The most cosmopolitan capital in Central America, Panama City is both a vibrant metropolis and gateway to tropical escapes. Connecting the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean, Panama City is a regional hub of trade, business, and tourism. Its 48-mile canal has made Panama famous worldwide, as each year over a million people visit this engineering marvel which operates 365 days a year.
Panama’s unique geographic location is home to beautiful beaches and natural landscapes, rich culture, and endless tourist activities. In contrast to the modernism of Panama City, Casco Viejo (or the Old Quarter), located within the city and a UNESCO protected district neighborhood, holds the colonial-style richness of Panama.
Ancient walls, glassy skyscrapers, and a mix of African, Native Panamanian, and Spanish cultures have all played a part in forming the frenetic “Miami of Central America.”
Things to do When Visiting Panama
(Note that some of these options may be affected by COVID restrictions.)
- Panama Canal: Take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to view the Panama Canal in operation from the Miraflores Visitors Center. This famous 48-mile canal connects the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantis Ocean, allowing for shorter passage of the world’s freight. During your visit see 5,000,000-ton vessels rise and drop more than 50 feet as they make their way through Panama from one ocean to another and learn about the history and future of this marvel of modern engineering. The Miraflores Visitor Center offers stunning views of the canal in action from its multiple viewing decks.
- Casco Viejo: (also known as Casco Antiguo or San Felipe): The city’s Old Quarter has transformed into a stylish hotspot and UNESCO World Heritage Site rolled into one. This area is a twenty-minute drive from the Westin Playa Bonita and offers a variety of dining, bars, and nightclubs. Some local dining favorites are:
- Pedro Mandinga rum bar with rum tasting
- Casa Casco offers a blend of antique and avant-garde, divided into five floors where you can enjoy three fabulous restaurants, a club-disco and a terrace
- Capital Bistro Panama serves a fusion of Mediterranean, traditional, and international cuisine
- La Rana Dorada Microbrewery
- Blue Moon Taphouse
- Tantolo Hotel & Roof Bar is Casco Viejo’s premier boutique hotel, their restaurant ‘Tantalo Kitchen’ is known for its tapas and roof top bar.
- Diablicos Restaurant offers traditional Panamanian food with a cultural folkloric show.
For souvenir shopping, check out Paseo de las Bovedas and Paseo Esteban Huertas, popularly known as Lovers Lane. Located at the southern end of Casco Viejo, this walkway along the old seawall is lined with vendor tables. Set along the oceanfront, this area is great place to snap a photo of the glimmering glass towers of downtown Panama City farther down the shore.
Past the vendors, you will find the Plaza de Francia (French Plaza), a small park and monument celebrating the historical relationship between Panama and France. This is a great place to view the sunset.
Casco Viejo’s Panama Canal Museum is worth a visit. Housed in a restored building that used to be Panama City’s main post office, this museum has displays showcasing the development of the canal over the years, beginning with the abandoned attempts by the French, through the construction by the U.S., and the return of the canal to the Panamanian Government.
- Experience the Wonder of the Rainforest: Located approximately one hour from the Westin Playa Bonita is the Soberanía National Park Rainforest, a natural sanctuary of solitude. Within the rainforest you may encounter many of Panama’s native creatures, including Capuchin and Howler monkeys, sloths, armadillos, alligators, and capibara.
Gamboa Rainforest Reserve: One option for visiting the rainforest is to plan a stay at this reserve where you can commune with nature in a pristine environment that explorers and pirates once tread, located directly on the Panama Canal, Gatun Lake, and the Chagres River. From exhilarating aerial tram rides, kayaking adventures, guided boat tours, wildlife viewing, fishing expeditions and much more, Gamboa Rainforest Reserve is an exotic vacation sanctuary where individuals, groups and families enjoy memories to last a lifetime.
The Gamboa Rainforest Reserve is offering attendees of the ISHRS World Congress a special post-stay rate as detailed below:
- USD $130 single/$140 double plus 10% occupancy tax, Deluxe River View Room (includes daily breakfast and wifi)
- Valid Sat./October 29 to Sat./November 5, 2022, based upon availability of room type
- You must make your reservation by this reservation form. (Note this ISHRS rate is not offered through the property’s website. Room availability is limited, so make your reservation early using the provided form.)
- You may book your transportation between the Westin Playa Bonita and Gamboa Rainforest Reserve as well as 5% discounted tours/excursions at the Gamboa Rainforest Reserve through Panamazing. You may also email Ms. Yara Ariza at Panamazing regarding tours and excursions at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rainforest Discovery Center: This is another option to visit the Soberanía National Park, located less than a one-hour drive from the Westin Playa Bonita. It is a great outing for anyone who wants to experience nature without embarking on a long hike. Birders will not want to miss the Pipeline Road, one of the most renowned places in the world for bird watching.
- Panama Viejo: Explore the UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site and visit the ruins of the former Panama. Founded in 1519 by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias de Ávila, the city of Panama was the first European settlement along the Pacific. For 150 years it flourished as Spain exported Peruvian gold and silver to Europe via Panama. In 1671, the famous pirate Henry Morgan sacked the city and it was relocated to the present-day Casco Viejo. Today much of Panama Viejo lies buried under a residential neighborhood, but the visible ruins are a must-see.
- Amador Causeway: This is one of the city’s best-known roads, showcasing the best ocean and city views from the isthmus. The causeway is a wonderful place to bike, fish, and soak in the views. It is home to the BioDiversity Museum, fish market and several spots to dine or enjoy a drink. The largest artisan market, Centro Artisanal, is hidden on the ground floor of the Figali Convention Center near the start of the causeway.
- BioDiversity Museum: This museum is located on Amador Causeway and designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. The museum is designed to tell the story of how the isthmus of Panama rose from the sea, uniting two continents, separating a vast ocean in two, and changing the planet’s biodiversity forever.
- Botanical Garden & Parque Municipal Summit: Located 40 minutes from the Westin Playa Bonita, this is a nearby tranquil nature escape. The botanical garden takes up most of the park, with a zoo that is more of a rescue center which houses animals from jungle cats to the national bird of Panama, the harpy eagle.
- Explore the Islands. Panama has a huge archipelago of over 1,800 islands distributed through its Caribbean and Pacific shores. A few you may wish to visit:
- Pearl Islands: This archipelago includes approximately 100 islands, many of them tiny and uninhabited. They’re located in the Gulf of Panama, about 30 miles from the coast.
- Bocas de Toro Islands: These islands are Panama’s most popular travel destination. Located in the Caribbean Sea, close to the Costa Rican border, they can be reached by ferry, water taxi, or plane.
- The Gulf of Chiriquí: Along with Coiba Island, dozens of Panama islands are located in southwest Panama’s Gulf of Chiriquí.
- Isla Barro Colorado: This island is located in Panama’s man-made Gatun Lake, in the middle of the Panama Canal. It was created when the Chagres River was dammed to make the lake. All the rainforest was flooded except for the hills, which now make up this island. It houses the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and is one of the most studied places on Earth. It has become a prototype for measuring the diversity of plant and animal life around the world.
The Pearl Islands
Photo credit: https://visitpanama.com
There are Panamazing tour desks available at both the Westin Playa Bonita and Gamboa Rainforest Reserve, so you can book various Panama and Gamboa tours on-site.
Click here to view the Panamazing Tour and Transportation Link: A 5% discount is being offered to ISHRS World Congress attendees, which is reflected in the prices that appear on our group link. You may also email Panamazing at: Yara Ariza at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
More information on Panama: https://www.visitpanama.com/