Panama City and the Panama Canal

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
4
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
7
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
6
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
2
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
9
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
8
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
60 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
North America
country
Panama
Length of time
1-2 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 200
Time of year visited
April
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
204th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 70% SUMMARY RATING: Worth doing

Summary

Panama City is definitely worth a visit.  First up, you get quite the pleasant surprise when you arrive at just how developed it is with its shimmering glass skyscrapers all the way along the Pacific coastline and an efficient, clean feel that is very different to any other city in Central America.  But its the colonial architecture of Casco Viejo Old Town on the waterfront and the great engineering feat of the Panama Canal that are the highlights

Considering you often have to fly through Panama City to get to where you’re going in this part of Central America, I’d actually say the city itself its a must visit if in the region.  As someone who’s a bit geeky when it comes to engineering, I personally found watching the ships pass through the docks of the Panama Canal mesmerising

Although sorry for the particularly poor photos for this one!

highlights

#1 Sitting mesmerised as you watch the ships pass through the giant locks of the world famous Panama Canal, one of the Engineering Wonders of the World

#2 Wandering the old colonial streets of the Casco Viejo Old Town

#3 Taking the Panama Canal Railway from Panama City to Colon and getting to see the sheer scale of the work put into the canal

#4 Checking out Panama City itself - looking up a lot at the skyscrapers!

 

 

 

 

Travel Tips

  • Panama Canal options – you’ve got a few options for checking it out at various parts: (i) The Miraflores Locks and visitor centre next to Panama City (the Pacific side); (ii) The Agua Clara / Gatun Locks next to Colon (the Atlantic side); (iii) Take the Panama Canal Railway between the two to get a fuller look at the canal:
    • If you’re pressed for time, then stick with the Miraflores Locks – they have a great visitor centre, and cracking view over the ships passing through, plus its a nice spot for food / grabbing some early sundowners from 4ish (best times to see the ships are 9am-11am and 3pm-5pm when they are more frequent)
    • My recommendation though is to do all 3 because the train is a great way to see the jungle and territory the canal goes through, and each lock is very different.  Get the early morning train at 7:15am to travel from Panama City to Colon, which takes around 45mins.  There will be a heap of taxis there to take you to the Locks (or get an Uber) where you’ll want to spend an hour or so watching the ships and maybe watching the video on the construction.  Then head back to Miraflores by taxi / uber which takes around an hour (don’t wait for the return train which leaves at 5:15pm and you’ll be super bored by that time).  If you push it, you can be done by midday
    • Don’t bother watching the movie at Miraflores, unless you’re looking for a super artistic series of films about broad Panama (not the Canal)
  • The Old Town Casco Viejo is definitely worth a visit – surprisingly lovely to wander round and get lost in.  A bit touristy in places, but not hard to find some quieter spots and to grab a table in one of the outside areas
  • Two restaurants I’d really recommend, both in the Old Town:
    • Higher end, with a superb restaurant and cracking rooftop bar is Salvaje Restaurante y Rooftop (need to book for the rooftop)
    • Lower end, with a great atmosphere is Fonda Lo Que Hay

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone