What to see in Panama
The capital and largest city in the country, Panama City has a population of approximately 1.5 million within the metropolitan area and is famed for being home to the iconic Panama Canal, a true feat of ingenious engineering. The city was founded in 1519 by Spanish conquistadors and it was historically used as a base for conquistador expeditions into the interior of South America and the Inca Empire. This huge city is located between the depths of the Pacific Ocean and the tropical rainforests of northern Panama. It boasts a humid tropical climate with a dry season spanning between January and April and a wet season which falls between May and December.
A real mix of history and modernity, Panama City boasts an incredibly diverse population; take a walk through its cobblestoned old-quarter or along the pristine promenade and you will hear a variety of languages being spoken, from Spanish to English, French, Portuguese, Arabic and Chinese. Being a centre of world trade, the city is a global melting-pot of traditions, cultures and architecture. These contrasts are most evident through the city’s skyline. Where steel and glass skyscrapers, fashioned into dazzling shapes and designs present the modern, financial and trade significance of the city, the charming old-quarter, or Casco Viejo, showcases a more traditional side to Panama City, a cluster of low-rise white buildings with terracotta roofs. It is here you can find the charming neoclassical Presidential Palace, with covered balconies around the facade and herons roaming freely in the gardens surrounding the building. For a fantastic view across this city of contrasts, climb the 654-foot high Ancon Hill which will provide you with a panoramic image of the city and across the Pacific Ocean.
A city of this size and status has plenty of sights that cannot be missed on a tour of Panama City. La Bovedas waterfront promenade is the perfect place to watch the sunset and look out to Panama Bay and across the ocean to islands that lie off the coast of the mainland. Along the coast from here, you can find the Biomuseum, housed into a quirky and colourful building and home to exhibits explaining the biodiversity of Panama. Back in the old-quarter, the Casa Góngora provides an insight into Panama during the days of colonialism and the religious buildings of Capilla San José, built in the 17th century and the Church of La Merced, one of the oldest buildings in the city, give visitors an insight into the local history and culture. The Canal Museum, all about the construction of the Panama Canal and the National Theatre are both other interesting sights to fit in on a trip to Panama City.
For an evening stroll or cycle, nothing beats the man-made land bridge, Amador Causeway, which stretches into the ocean and provides amazing views back across the city. For a more modern take on life in Panama, head to the city centre and to the neighbourhood of Villa Lilla, where shiny skyscrapers and never-ending shopping malls provide visitors with a slice of leisure and life in the fast lane. If you’d rather escape into nature, Parque Natural Metropolitano is an urban nature refuge, very close to the city, which stretches along the route of the canal and is home to a wide array of wildlife including pumas, caimans, howler monkeys, sloths and the pig-like tapirs.
Without a doubt, many people travel to Panama City to witness the workings of the iconic Panama Canal, built in 1914, first-hand. The Miraflores Locks has a comprehensive visitor centre with information on the functions of the canal and a theatre showing informative films about the great canal. There are purpose made viewing decks and terraces where you can watch as enormous ships pass through the locks and feel impressed by the epic engineering.
A package tour of Panama City is the perfect way to understand the diverse history and importance of this city, situated on the S-shaped isthmus between Central and South America. From the old to the new, Panama City offers culture, wildlife and modernity to all who visit.