Panama City is located on the Pacific coast and lies just east of the Panama Canal. It is the capital city, the largest city, and the economic, political, and cultural center of the country. The city is also quite modern and of great international economic importance because of its banking and offshore jurisdiction and has been a key international location for banks since the 1970s.
There are several universities in Panama City, including branches of American universities – it’s generally considered to be relatively loud and hectic, but you can find quieter places to relax in the surrounding areas.
The city itself is a highlight in itself and offers many great attractions. Casco Viejo, the city’s old town, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 and is loaded with historic charm, churches, and museums. We recommend visiting during the day, as it’s not the best place to be at night.
Another highlight is the Metropolitan Natural Park located in the middle of the city, which serves as an oasis of peace away from the surrounding hustle and bustle. The park is quite large, and you can even find different animals like monkeys, sloths, anteaters, armadillos, and iguanas.
The Miraflores Visitors Center, a few kilometers outside the city, is a great place to learn about the construction and operation of the Panama Canal in its four-floor interactive museum (more interesting than it sounds, we promise!). Be sure to check out the viewing platform on the roof for a wonderful view over the canal and its channels.
We also highly recommend to go shopping and grab a bite to eat in Panama City. There are tons of options, and you won’t be disappointed – just make sure you give yourself enough time!
Stay overnight at one of the city’s hostels and get a bed in a 10-bed dorm for 11 euros a night.
Ready for some peace and quiet after the big city? Hop on a bus for 14 euros to get to your next destination: Playa Venao.
Playa Venao is a beach town on the country’s southern coast. The crescent-shaped, sandy beach is 2.8 km long and a popular destination for surfers. The biggest waves are in the middle of the beach, but they become calmer the further away you get from the center.
Playa Venao is relatively small – most things are a twenty-minute walk at most – so it’s easy to get around on foot or by bike.
If you’re in the mood for more adventure, take a thirty-minute trek through the jungle to find a beautiful little waterfall – if you’re lucky, you might even see some howler monkeys!
Stay at a hostel for 11 euros a night in an eight-bed dorm.
Next, let’s hope on over to Santa Catalina – your backpacking trip through Panama isn’t over yet! About 300 people live here and most of them only speak Spanish.
Santa Catalina offers three beautiful beaches – Estero, La Punta and Punta Brava – where you can go surfing, snorkeling, and diving. Underwater, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with dolphins, turtles, great white sharks, and other unique sea creatures, so grab your swimsuit and dive in!
Local products are often sold here directly from the trucks’ loading spaces, so you not only get lower prices, but also get unique, fresh products. Fishermen also sell their daily catch in town and on the beach. If you don’t feel like cooking, there are several restaurants in the area where you can enjoy seafood or a steak.
Sleep in Santa Catalina in a 10-bed dorm for just 13 euros a night.
After enjoying Santa Catalina’s underwater world, why not head to Boquete by bus for only about 15 euros.
Boquete, or Bajo Boquete as it is originally called, is in the Boquete district of the Chiriquí province. It is situated at 1,200 meters above sea level and has a mild climate, with average temperatures of around 20 degrees Celsius.
Boquete is a small and inviting mountain village where you can comfortably explore everything on foot. It’s known for coffee, strawberries, and flowers like orchids, roses, and chrysanthemums.
You should definitely try the coffee here, as the beans are said to be the best in the whole country! It’s also worth doing a spot of hiking if you’re up for it – there are many trails which pass through various coffee fields and farms, so it’s a great way to learn more about coffee and see how the locals live. Other local products include onions, carrots, potatoes, beets, and salad – but none are as famous as the coffee!
For 13 euros a night you can stay in a ten-bed dorm at a local hostel.
Bocas del Toro
From Boquete, head to the last stop on your Panamanian adventure and take a bus and ferry to Bocas del Toro for about 27 euros.
Bocas del Toro, the capital of the province of the same name, is small enough to explore by foot or bike, but you can also take a taxi – or even a water taxi. This Caribbean Island chain is breathtakingly beautiful, so enjoy your last stop to the fullest.
Boca del Drago and Playa Estrella, with its many starfish, are absolutely worth a visit. There are plenty of water sports and surf spots to keep you busy, so you won’t ever get bored. Fishing is also an option, or just rent a boat and do some island hopping.
Whatever you do, you’re sure to have a wonderful time because Bocas del Toro is gorgeous, the people are friendly, and there is a boatload of fun things to do.
Spend your last few nights in a local hostel where one night in a dorm is just 23 euros.
After saying goodbye to beautiful Panama, hop on a plane home from Bocas del Toro via Panama City.