Panama’s capital city is as full of character as it is history–the coffee, rum, and hospitality don’t hurt either. Of course, no trip to Panama City would be complete without a visit to the modern engineering wonder that is the canal, and making a day out of seeing it is easy. From the shops, cafés, and artisans of Casco Viejo (old city) and reveling in the comforts of your swanky hotel to exploring the Panama Canal and taking a wildlife tour by boat on the canal itself, Panama City holds the key to the most enjoyable history lesson of your life. Here’s how to spend the perfect weekend seeing, eating, sleeping, and sipping your way through this gem in Central America.
Where to Stay:
W Panama in the heart of the business district has it all: spacious and soulfully-decorated accommodations inspired by the city’s culture, great dining and drinking, plenty of lounging opportunities (hello, 6,835 square foot rooftop pool), and much more. After checking in here, take some time to soak it all in by relaxing at the spa or the WET Deck, or by taking a nap in your cloud-like bed. It’s the little things that make traveling less stressful and thus more enjoyable, and this hotel just gets it.
Following your R&R of choice, have a chat with the hotel’s excellent W Insider, Yamal Silcott, to solidify the details of your time in Panama City from an expert’s perspective–he’ll point you in the right direction no matter your objectives, tastes, or preferences.
Where to Eat:
First things first: the most important meal of the day. W Panama (conveniently) has one of the best breakfasts in town, so fuel up at Moro before your day of exploring. Travelers with a penchant for great local brews should pay a visit to Casa Bruja in Casco Viejo, where you’ll be “haunted by flavor,” according to Silcott. For an unforgettable evening, Silcott recommends Azahar’s striking interior, inventive cocktails, and Asian-accented fare.
Casco Viejo is home to some of its own special dining and drinking experiences, including sipping a cup of rare Geisha coffee at Bajareque Coffee House (a local favorite) and tasting through the range of rums at local rum producer Pedro Mandinga’s cozy flagship bar, complete with salsa music on vinyl and some of the most delicious cocktails around.
What to Do:
Unsurprisingly, the Panama Canal is at the top of the list here. Block off a few hours to spend at the Miraflores Visitor Center, where you can learn all about the history of the canal’s construction and watch ships pass through the locks from the terrace or observation deck (if you’re patient). For those interested in wildlife, book a boat tour of the canal through W Insider with PBA (request Jorge Florian as your guide if he’s available, though if not, you’ll be in good hands with any of the other guides on staff). If you’re lucky that day, you’ll see around three species of monkeys in the trees, who might even accept a bite of banana from the boat, depending on their mood. You can also take a cable car through the rainforest nearby if you’re looking for another beautiful outdoor experience (the view from the top also makes for a great Instagram shot). Lastly, take some time to wander the streets of Casco Viejo and see what you stumble upon outside of our drinking recommendations above–you never know what you’ll find when you have no end goal in mind, especially in a place with as much charm and possibility as this.