Panama City, Panama’s capital and largest city, has a population of just over 430,000 in its urban area. Don’t let the small population fool you, Panama City is a “beta” world city, meaning it is an instrumental city linking its region into the world economy. The powerhouse of Panama City is packed with modern high-rise buildings and surrounded by the water of the Panama Canal on one side and dense rainforests on the other.
The city dates back to the 1500s when it was founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias Dávila and served as a starting point for expeditions that would go on to conquer the Inca Empire. This rich history combined with the natural beauty around the city make Panama City a favorite tourist destination.
Being a great stopover place for those traveling back from Peru after looting the Inca Empire, the original city of Panama was set on fire and destroyed in 1671 by Welsh pirate Henry Morgan. However, the Ruins of Old Panama, or Panamá Viejo can still be seen today and were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The ruins are just outside the urban area of Panama City and can be visited quite easily.
A trip to Panama City would not be complete without a visit to the 48-mile man-made waterway known as the Panama Canal. Consider going to the Miraflores Visitor Center, just a 20-minute drive from downtown. Admission is $10, but the view from the outside terrace gives visitors a great view of the canal and the ships passing through it.
Ancon Hill is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon. Take a short hike up to the top of the hill and you’ll experience a great view of modern Panama City and the canal itself. But the best part about this hike is the fact that it is on a path that winds through an actual rainforest. You’ll get to see wildlife on your way up to the top before seeing an incredible view of the city.
One of the more exciting day trips, a boat tour to Monkey Island offers visitors up-close encounters with monkeys in the jungle, crocodiles, and exotic birds. For an action-packed day, this trip will not disappoint. Book a tour through Jungle Land Explorer or Ancon Expeditions, two companies recommended on Panama Info, a reliable source for all things Panama City.
For a more relaxing day trip, consider taking a journey to the Panama Riviera. Beaches here are sprawling and relatively free from crowds, the water is warm, and two beaches (Santa Clara and El Palmar) are free to the public. There are plenty of restaurants and bars along those beaches where you can sit and enjoy a drink and some dinner before heading back to Panama City.
Public transit is a great resource for getting around Panama City. Bus rides are just $0.25 and metro/subway rides are a mere $0.35. Many tourist attractions can be accessed by public transportation, so there is little need to hire a taxi cab. To get out of the city, a tour company is a good option. If you’d rather, rent a car and explore on your own!
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Panama City is a seafood paradise. Try Monolo Caracol, where they offer ginger prawns, Restaurant Mercado del Marisco where they serving tropical king crab, or Jimmy’s which cooks up a great grilled octopus. It’s hard to find something that doesn’t satisfy the seafood-lover’s appetite. For a before-dinner drink, go to Café de Asis for their Sangria; the recipe was created by the owner and is kept a secret due to its extreme popularity among locals.
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