high point where spectacular photographs of Panama City can be taken on a clear day, which lies 20 kilometers beyond the north shore of this island.