This Central American Gem Deserves a Spot on Your Travel Bucket List

Updated 06/14/17
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You likely know this Central American city for two things: its famous canal and the signature Panama hat. (Side note: The Panama hat actually originated in Ecuador.) But this country is so much more than just canals and sun protection! From its bustling, culturally rich cities to the serene beach only a few hours away, Panama has something for everyone.

Usually you have to decide which type of trip you want to go on—relaxing or adventure-driven. In Panama, you can start your trip by trying out the top restaurants in Panama City and then escape to the coast for some beach reads and mojitos. If this destination isn’t a win-win, we don’t know what is. Below, we’ve detailed everything you need to know about visiting Panama—from how much it costs to what you should do and everything in-between. Scroll through and then get booking.

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WHY GO

After nearly 10 years of work, the $5 billion Panama Canal expansion is now open, and you can see it with your own eyes. Locals are friendly to tourists, it’s literally always warm there, and it won’t break the bank, which are some other pretty big perks. Plus, the country is kid-friendly, and you can very easily split your time between the hustle and bustle of Panama City and the tranquility of the beach.

If you need more of a reason to visit Panama, Forbes rated it as one of the top 16 destinations to visit last year, and Travel + Leisure has it on its list of The Best Places to Travel in 2017. 

WHAT IT COSTS

No matter where you’re flying out of Stateside, flights will usually cost you around $550 or a little more round-trip. Be sure to check out Copa Airlines for flight deals. This Latin American airline flys out of major cities to Panama, and it was actually founded in 1947 as the country’s national airline. 

Hotels in Panama City are relatively affordable: A 4-star hotel runs about $150, while an all-inclusive resort outside of the city runs about $200 a night per room, including drinks and meals. Panama uses American dollars, so there is no need to exchange currency before your trip.

WHEN TO GO

Panama’s temperatures are usually 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, and it is always humid. As in so humid you will take at least two showers a day—just embrace it. Although it is likely better to visit during the summer dry season from mid-December to mid-April when there is less rainfall, hotel rates may go up. If you do go any time from April to July, be sure to bring an umbrella with you since there tend to be thunderstorms in the afternoon that only last a few minutes.

WHAT TO DO

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Explore Casco Viejo

Most of Panama City is ultra modern and looks similar to Miami, but a little peninsula in the city called Casco Viejo is a historical must-see. If you love cobblestone streets and quaint neighborhoods, then this spot is for you. This area was once nearly abandoned with the modernization of the rest of the city, but it’s having a major resurgence.

During the day, go to see the historic churches in this area. Since it is a Catholic country, there are beautiful old churches to visit like the Catedral Metropolitana with gorgeous bell towers reminiscent of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

This is also where a lot of the newest restaurants and nightclubs are located. A local favorite is Tantalo, a boutique hotel with a rooftop restaurant boasting the most gorgeous views of the city (it turns into a bar later in the night, so stay for a drink after dinner).

If you want to go shopping, look no further than Reprosa, a gift-store chain that sells the most beautiful gold jewelry with the country’s iconic frog (the animal is the national symbol of Panama). The brand keeps a special process of jewelry making from ancient indigenous groups alive.

Tour the rainforest

The Gamboa Rainforest is only a 45-minute drive outside of Panama City (and oftentimes you can schedule a pickup from your hotel). Indulge in a day of touring the lush rainforest, beginning with a tram ride through the canopy. Keep an eye out for sloths, butterflies and white-faced capuchin monkeys, among other exotic animals.

Visit the Panama Canal

You can’t make the trip without going to see what all the hype is about. And trust us, it’s worth it. The views from the observation deck are breathtaking. Plus, the Canal Museum exhibit lets you learn about the locks and exactly how they work before you see ships ascend and descend in the water as the sea levels change.

Escape to the beach

After you have your adventures in Panama City, escape to the water for pure relaxation and sun. If you’re bringing the kids, opt for the Sheraton Bijao Beach Resort, an expansive all-inclusive resort that has its own club for them so you can take advantage of the open bar, seven restaurants, and clear blue water. The little ones will love doing karaoke with you and swimming in one of the many expansive outdoor pools. If you’re traveling adults-only, stay at the Garden of Eden Inn in Bocas Del Toro, a tiny romantic getaway with quiet sandy beaches, top-notch snorkeling, kayaking and more. It’s been described by other travelers as “paradise.” And if you really want to splurge, you can rent out the entire private Caribbean island for yourself.

Have you ever visited Panama? If so, share your favorite part of your trip in the comments and click through the gallery below to see more reasons why Panama should be your next vacation!

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