This article originally appeared in Delta Air Lines’ 2012 Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America Travel Guide. It has been extracted from its original format. To read the full travel guide, visit the digital edition.
Sprawling along beautiful Panama Bay, Panama City welcomes her guests with a handsome profile of glass skyscrapers that catch the sun along the waterfront, as well as a delicious restaurant scene, a lively nightlife and casino action, and the only rainforest in the world within city limits—the 655-acre Metropolitan National Park. The capital also provides a solid core choice of international chain hotels—the Inter Continental Miramar right on Panama Bay is one—and new boutique properties in the Old City, such as the Casa del Horno. Left over from earlier days is the colonial Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This interesting 17th century district is noted for its wonderful Spanish colonial-, neo-classic-, and Caribbean-style buildings, now being restored and attracting trendy clubs, art galleries, boutique hotels and restaurants such as Manolo Caracol (a fixed-menu parade of a dozen courses).
Of course, the must-see attraction is the Panama Canal, now being widened to accommodate larger vessels. The Miraflores Locks offer a perfect perch from which to watch ships raised and lowered from lock to lock as they make the 50-mile transit between the Pacific Ocean on the Panama City side and the Caribbean at the port of Colon. Better yet, make a partial crossing aboard a local yacht, and spend time in the canal watershed’s Soberania National Park—it’s the place to listen to howler monkeys, meet a sloth or two, update your bird list, on foot, by kayak or canoe. And by the sea, with some 1,000 miles of coastline, Panama has no shortage of fine beaches. Pacific sands start almost at Panama City at Playa Bonita and Playa Blanca, while after a short flight from the capital, you’re scuba diving and snorkeling off Caribbean beaches that fringe the islands of the Bocas del Toro archipelago.
- Best time to go:
Peak season (a.k.a. dry season) runs mid-December to mid-April; driest months on the Caribbean coast are February, March, September, October
- Fun fact:
In 1928, adventurer Richard Halliburton swam the Panama Canal in 10 days
- Getting there:
Delta flies from Atlanta to Panama City
- Entry documents:
- Must-try local food:
Ceviche (sea bass or shell fish, chopped onion and chili peppers marinated in lemon juice)
- Best buys:
Wonderful baskets and other straw items, balsa wood crafts, and the famous appliques called molls
- Information please:
Panama Tourism Authority—visitpanama.com