From culture trip to day trip
Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, Panama is a fusion of different flavours. And almost nowhere is this clearer than in the capital Panama City. From concrete jungle to actual jungle, it’s a multifaceted medley of culture, creativity and excitement just waiting to be explored.
It’s a tale of two cities in one, from the shimmering skyline of the international banking centre, to the cobbled streets of Casco Viejo. Opt for a stay in the heart of the action, at American Trade Hotel, one of the most charming new luxury hotels in Panama. From there, you’re just a short stroll from the city’s best sights. In the morning, take a trip to BioMuseo, a landmark museum designed by Frank Gehry. Feast your eyes on eye-catching projections and installations to discover Panama’s huge impact on the planet in the Gallery of Biodiversity.
Top tip: BioMuseo is working on building its very own botanical garden. So keep your eyes peeled for opening dates when planning your city break – it’s set to be worth the wait.
Be sure to bring a pair of comfortable shoes – there’s so much to see in Panama City, it’s worth tagging along on a guided walking tour. Watch the ships sail through the Panama Canal from the Miraflores Locks. Peruse a local market. Stroll through the city’s best-kept secret, the Punta Culebra Nature Centre. All before retreating to your luxury suite for a siesta – just what you need before a night on the town.
The Teatro Nacional hosts captivating performances with surroundings to match. The deep reds and shimmering golds of the theatre open out onto a magnificent ceiling mural. Or if you’d prefer something a little more lively, you’ll find a string of buzzing bars and restaurants just a two-minute stroll from your boutique hotel. Try the Zaza Lounge for mean mojitos and sultry Latin beats. Or dine out on Caribbean cuisine at Diablicos.
Escape the city
You’ve experienced the city lights, now it’s time for a well-earned tropical escape. Just a half an hour ferry ride from Panama City, sleepy Taboga island awaits. Get there early to have the beach to yourself. After a morning of basking in the sun and bobbing in the ocean, take a hike along one of the many forest trails. When the midday sun gets a touch too warm, retreat down to the beach or into quaint Taboga town. With no cars and just a scatter of traditional restaurants, this is the perfect place to sit back and sip a cold drink.
If you have more time to explore, hire a car or driver to whisk you away to Anton Valley. A two-hour drive will find you a world away from the busy city. Sat within the world’s largest dormant volcano, this magical valley is full of hidden wonders. Hike to the mineral springs and cascading waterfalls. Spot rare Tapirs in El Nispero Zoo. Or sip lemonade in a peaceful restaurant high up in the hills.
To round off your trip, visit Bayano Lake to explore its mystical caves. Though it’s possible to do alone, we’d recommend booking a tour to show you all the secret spots. After a drive through Panamanian landscapes, you’ll dock on shores that are home to a small indigenous community. From here, your guide will walk you through an underground river into the caves. Take a moment to take in the spectacular natural rock formations, hand-carved by nature itself. Further into the cave, you’ll come to an opening. Follow the light and you’ll reach a lagoon backed by a blanket of tropical forest. Stop here for a quick dip and picnic lunch, before returning to the busy city.