Panama is a diverse country brimming with vibrant cities, pristine beaches, and lush landscapes. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore four top destinations in Panama: Panama City, San Blas Islands, Valle de Antón, and Playa Venao. Each offers unique experiences that cater to different interests, making Panama a perfect destination for all types of travelers. Without further ado, here are the Top Destinations in Panama:

Panama City: A Fusion of Modernity and History

Panama City, the bustling capital, is a blend of modern skyscrapers and historic districts. Here’s how to make the most of your visit:

Architecture of the Casco Viejo
The Casco Viejo

Explore Casco Viejo: This historic district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wander through its charming streets lined with colonial buildings, boutique shops, and vibrant cafes. Must-visit sites include the Metropolitan Cathedral, Plaza Bolívar, and the Panama Canal Museum. Moreover, the area is teeming with history and culture, offering insights into Panama’s past. The beauty of the Casco Viejo make it one of the top destinations in Panama.

The Visitor Center at the Miraflores Locks.

Visit the Panama Canal: A trip to Panama City isn’t complete without seeing the Panama Canal. Head to the Miraflores Locks to watch massive ships navigate through this engineering marvel. The visitor center offers interactive exhibits that detail the canal’s history and operation. Make sure you see the IMAX movie at the Visitor Center. Furthermore, this visit will provide a deeper understanding of its global significance. This place is so unique that it is one of the top destinations in Panama.

Amador Causeway: This scenic causeway offers stunning views of the city skyline and the Pacific Ocean. It’s a great spot for cycling, jogging, or simply enjoying a leisurely walk. The Biomuseo, designed by Frank Gehry, is located here and provides fascinating insights into Panama’s natural and cultural history. Additionally, the causeway is perfect for a relaxing evening out.

The Cinta Costera

Cinta Costera: A coastal beltway perfect for outdoor activities like jogging, biking, and people-watching. Enjoy a relaxing evening stroll with views of the ocean and the city’s skyline. Notably, it’s a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike.

stunning beach
The Perlas Archipelago

Beautiful Islands near Panama City: If you don´t get the chance to make it to other epic beach spots, you can actually visit some really beautiful beaches at the Archipiélago de Las Perlas which include the famous island, Isla Contadora. There are some tour companies that do day trips there and it is around 90 minutes from Panama City by boat.

Shopping

Albrook Mall: One of the largest shopping malls in Central America, offering a wide range of stores, food courts, and entertainment options. Similarly, other malls and shopping centers provide ample opportunities for retail therapy. It is literally next to the bus station, so you can combine with any bus trips you have.

Local Markets: Visit markets like Mercado de Mariscos for fresh seafood and Mercado de Artesanías for handmade crafts. In addition, these markets offer a taste of local culture and cuisine.

Nightlife:

a rooftop bar
Rooftop bars are a fun nightlife option

Casco Viejo Bars and Clubs: Explore popular spots like the Tantalo or Selina Rooftop Bars, which offer lovely views and a lively atmosphere. On the other hand, quieter venues provide a more relaxed evening out.

Stages at the Panama Carnavals: Keep in mind that around the second week of February, Panama celebrates its Carnaval. The epicenter of the Carnaval is in Las Tablas, while Panama City now has a few days of festivities at the Cinta Costera. There are concerts and fun water-throwing parties called “Culecos.” During this time, the city becomes even more lively and festive.

The “Culecos” are wet and wild

Accommodation Tips:

  • Luxury: American Trade Hotel
  • Mid-Range: Hotel Casa Panama
  • Budget: Mamallena Hostel has dorm beds for $10 USD.
A sandbank on the San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands: A Caribbean Paradise

Without a doubt the San Blas Islands are legendary. This stunning archipelago of 365 islands is one of the top destinations in Panama.  They are a tropical haven managed by the indigenous Guna people. These islands are renowned for their stunning, unspoiled natural beauty, featuring turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and vibrant coral reefs. Each island offers a unique experience, whether you’re seeking adventure, cultural immersion, or tranquil relaxation. While you can get there and arrange for the individual things below, note that companies such as San Blas Frontera offer packages that include everything (all of the transportation, meals, accommodation if staying on islands, etc).

Here’s what you need to know:

Getting There:

The islands are accessible by boat or small plane from Panama City. Most travelers opt for a 2 hour drive in a 4 x 4  to the port of Carti followed by a boat transfer. Undeniably, the journey becomes an adventure in itself.

Island Hopping:

Each island has its unique charm.Popular ones include Isla Perro (known for its shipwreck snorkeling site), and Isla Chichime (a serene spot with crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches). Some islands are completely uninhabited, offering a perfect escape into untouched nature. Moreover, each island provides its own distinct beauty and activities.

A Guna woman with the traditional “Molas”

Cultural Experience:

Engage with the Guna community to learn about their traditions and lifestyle. Purchasing handcrafted molas, a type of embroidered textile, supports the local artisans. The Guna people are known for their strong cultural identity and have preserved their traditional way of life despite modern influences. Additionally, their hospitality adds a warm touch to your visit.

Volleyball in Paradise

Snorkeling and Diving:

Coral Reefs: Highlight the vibrant marine life and coral reefs that are perfect for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts.

Eco-Tourism:

Sustainable Practices: Be sure to sure to ask before taking photos and try to learn more about the local culture. Suppport the Guna people by staying with them and buying their products. Take your garbage back with you as this helps preserve the natural beauty of the islands.

Ocean front cabins with San Blas Frontera

Accommodation:

Stay in eco-friendly huts that provide a rustic, off-the-grid experience. Note that amenities are basic, but the natural beauty more than compensates. I stayed at a beachside cabin with San Blas Frontera and had a great experience. As a result, the simplicity of the accommodation enhances the sense of tranquility. Certainly spending a night or few on these stunning remote islands will allow you to see why this is one of the top destinations in Panama.

Travel Tips:

Bring cash as there are no ATMs. You should also take water as it costs much more there.
Pack light, breathable clothing, and essentials like sunscreen and insect repellent.
Check the weather forecast beforehand as it will make a big difference in both the colors of the water and the comfort of your stay.

View from the India Dormida Hike

Valle de Antón: Nature and Adventure

The tranquil Valle de Antón is situated in the crater of an extinct volcano. It offers a cooler climate and lush landscapes. It’s an ideal destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers. Take into account it is a quiet town where almost everyone comes to hike, so don’t expect a lively nightlife. Instead, treat yourself to some days connecting with the hikes and beautiful nature in a really relaxing place. This is definitely one of the top destinations in Panama.

How to Get to Valle de Antón:

It is easy to reach on public transportation. You can take a local bus leaving from the bus terminal next to the Albrook Mall and it will drop you off on the main road of Valle de Antón. The bus takes 2.5-3 hours and in 2024, it was around $4 dollars one way.

A social atmosphere at the Blasinas Hostel

Where to Stay:

There are several accommodation options in Valle de Antón. I stayed at Blasina El Valle and they had both dorms and private rooms at great prices and were brand new and lovely. Conveniently located next to the supermarket and main road.

Stunning views and hikes

What to Do:

Hiking Trails:

Cerro Gaital: Offers challenging trails with rewarding panoramic views. Additionally, the trail takes you through diverse flora and fauna.

La India Dormida: A relatively easy hike that takes you past waterfalls and petroglyphs. Moreover, this hike is perfect for families and casual hikers.

Chorro El Macho: A beautiful waterfall surrounded by dense forest. The area offers zip-lining for those seeking an adrenaline rush, and a natural pool for a refreshing dip. Furthermore, the tranquility of the forest enhances the experience.

Valle de Antón is a beautiful and calm town
Thermal Springs:

Unwind in the natural thermal pools known for their therapeutic properties. The hot springs are a great way to relax after a day of hiking. Consequently, they are popular among both locals and tourists.

Local Cuisine / Traditional Dishes:

Highlight local dishes such as sancocho (a traditional chicken soup), empanadas, and fresh fruits from the region. Additionally, local eateries offer a taste of authentic Panamanian flavors.

Wao Venao has restaurants, the Safari Surf shop, bars, etc

Playa Venao: Surfing and Relaxation

Playa Venao was my favorite beach destination in Panamá. It is a small surfing village with a very laid-back vibe. It is a perfect place to either learn or practice surfing. There are not many, but a few other activities to do here, but surfing is the main attraction. A nice perk is that it has a nice dining scene with lots of middle eastern and mediterranean restaurants.

The easy way: You can get a direct shuttle from Panamá City, which is 6-7 hours with Surf Break, which also offers shuttles to most of the popular destinations in Panamá. It is $60 USD and really convenient as it is door-to-door service.
Public Transport: You can definitely get there on public transport, but there are no direct buses you it will involve at least 3 transfers and can take anywhere from 8-12 hours. Make make sure to leave early to make sure you make it in one day:

At the Albrook Bus Terminal, find a bus heading to Las Tablas. The bus ride to Las Tablas takes about 4-5 hours and offers scenic views. Once you’re in Las Tablas, switch to another bus heading to Pedasi. These buses usually depart hourly until 7 PM. The journey from Las Tablas to Pedasi takes approximately 2-3 hours, depending on traffic. In Pedasi, look for buses going to Playa Venao those last 33km. Expect the entire trip to take around 8-12 hours, including waiting times.

Rooms at Wao Jungle have kitchens inside the rooms!

Where to Stay in Playa Venao:

There are options ranging from luxury to dorm beds at hostels. I stayed at Venao Jungle and loved the rooms with built-in mini-kitchens for cooking your own meals. They also have a very friendly and helpful staff. I ended up loving it and staying much longer than planned!

Yours truly enjoying the waves with Safari Surf

Surfing:
Playa Venao is famous for its consistent waves suitable for all levels of surfers. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you’ll find the perfect wave. Several surf schools and rental shops are available. I rented my board and took lessons with Safari Surf and highly recommend them. If surfing is your thing, you can´t miss this top destination in Panama.

Enjoy time on the beach

Beach Activities:
Besides surfing, enjoy activities like ziplining, horse rides, yoga or paddleboarding. The beach’s calm atmosphere is also perfect for sunbathing and swimming. Additionally, the variety of activities ensures there is something for everyone.

Delicious food at Coleos

Delicious Cuisine:

Savor fresh seafood at beachfront restaurants. Popular dishes include ceviche, fish tacos, and grilled lobster. Don’t miss trying the pistachio ice cream at Motek and the Middle Eastern cuisine at Coleos. Both are local favorites, so get there early before the pistachio ice cream runs out. As a result, dining in Venao is a delightful experience.

Nightlife:

Playa Venao has a vibrant nightlife with beach bars hosting live music and DJ sets. It’s a great place to meet fellow travelers and dance the night away. Surely, your evenings can be as exciting as your days.

Don´t miss the pistachio ice cream at Motek!

Yoga and Wellness:

Yoga Retreats: Mention the availability of yoga retreats and wellness centers that offer relaxation and rejuvenation programs. Additionally, these retreats provide a holistic approach to well-being.

Spa Services: Highlight local spas offering massages, ice baths and wellness treatments. As a result, you can enjoy a complete relaxation experience.

Boat Tours and Fishing Charters: Explore nearby islands and marine life. There is also deep-sea fishing with reputable companies like Safari Surf. Consequently, these activities provide adventure and excitement.

Beautiful sunsets at Playa Venao

In Conclusion, Panama offers a rich tapestry of experiences. From the urban allure of Panama City to the untouched beauty of the San Blas Islands, the adventurous trails of Valle de Antón, and the surf-friendly shores of Playa Venao. Each destination presents unique attractions and activities that cater to various interests, ensuring a memorable trip. Whether you’re exploring historic sites, immersing in indigenous culture, hiking through lush landscapes, or riding the perfect wave, Panama has something for everyone. In short, plan your trip to these top destinations in Panama and discover the beauty of Panama.

Click on the Guides Below for specific posts to amazing places in Mexico:

Must Visit Places in Mexico
Chiapas Travel Guide
Oaxaca Travel Guide
The Huasteca Potosina Travel Guide
Querétaro, Mexico. A hidden gem

If you don’t already, please subscribe to the blog and follow on Instagram for a daily dose of travel tips and inspiration.  Also lots of videos on my YouTube channel.

 

 

 

Author

Write A Comment