Panama City is one of the emerging It-List destinations over the last few years, the definition of up-and-coming.
At the core of its appeal is the stark contrast between the old city; remnants of stone façades and church archways that have withstood centuries of attack and deterioration, and the new city, warm and chic bars and restaurants, colorful street art, and stunning museums to wander through day and night. For the traveler who craves both the culture and the vacation, Panama City is It. The dynamism of Panama City goes far beyond its famous history: to fully experience the evolving city, be prepared to try everything: from roaming the ruins to salsa dancing in the glow of the city skyline. Here are ten must-do’s to ensure you leave Panama City with a taste of it all!
1. Eat your heart out at Mercado de Mariscos
Mercado de Mariscos outdoor fish market is arguably the most inexpensive, local, and delicious experience you will have in Panama City. The best place to buy fresh fish in the entire city, the market is full of vendors selling everything from snapper to octopus. Order the local catch: fresh fish typically marinated and served whole. You are also required try a few different flavors of ceviche, from the classic taste of lemon and onion to Mediterranean varieties with olives and sundried tomato.
2. Explore the street art in Casco Viejo
Spend an afternoon wandering the cobblestone streets and getting lost among colorful tags, illustrious murals, and crumbling palates for urban art. Be curious and explorative: what may appear as an abandoned lot may be home to some of the most moving designs you find.
3. Shop and listen to music at the Plaza de la Independencia
The plaza, also known as Plaza Catedral, is the main square in Casco Viejo. A perfect stop for history buffs and shopaholics alike, historic buildings surround a monthly flea market. Stroll through artisan crafts while musicians play local favorites from the white gazebo in the center of it all. Don’t forget to look around you at the contrasting architecture of Catedral Metropolitana and the other colonial style buildings.
4. Share tapas and a spectacular view at Tantalo Rooftop Bar
After a long day of wandering the Old City, end your evening at Tantalo for savory appetizers and invigorating cocktails infused with local ingredients. Soak up the night air at the rooftop bar, and take in the personality of the skyline with the stylish night owls.
5. Get your culture fix at Galería Juan Manuel Cedeno
Known for his extensive and influential career, artist Juan Manuel Cedeño’s drawings and paintings are world renowned for their combination of Caribbean tenacity and European technique. You will be moved by the dynamic nature of his drawings. From his experiments with cubism to his many interpretations of still life, his work is a fantastic way to expose yourself to the subtleties of Panameño culture. Source: Juan Carlos Boveri
6. Soak up the sun on the Amador Causeway
Take a bike ride along the coast and watch yachts float against the outline of downtown Panama City. The causeway reaches from the entrance of the Panama Canal, and links the scattered islands of Naos, Perico, Culebra, and Flamenco off of the mainland. There are plenty of restaurants to have a beer and even soak in the pool if the mood strikes. If you’d like to see the Causeway from the sea, check out the Balboa Yacht Club.
7. Have the meal of a lifetime at Manolo Caracol
Owner Manuel Madueño fashions Caribbean ingredients into foodie-pleasing gourmet fare. The restaurant is known for the locality of their ingredients, from goat cheese raised on one of their farms to mint foraged the day it is served. You won’t go wrong with the 10 course tasting menu, so spend the $30 and be prepared to be impressed.
8. Salsa until your feet go numb at Habana Panama
With bright Cuban furnishings and a retro vibe, you’ll feel right at home dirty dancing with locals who are excited to teach you new moves. Don’t be embarrassed, you’ve made it this far, so it’s time to dance your heart out!
9. Indulge your inner archaeologist in Panama Viejo
Located contrastingly near downtown Panama City, Panama Viejo is the true old city, once the capital of Panama. Now, ruins of the fishing village are scattered, damaged by earthquakes, fires, and even pirate attacks. Take your time appreciating the history of the towering stone remnants.
10. Do a one-stop-shop for Panamanian crafts and souvenirs at Mercado Nacional de Artesanías
88 ID 101 MA, Vía Cincuentenario, Ciudad de Panamá (map, website)
Located in Panama Viejo near the ruins, the modest building is a gold mine for artisan crafts. Though it is less flea market and more indoor mall, you will not leave without finding what you’re looking for. From hand-sewn textiles to woven bowls and glossy wooden carvings, your Jetset heart might explode.