One of the most attractive and unknown countries in Central America is Panama. When you mention what to see in Panama, here are ten beautiful places to visit in Panama you cannot miss. It’s true when we talk about Panama only the famous channel will come to our head. Others may have heard that it is one of the countries with the greatest biodiversity in the world. And it is possible that some that has paradisiacal beaches. To all that we must add colonial cities, a tasty gastronomy and the presence of seven different indigenous groups in its territory. As you will see, there is much to see in Panama, an emerging destination that has long remained in the shadow of its neighbors Costa Rica and Colombia.
There are many reasons to travel to Panama. Panama still does not receive too many travelers so it is doubly attractive for those who like to discover places not overcrowded. It has tourist options for all tastes: culture, beach, architecture, gastronomy. Sharing language is something that will also encourage more than one to cross the pond.
What to see in Panama and what are the places to visit in Panama
This is my selection of places to see in Panama. The options do not end here and there is no doubt that those who spend more time in the country can know many more places and spend more time each one of them.
The Panama Canal is one of the most attractive places to visit in Panama. Despite the price of the entrance ($ 15 for foreigners) the amount of tourists waiting to access the museum and the viewpoint of the Miraflores lock is high. And it is that no matter how much you have read about this impressive work of engineering, to see how the boats pass from the top of the viewpoint is surprising. It’s a slow process, that’s not how it’s like going through the ticket office of a highway. The locks are filled and the gates open and close as the boats climb from the Pacific level to the level that allows them to reach Lake Gatún and from there to the Caribbean.
It is not the only lock that can be seen near Panama City. If you have a car, an option to save the price of access to the Miraflores Locks is driving towards Gamboa to Pedro Miguel lock. About 100 meters from the lock there is a parking lot where people stop to watch the boats go by.
Old Town of Panama City
Old Town of Panama City is one of the best places to visit in Panama. We continue along the Pacific, in the Panamanian capital. A surprising city with a skyline formed by modern skyscrapers that are reflected in the ocean. That part of Panama City is perfect for shopping, eating or drinking in the most modern venues in the city or staying in luxurious hotels of international chains. But for me, the best part of the city is its old town. There you can visit the colonial city, what was Panama City until in 1904 the famous canal began to be built. Historic squares, cobblestone streets, colorful houses, churches in different state of preservation.
This part of the capital of Panama is also the perfect place to sit and have a craft beer, listen to salsa on the roof of a trendy bar or enjoy the Caribbean flavors of Panamanian food.
Museum of Biodiversity of Panama
Did you know that in Panama there are 1,800 species of butterflies? That is just one of the many things you can discover in this museum in the capital of Panama. The building that houses the museum is the work of architect Frank Gehry. Just to see that mosaic of intense colors that contrast with the blue of the sky and the sea is worth going up there. If the exterior is attractive, a tour of its rooms reveals what are the characteristics of Panama to be able to boast of being one of the countries in the world with the greatest biodiversity.
This place may not be as impressive as many might expect. Most of the structures of the place have almost completely disappeared. And still, visiting the place the first European settlement on the American Pacific coast is one of the essential places to visit in Panama. Located between the mouths of the Algarrobo and Abajo rivers, facing the coasts of the Pacific Ocean, Panama Viejo seems to be miles away from the modern capital of the country although both places are very close to each other.
Founded on August 15, 1519, it reached about 10,000 inhabitants in the seventeenth century. It was at the end of that same century when the city was destroyed in the attack of the English pirate Henry Morgan. It was never rebuilt and remained forgotten for more than two centuries.
We leave the Pacific to cross the country to the north and reach the Caribbean. There are some of the best beaches in the country. And also strong that remember the passage of the Spanish conquerors through Panama. One of those places is Portobelo. Christopher Columbus said when he saw “what a beautiful port” and when you get there and see that bay where the blue of the Caribbean melts with the vegetation that reaches the sea, it is impossible not to think like the discoverer who was looking for the Indies and found with America.
The town is small and quiet, with a certain decadent air that adds charm to me. The remains of the forts that protected the city from the siege of the pirates, the building of the old customs, small colonial churches and a colorful urban art await those who dare to reach this place away from the most beaten routes by Panama.
Fort San Lorenzo
This place is so spectacular that nobody should leave Panama without visiting it. One of the great places to visit in Panama that built on a cliff overlooking the mouth of the Chagres River in the Caribbean, this fort forms part of the Unesco World Heritage. The fort has some very well preserved areas, such as the moat and several vaulted rooms. Built by order of Philip II, blocks of carved coral were used. Just look a little to discover remains of shells or coral forms on the walls of the fort. This one not only had a defensive function. It was also a prison and you can visit some of the old dungeons.
To get to the fort you have to cross the San Lorenzo National Park. A good opportunity to see lazy monkeys or extend the trip with a visit to some organic coffee plantation, things also to be taken into account when making a list of places to visit in Panama.
One of the seven indigenous peoples that inhabit Panama are the Emberá. Originally from Colombia, today there are some 68,000 Embera who live in Panamanian lands. A good option to get to know this town and its customs is to join an excursion to Emberá Querá, a town on the River Gatún. They themselves organize these visits that include the transfer by boat, the visit to the island of the monkeys, explanation about the Emberá, food and free time to know the town. You can see their homes, gardens, kitchens and even the school. There is no lack of an area in which they have for sale the crafts they make themselves.
In the Caribbean, near the border with Costa Rica is Bocas del Toro. An archipelago that can boast some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. This is a region linked to Spanish discoverers. Places like Cadenero, Isla Colón or Cayo Zapatilla owe their names to those men who crossed the Atlantic in search of a destination they never reached.
This is without a doubt one of the great places to visit in Panama. And the best way to discover it is in a boat. On the main street of Bocas there are many businesses and hotels to organize day trips or part-time. It is worth spending a morning on the beaches of Cayo Zapatilla. It is quite an experience to sail to Isla Pájaros, a rock that protrudes from a Caribbean not always as calm as one might expect. Without forgetting to relax in the sun on the sunny Playa de las Estrellas, remembering that no matter how many you see on the sand of the sea, you never have to touch them, much less get them out of the water.
To end the day in Bocas, nothing better than looking for a place with good music and one of those letters where even the most traditional dish tastes of the Caribbean.
Guna Yala or San Blas Islands
There are about 400 tiny islands that dot the Caribbean north of Panama. Small spaces in which the white sand merges with the turquoise sea and in which the palms offer that desired shade when it is too hot. There are some interesting islands to visit. Some of these small islands have small hotels. Others offer food with what that day gave the sea. You may find a craft store. That is all about a paradise difficult to imagine. It is not easy to get there, but I guarantee that the effort to get to Guna Yala is worth it since it is without a doubt one of the essential places to visit in Panama.
These islands are the territory of the Guna, another of the ethnic groups that live in Panama. About 40 communities of these indigenous people live scattered around other islands. They themselves are responsible for organizing boat trips to travel in one day some of those paradisiac islands. They also organize stays in them. They manage everything trying to maintain the essence of their town, one of the most unique and picturesque that inhabits the country.
From this place, I cannot give you first-hand information because during our trip we could not know this region of Panama. It was simply because of lack of time, but everything I read and saw in Boquete seemed worthy of taking it into account among the places to see in Panama. It is the perfect place to enjoy adventure sports such as rafting, but above all, Boquete is famous for its cloud forests, for the quetzals that live there and for the coffee plantations that produce one of the best coffees in the world. Do not you think it’s the perfect place to discover another face of Panama?
Those were the ten best places to visit in Panama I thought will definitely help those who still want to know what to see in Panama.