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 (and more English speakers as the residents often joke) 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. A list of the best tourist attractions in Panama City.
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Ancon Hill is a steep 654 foot (200 meter) hill which great views of Panama City. The road up the hill is a popular hiking and jogging path and there are three great look-out points. It was under US jurisdiction as part of the Panama Canal Zone for much of the 20th century and therefore remained a wilderness unlike most of the surrounding urbanized parts of the city. It is not uncommon to see sloths, armadillos and deer on Ancon Hill, which now has protected status.
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.
Located about 20 kilometers from Panama City, Isla Taboga is Panama’s favorite escape out of the city to bathe in its sandy beaches, ride Jet Ski’s, speed boats and fishing charters. First settled by the Spanish in 1515, Isla Taboga has a charming village with the second-oldest church in the western hemisphere, a few narrow streets with a few restaurants and great views to Panama City from the top of the Island. The island is also known as the “Island of Flowers for its sweet-smelling blossoms at certain times of the year.
Following the destruction of the old city in 1671, Casco Viejo was built as a walled city on a peninsula a few kilometers away from Panama Viejo to protect its settlers against future pirate attacks. At the beginning of the 20th century Casco Viejo formed the entire city but as Panama City expanded, the city’s elite abandoned Casco Viejo, and the neighborhood rapidly deteriorated. However, following an ambitious reclamation of this colonial district in recent years, it has regained some of its former glory and has become one of the main tourist attractions in Panama City.
The Amador Causeway connects the three islands by the entrance to the Panama Canal to the mainland. From the causeway, there is a terrific view of Panama City, and the Bridge of the Americas. Many Panamanians like to spend their weekends jogging, riding a bicycle or rollerblading down the causeway, or having a meal or drinks in one of the many restaurants and bars on the islands.
The man-made 77 km (48 mile) Panama Canal changed the course of shipping and travel by connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans across a narrow strip of land in Panama. Completed in 1914, the canal enables ships to pass through a series of locks to get from one side to the other. The easiest and best way to visit the canal from Panama City is to go to the Miraflores Locks, where a platform offers visitors a good view of the locks in operation.