While visitors to Panama may come for the Panama Canal, they stay for everything else. Known as the “Crossroads of the Americas,” Panama is not only the geographical point where North America meets South America but also where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet in the country’s famed canal.
Not only is the country known for its miles of coastlines and beaches, but it’s also home to active volcanoes, tropical jungles, cascading waterfalls, and mountainous highlands.
In addition to these spectacular tourist attractions, Panama has a vibrant culture that’s an electrifying mix of cosmopolitan growth and indigenous traditions. From the historic old towns to the rural villages, it’s easy to get lost in the unique atmosphere that surrounds the region. If you’re looking for a country that’s overflowing in natural beauty and influenced by centuries of ancient cultures, then look no further than these things to do in Panama!
In this post, we'll cover:
15. Gulf of Chiriqui National Marine Park
Stretching down the Pacific coast of Panama is the Gulf of Chiriqui National Marine Park. With a mix of sun-soaked beaches, turquoise waters, and rugged forests, this unspoiled natural wonder is an outdoor enthusiasts dream.
You’ll have a world of activities at your fingertips, including snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, and swimming. In addition, the national park is teeming with wildlife. Besides howler monkeys and green turtles, you’ll also get the chance to see humpback whales, dolphins, and manta rays beneath the ocean’s surface.
14. Amador Causeway
There’s always something happening on the bustling Amador Causeway. This 3.5-mile promenade snakes through the Panama Canal and connects the four main Causeway Islands to the mainland.
Not only will you be surrounded by gourmet restaurants and world-class museums, but you’ll also get to enjoy some of the best views of the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean. If you’re looking to burn a few calories during your trip, you can also take advantage of the provided bicycling and jogging path.
13. Soberania National Park
The lush, tropical atmosphere of Soberania National Park makes it one of the best natural attractions in Panama. Located on the banks of the Panama Canal, this rainforest is one of the best places in the world for birdwatching. In total, the park is home to over 500 different bird species, as well as over 100 different types of mammals.
Besides wildlife, you’ll also have the chance to visit the Embera Indians, one of the last remaining tribes in Panama. They welcome visitors to their village to learn more about their traditions and authentic, rural lifestyle.
12. Surfing in Santa Catalina
The charming fishing village of Santa Catalina is a surfer’s dream. The perfect barreling waves and easy to access surf break make it an ideal place for beginners as well as advanced surfers. Punta Brava and San Pedrillo boast powerful left and right breaks, while the calm waters at El Estero are great for first-timers.
Although it’s considered to be the best surfing destination in Central America, its remote location means it’s relatively untouched by mass tourism. Even if you surf, you can still enjoy the relaxing beaches and breathtaking landscape.
11. Darien National Park
No trip to Panama would be complete without a visit to Darien National Park. Connecting the two continents of North and South America, this national park is one of the few places where you can experience multiple ecosystems and habitats in one place. Here, you can trek through mangrove forests, hike along rocky coastlines, and explore dense tropical jungles.
Besides the diverse array of habitats, Darien National Park is also home to an abundance of wildlife. Spider monkeys, giant anteaters, jaguars, and even the endangered Central American Tapirs all roam wild through the park.
The colorful island of Taboga is one of Panama’s most beloved gems. From the green rolling hills to the white-sandy coastline, Taboga attracts visitors looking for a blissful escape from the mainland.
Spend the day wandering through the pastel-colored village, or trek up the Cerro de la Cruz summit for dramatic views over the entire Gulf of Panama. If you’re looking for a bit of relaxation, you can also chill underneath the swaying palms or treat yourself to a tropical drink at one of the many beach bars.
9. Coffee Tasting in Boquete
Get your caffeine fix with a visit to the mountainous town of Boquete. Located in the highlands next to the ominous Baru Volcano, Boquete has fertile soil, making it ideal for growing coffee. During your visit, you’ll find dozens of plantations and farms where you can sample this flavorful, award-winning bean.
Don Pachi, Hacienda La Esmeralda, and Finca Lerida are just a few of the must-see plantations and farms. If you’re lucky, you might also get to sample the rare Esmeralda coffee beans. Selling for an astounding $140 per pound, Esmeralda coffee is the rarest and most expensive bean in the world!
8. Pearl Islands
Situated off the coast of Panama are the Pearl Islands. Although there are over 250 islands in total, most tourists choose to spend their time on Contadora or Isla Sabago. The majority of the islands are unnamed and uninhabited.
Although many people come for a bit of sun and relaxation, the Pearl Islands offer plenty of outdoor activities. Thanks to the cobalt blue waters and tropical marine life, snorkeling and diving are two of the most popular activities. Whale watching around the islands is also a possibility, especially during the breeding season.
7. El Valle
The El Valle volcano sits along the Central American Volcanic Arc in the center of Panama. It has been over 200,000 years since its last eruption, making it a safe and popular place for hiking, walking, and horseback riding.
In the heart of the volcano’s crater is the El Valle de Anton, a popular vacation spot for locals and tourists alike. This small town caters to both city dwellers and nature lovers. Besides exploring the volcano’s hiking trails and waterfalls, you can also visit the town farmers market, geological museum, and butterfly house.
6. Volcan Barú
Easily one of Panama’s most recognizable landmarks, Volcan Barú looms over mountainous highlands in the North. At 11,401-feet high, the active Volcan Barú is the tallest mountain in all of Panama.
There are numerous hiking trails along the sides of the volcano. One of the most popular things to do in Panama is hike the leisurely Los Senderos Quetzales trail, as it gives hikers the opportunity to spot the rare and colorful Quetzal bird. However, if you’re up for the challenge, it’s also possible to trek to the summit of Volcan Barú. From the top, you’ll have panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean as well as the Caribbean Sea.
5. Coiba Island
The rural Coiba Island is located off the northwestern coast of Panama. Not only is it Central America’s largest island, but it’s also part of the Coiba National Park. Between the uninhabited beaches and the colorful coral reefs, it’s one of the best natural attractions in the country.
Scuba diving and fishing are two of the most popular activities to do around Coiba Island. The ocean is teeming with tropical fish and vibrant sea life, which can easily be seen through the translucently clear waters. Since it’s protected by the Gulf of Chiriqui, Coiba Island is also a safe haven for humpback whales, sea turtles, dolphins, and marlins.
4. Bocas del Toro
The fascinating Bocas del Toro archipelago has it all. The nine different islands are home to two national parks, multiple white-sand beaches, colorful Caribbean style houses, and friendly locals. No matter what you’re interested in seeing, Bocas del Toro has plenty of things to do.
Spend the day soaking up the sun on Starfish Beach, or marvel at rare, tropical birds on Bird Island. If you’re looking for something more cultural, you can simply wander through the charming town of Bocas, mingling with the locals and enjoy the laid-back Caribbean vibes.
3. Guna Yala Islands
Beauty and culture collide on the islands of Guna Yala. Comprised of 365 individual islands, Guna Yala (formerly known as San Blas) caters to travelers interested in beaches, hiking, wildlife viewing, and snorkeling. Only 40 islands are inhabited, mainly by indigenous people known as Gunas.
Although many people just visit the islands on a day trip, it’s also possible to spend the night. You’ll find ecolodges and rural cabanas that are privately owned by the Gunas themselves. For a truly authentic experience, consider staying in one of the hand-built thatched cottages in the jungle.
2. Casco Viejo
Despite its small size, the historic Casco Viejo is easily one of the most unique neighborhoods in Panama City. Covering just four avenues, Casco Viejo is lined with colonial houses, top-of-the-line coffee shops, and tropical-themed bars.
As you wander through the narrow brick alleys, you’ll encounter beautifully preserved buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th-centuries. Take a peek inside the Catedral Metropolitana, which is located next to the central Plaza de la Independencia. You can also visit the ruins of the Arco Chato church, admire the artwork at the Museum of Religious Art, or catch a show at the grand National Theater.
1. Panama Canal
Flowing 51-miles through the center of the country, the Panama Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific ocean using a series of canal locks. This human-made waterway was built in the early 1900s and is considered to be one of the most complex engineering projects of the last 150 years.
If you’re planning a visit to the Panama Canal, then make sure to stop by the Miraflores locks. Here, you’ll find a museum, restaurant, and viewing platform that offers a birds-eye view of the canal. The best time to visit is before 11 am, where you’ll see cargo ships and boats passing through the locks.