City Name: Panama City
Country Location: Panama
Continent: Central America
Recommended Duration of Stay: 3-10 days
US DOLLA DOLLA BILLS Y'ALL! Bring your Washingtons, Jacksons and your Benjamins! ;-) The official currency in Panama is the Balboa, however due to the long standing relations with the United States, the Balboa and the US Dollar have an equal exchange rate. SO this is good news for US travelers. It means that your money is most definitely welcome here, so no need to exchange your money.
Where to Stay:
I’ve been to Panama a few times and each time I’ve stayed in the El Cangrejo area of Panama City. This area is filled with hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, food markets and relatively close to shopping malls. If you live in a major city in the United States, then this area will feel somewhat close to home. Of course there are some WTF moments you’ll need to get used to, like: a lack of stop lights, a lack of stop signs, and a lack of drivers willing to just stop so you can cross the damn street.
During my first visit, I stayed at the continental hotel. The hotel itself was decent. Nothing remarkable, but clean. relatively spacious and centrally located to night life and great restaurants. My favorite part of the hotel was the bar. Why?! Because I’m a lush (duh), but they had a special by 1 drink get 3 free. It basically felt like they prepared for my arrival by doing research on my vices…and bruh…I was here for it! And honestly, at $60 a night, split between 2 people. I couldn’t have asked for more.
My most recent stay was spent at the Best Western Zen Hotel. This is my favorite thus far. I know you’re judging off jump because I said a Best Western was my favorite, but BAY BAY! I payed $67 a night and split it with one other person. The overall look and feel of the hotel is very contemporary and modern. With Art Deco sculptures and large sized paintings. The room was anice size with 2 (ridiculously comfortable) full beds. Hot breakfast is available for an additional $10 a day, if you’d like to plan ahead. Zen also has a rooftop bar, and rooftop infinity pool which overlooks the city’s skyline.
What To Do:
The best thing about Panama is that there is definitely a lot of activities to take part in, both in the city and a short drive outside of it. If you’re looking for a vacation where you don’t have to choose between beach bum and city chic, this is definitely for you.
In Panama City, Panama, you’ll find it to be a tropical metropolitan oasis, very similar to that of Miami. There are a number of large and renowned mall complexes in the area, equipped with shopping brands from your favorite US and European retailers. There is also a WHOLLLLEEEE LOTTA nightlife here. If you’re in the mood to turn up, Panama City will not disappoint.
Outside of the city you have the opportunity to see more of what nature has to offer. Panama is known for having the most diverse wildlife and plant species in the world. So if you get some time to take your ass OUTSIDE of the city, be sure to take a look at one of these excursions below.
- Tour Portobelo
- About 45 minutes outside of the city is the province of Colon, known for its large Afro-Panamanian population. One fascinating tour to take while in Colon, is through the town of Portobelo. Here you will find many architectural ruins and forts from they days of Colonial rule. Portobelo also has rich African Heritage dating back to the slave trade. Once in Portobelo, you should definitely take a moment to expand your black history knowledge by visiting the Casa de las Artisinias de Portobelo. Here, you will be given the oral history of African heritage and customs in the town of Portobelo. After visiting Casa de las Artisinias, you can take a short walk to the church where you will see the sculpture of Black Jesus.
- Visit Isla Grande
- If one Black Jesus isn’t enough for you, then you’ll definitely need to take the 20 minute ride over to Isla Grande. You’ll hop in a fisherman boat, you’ll set sail on gorgeous Aqua waters and you’ll be blessed at the beautiful sight of the life sized crucifix of Black Jesus wading in the water. Even if you’re not religious, you’re going to want to capture this photograph. After grabbing your picture, you’ll jet over to the Island of Isla Grande and have the BEST island food of your life at El Restaurante Bucanero. Here you’ll have your choice of Shrimp, Lobster, Chicken and Fish, and sides of coconut rice, green plantains, salads and french fries.
- Visit Toboga
-The Island of Toboga is absolutely beautiful. Just 20 - 30 minutes from the Amador Causeway, you can get to this nearly remote tropical oasis. Only recently has the island obtained wifi, and started accepting credit card as a form of payment for certain establishments. But if you need cash, forget it. You either bring it with you or survive your stay like Tom Hanks in Castaway. The gorgeous island blooms right after rainy season and is covered in flowers from hill to hill. During rainy season the island is a mountain of lush greenery at every turn. The most amazing thing about the island is the land bridge that appears and disappears during low and high tides. During high tides the water is a seamless body of water separating it from all other small islands along the way. During low tides you get the Moses effect and watch as the sea parts and allows visitors to walk across the land bridge, from Taboga to a small island directly across that houses the ruins of pirate ship wrecks. On Sundays, prepare yourself for a daytime beach party, as a local DJ sets up shop to play the latest and greatest Salsa & reggaeton music.
- Visit San Blas
- The San Blas Islands do not allow for the easiest beach getaway, however the excitement of the ride and the beauty of the islands are well worth it. Owned and operated by the native San Blas Indians, these islands are as remote as remote can get. The boating dock to San Blas is about 1.5 hours outside of Panama City, through several steep hills and mountains. The view just to get there is ridiculous. You will travel through all the mountains and all the valleys and cross many rivers just to get to the boating dock. The boat ride itself will take you another 45 minutes to an hour to get to the Islands. Most of the islands in San Blas are uninhabited. So if you’re looking for a way to stunt on all the homies, and give everyone in your social network #vacationgoals envy, then go ahead and capture all of the images of the clearest blue water you’ve ever seen, the finest white sand you’ve ever touched, and the tallest palm trees shading you from the hot ass sun you’ll experience. It’s a sight to die for, in fact , full transparency, there will be many times along this journey to San Blas where you may think this is it… Im not going to make it, but once you arrive you’ll likely believe you died and went to heaven anyway.
- Visit Bocas Del Toro
- Bocas Del Toro is a popular attraction for most who visit Panama. During one of my many Panamanian Travels, I actually opted to visit Bocas, by way of Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. Very similar to the trip to San Blas, the journey here was “exciting” to put it nicely. BUT it’s definitely worth it. The Islands themselves are reminiscent of photos that I’ve seen of Tahiti or Fiji. It’s nothing but huts on huts on huts over turquoise waters. There are a number of fish species there, which make for amazing diving and snorkeling opportunities. In Bocas you can also be guaranteed to see a dolphin sighting in the ocean.
- Isla Mamey
- If you can’t make it to San Blas, You should can get the Old Navy version with the same quality. Isla Mamey is near Isla Grande and is a spitting image of many of the Islands on San Blas. Its easier to get to, with a shorter travel time, and is near a “Monkey Island” which you will definitely feel like you’re in a Planet of the Apes movie. For some this is intriguing. For me, i was PETRIFIED. These monkey are about 4 and a half feet tall and only want you for your snacks. They have the personal space meeter of a mosquito and it’s just a lot. Unless you’re into this kinda thing and then you can go have at it and make friends with Attar, Sandar and Gunnar. For me it was once in a lifetime, for you go as often as you please lol.
- Visit the Panama Canal
- Panama’s canal is one of the greatest architectural wonders of the world. The history of this technological contraption is even greater. If you come to Panama then you need to see the canal. Located about 20 minutes outside of Panama City, you can visit the Miraflores Visitor Center of the Panama Canal. Here you will have the opportunity to Walk through the canal museum and learn about the contributions from a diverse list of countries including France and Jamaica. You can also get a close up view of ships coming in and out of the Locks from any of the 4 floors of patios. There is also a restaurant on the premises if you’d like to make this a date.
What to Eat:
Food in Panama is serious business. I’ve rarely had a bad plate. Note— there are a multitude of chain restaurants, and cuisines from just about any culture can be found in Panama City. HOWEVER, When you travel you’ll likely want to try the local fare. The list below is of restaurants that I suggest you visit if you want real RICO Panamanian food. Some of the cultural foods you’ll want to try will include: Patacones (fried green plantain/ tostones), Fried Pargo/ Corvina ( Whole fried snapper/ Sea Bass) , Sancocho, Fried Yucca (fried sticks of Casava) and Ceviche.
- Mi Ranchito
- Mercado de Mariscos
- This one is serious if you’re a seafood fiend and its at the entrance of Casco Viejo, so before or after your meal you can walk around and see things :-)
If food is serious business in Panama, then partying is the birthright. Much like New York and Miami, nightclubs in Miami can potentially go on all night. Most nightclubs don’t get poppin’ until about 12midnight, so if you can help it, try not to go out until 12pm. I’ve gathered a list of nightclubs/ bars that I’ve visited and would recommend.
- Casa Casco
- La Buat
- Many bars and restaurants with a great view
How to Get Around:
- It's an option. Probably the best option if you speak NO Spanish. Keep your wifi poppin :-)
- Taxi's are negotiable. Most rides shouldn't cost more than $8. Unless you're traveling 30-45 minutes away. Then its about $15-20 Ask for confirmation before you get in the cab.