Nicknamed the Miami of the South, Panama City features an ever growing skyline of highrise buildings situated in a tropical setting. There may be less beaches here than in Miami but Panama City has plenty to offer as one of Central America’s most historic and cosmopolitan capitals. And if the heat and traffic congestions becomes too much, there are several great beaches just a short boat ride away.
Panama’s most famous attraction is by far the Panama Canal, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Watching a massive ship, piled high with colorful containers, gliding quietly into the locks reveals the true enormity of this great feat of engineering. Taking a boat tour through the canal gives you even more perspective. If you want to simply see the Panama Canal, the best place to do this is at the Miraflores Locks, about 25 minutes from downtown Panama City. You can see the canal from the five-story visitor center, complete with a small museum, a restaurant, and an IMAX theater in a separate building.
One of the very few places in Panama where you can watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, the Sunset Coast is an undiscovered area with small towns, wide open beaches, and a small number of lodges where you can get away from the tourist scene.This is rural Panama, home to rolling hills, small villages, family farms, and huge beaches lined by palms and forest. Foreign tourists are not plentiful the way they are in other areas of the country, and many of the visitors are Panamanian.
Panama Viejo (Old Panama) contains the remaining ruins of the first Spanish city on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Founded by Pedro Arias de Avila on 15 August 1519, the city was the starting point of the expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru. Most of the gold and silver that Spain took from the Incas passed through here. In 1671 the pirate Henry Morgan sacked the city with 1,400 men marching from the Caribbean coast across the jungle and today only the bits and pieces that Morgan left can be admired.
The waters of Panama are unmatched in their level of marine diversity, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Coiba National Marine Park. The island of Coiba is the largest island in the park, as well as the largest island in all of Central America. More than 800 species of marine life are present in the area. The park is known as one of the best places to enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving on the Pacific Coast.