Panama travel guide

10 Days in Panama: Itinerary Ideas

Panama is still quite away from the tourist trail, as most backpackers prefer to visit Costa Rica or Guatemala. But that’s what makes Panama interesting, the fact that most of its highlights are located off the beaten path. And you’ll either love or hate the country or parts of it…there isn’t a middle way. Accessible even to those on a low budget, Panama offers beaches, mountains and rain forests.

Itinerary assumptions:

  • Fly into and out of Panama City
  • Stay in budget hotels or hostels
  • Use public transportation to get around. Alternatively, you can rent a car.

Day 1-3 Panama City

Arrive in Panama City, check in and get used to the surroundings. With a camera in hand explore the area close to the hotel, stopping for a bite to eat.

On the second day, explore Casco Viejo, strategically built on a peninsula after the pirates devastated the original town, Panama Viejo.

On the third day, take a trip to Panama Canal and learn about this masterpiece. And also, go to nearby Soberanía National Park, a tropical rainforest known for its diversity.

Alternatively, you can catch the scenic train along the historical trans-isthmus route to Colón. Skip the city, but go outside of it and visit the ruins of Fuerte San Lorenzo and Fort Portobelo.

Other things to do in Panama City include shopping , visiting Iglesia de San Jose and seeing the city from above.

>>book a cheap hostel in Panama City

Day 4 -6 David and Boquete

Catch a flight into David , then drive or take a bus to Boquete. Plan to take a tour of one of the coffee farms in the area.

The climate in Boquete is considered almost perfect and you can often hear people refer to the area as the valley of eternal spring.

The next day, plan to go hiking in the area around Barú Volcano, known for the incredible number of birds. You can also try mountain biking or just relax in the hot springs.

Day 7-9 Bocas del Toro

Travel to Bocas del Toro and enjoy the beach. Get to island Bastimentos and have fun ziplining in the forest. You can also plan to spend a day in Zapatilla, with its two islands known for the snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities. You can also hike in the forest.

>>book a cheap hostel in Bocas del Toro

Day 10 Panama City

Fly back to Panama City and catch the flight home.

>>read more about how to get from Bocas del Toro to Panama City

Photo credits: Panama City , Vulcan Baru , Bocas del Toro

Panama travel guide

Top 7 Beaches in Panama

Although many people immediately associate Panama with either the Canal or the famous Van Halen “Panama” song, Panama is also home to many fabulous beach destinations. Still lagging behind Costa Rica and Mexico’s development of tourism and beach-side resorts, you can still find great deals, inexpensive hotels and hostels and cheap eats at many of these tropical beach destinations. However, the tourism industry in Panama is on the brink of major new developments and soon sleepy beach towns and islands will become host to mega resorts, higher prices and more gringo tourists.

Comarca Kuna Yala

This is the premiere beach destination in Panama and comprises about 350 picture-perfect beaches. The white sand, the blue water, the palm trees, everything is as it should be in a Caribbean paradise. Scuba is prohibited here and you’ll stay in rustic houses but , to be honest, you only travel here to swim , enjoy the sand and stay in the hammock.

Bocas del Toro

A group of small islands situated on the Caribbean close to the Costa Rica border, this beach destination has long been discovered by backpackers and is on its way to more major outside tourist development. Although slightly more expensive and touristy than the rest of Panama, the island is still home to a plethora cheap hostels and inexpensive hotels. Drawing mostly a younger crowd, many travel here to bask in the sun during the day and party at night. Just a short boat taxi ride away is Isla Bastimentos, where you will find Red Frog Beach and Wizard Beach. It is also definitely worth shelling out the extra bucks to take a boat out to the National Park located on Isla Zapatilla, where you will find a pristine white-sand beach, clear blue waters.

Isla Bastimentos National Park offers excellent beaches, such as Red Frog Beach, Wizard Beach, and Playa Larga, which can be reached by a short walk or hike.

Santa Catalina

This rather remote surfer’s haven on the Pacific Coast will not disappoint. Still a sleepy fishing village (though much beach front property has recently been snatched up by foreign investors for development), Santa Catalina offers spectacular views of green, jungle covered bluffs dropping into the ocean, a huge black sand beach, and great breaks for surfers.

For divers, a boat ride to the nearby Isla Coiba will take you to an amazing marine preserve and provide for an amazing dive where you can see dolphins, whale and bull sharks, coral and a plethora of tropical fish. Isla Coiba is often compared to the Galapagos because of the unique eco-system.

Las Perlas Archipelago

This location offers excellent snorkeling spots, calm water for swimming and white beaches. Outside of the holidays and the high season you won’t find crowds here, so it’s excellent place to allow the time to stand still for a while.

Las Lajas

It may not be the most beautiful beach in Panama, but the swimming is excellent and the long (13km) beaches allows for plenty of walking…or jogging. Bring your own snacks. If you look for something closer to Boquete , visit La Barqueta but keep in mind it’s not a good option for swimming (strong currents). But it’s good for walking.

Azuero Peninsula

It offers a lot of beaches but the cleanest are Playa Los Destiladores and Playa Venado. They are also the most attractive but are less tropical (due to the deforestation in the region).

The Pacific Beaches

Playa Blanca and Santa Clara , although not very impressive, are a good option for a day trip from Panama City. However, these are the beaches which include full service, complete with all-inclusive resort, exactly the opposite the ones mentioned above.

Photo credits: Kuna Yala , Red Frog beach , Isla Coiba , Las Perlas Archipelago , Las Lajas , Playa Los Destiladores , Playa Blanca

Panama travel guide

What to Eat in Panama: Famous Panamanian Foods

Panamanian food varies from simple to exotic due to the many influences it had over the years. You’ll most likely know some of the dishes thanks to being similar to the cuisine eaten in other Central American countries. Vegetarians will have some problems finding options but if you like fish, you’ll be in heaven.

Traditional breakfast

Tortilla, chorizo and empanadas, along with other goodies, are part of the traditional Panamanian breakfast.


These are corn or flour pastries filled with meat, cheese or potatoes. Vegetarian options are also available.


These are pockets of dough filled meat, wrapped in banana leaves and then boiled.

Gallo Pinto

This is a dish of rice and beans, usually served with pork meat.


It’s raw fish, conch and shrimp, chopped and mixed with tomatoes, cilantro, onions , then marinated in lime juice. The dish is served with tortilla chips.


They come in three forms in Panama. Patacones are salty fried green plantains; maduros are mature fried plantains; tajadas are baked plantains sprinkled with cinnamon.


These are thick, fried corn cakes, usually served for breakfast.


It’s basically a soup made from meat – usually chicken- , vegetables and yucca (instead of noodles).


This is a fried yuca roll , stuffed with boiled eggs and meat.

Yuca frita

It’s fried yuca root, pretty much the tropical French fries.


This is fried pork fat.

Arroz con pollo

It’s a common, simple dish made from chicken and rice.

Ropa Vieja

This is a stew and includes boiled meat (beef), onions , peppers and garlic; but the preparation and ingredients differ from place to place.

Pasel de Tres Leches

It’s a desert. The cake is soaked in three kinds of milk.

Photo credits:Breakfast , Empanadas , Tamales , Gallo Pinto , Ceviche , Patacones , Sancocho , Carimanola , Yuca frita , Chicharrones , Arroz con pollo , Ropa Vieja

Panama travel guide

Cheap Hostels in Bocas del Toro

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Bocas del Toro is a paradise on the Caribbean West region of Panama. While most visitors come here during the dry season – December to April -, the area can be visited year-round. The city is small enough to tackle on foot but you can also rent a bicycle or a scooter to get around.

With hotels in Bocas del Toro being on the pricy side, it’s a good idea to look for hostels or hostel-like accommodation when planning your vacation in this tropical paradise.

Don’t worry that you’ll have to spend your nights in a room with 20 other travelers. Most hostels also offer private rooms (and in many cases with en suite bathroom), so your privacy doesn’t have to suffer. And, best of all, you get to socialize because chances are you’ll run into the fellow travelers in the common room.

Hostels have the advantage of being located close to the attractions, beaches or right in the city center. So they are easy to get to and easy to get around the city.

Always book the bed or room in advance, regardless of when you plan to travel, but especially if you want to visit Panama during the peak travel season. Take into account that you won’t be staying in huge hostels; actually we are talking small houses, more like guesthouses than hostels. So these book up quite quickly.

Generally speaking, a bed in dorms starts at US$10 per night, while if you prefer a private room, expect to pay from US$12 per night per person.

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Panama travel guide

Cheap Hostels in Panama City

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Panama City , the capital of Panama, doesn’t lack historical sites and also offers plenty of other things to do. Aside from your flight, the accommodation is also a big part of the travel budget and that usually means we tend to spend quite a bit of time finding a place to stay which is suitable for our needs and budgets.

While there are hotels in Panama City for every budget, a good option is always the hostel. You don’t need to stay in a dorm if you don’t fancy the idea because most hostels also offer private rooms. Also, the major advantage of the hostels is that they are located close to the city center and major sites.

Here are some places to consider for your stay in Panama City.

Hospedaje Casco Viejo

This hostel is located in a colonial home in the Old Quarter of Panama City. There’s a luggage room and the towel and linen are provided free of charge. There are self-catering facilities, internet on site and a lounge area for the guests to use. In March 2012, expect to pay US$22 per night in a double private room.

Hostel Villa Michelle

This is a luxurious family guesthouse , located in a secure part of the city. All rooms a totally private and can also be rented long term. Linen and towels are provided free of charge. There is AC and internet on site. The guests can use the self-catering facilities and the swimming pool. In March 2012, expect to pay US$46 per night in a double private room.

Baru Lodge

The lodge is located close to tourist attractions and offers free breakfast, linen and towel. All rooms have AC, free wi-fi and TV. In March 2012, expect to pay US$74 per night in a double private room.

Hostal de Clayton

The hostel offers a complimentary breakfast and the towel, linen and internet are also free of charge. There’s a luggage room and there are also self-catering facilities and washing machines. In March 2012, expect to pay US$89.20 per night in a private double room (garden view).

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Panama travel guide

Cheap Hotels in Bocas del Toro

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Bocas del Toro is a very popular vacation destination in Panama, located on the Caribbean Coast. The dry season – December to April – is the high season for traveling to Bocas del Toro , which also means the accommodation tends to be more expensive than other times of the year.

There are accommodation options for all budgets. However, you might not find a place to stay right in Bocas del Toro and , hence, you need to settle for places near-by. But if you are on a tight budget you might want to look into a hostel rather than a hotel. And if you want to travel during the high season, make sure to book the hotel room well in advance.

Here are some hotels to consider for your stay.

Hotel Palma Royale

The hotel is located in the city and constantly ranks high among those who have already stayed here. It is located just 20 m from the sea. All rooms have flat screen TV, AC and fridge.

In March 2012, expect to pay from US$95 per night , double occupancy.

Playa Tortuga Hotel Beach And Resort

The 4-star hotel is located right on the beach in Bocas del Toro. On site, there are: fitness facilities, pool, health club and children’s pool. Breakfast is included in the room price. All rooms have AC, flat screen TV and free wi-fi.

In March 2012, expect to pay from US$145 per night, double occupancy, breakfast included (discounted price).

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Panama travel guide

Cheap Hotels in Boquete

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Boquete is a cozy mountain village, nested between a river and a volcano, and offering lovely weather year-round. It is a heaven for those who enjoy outdoor activities.

When it comes to looking for accommodation in Boquete, you’ll be pleased to know that the city caters for all types of travelers, although there aren’t many hotels in the area. Expect high prices and if you are on a tight budget, choose the hostels. Make sure to book the room in advance, especially if you travel during the dry season (December to April).

Here are some hotels to consider for your stay:

The Riverside Inn

It is located on the banks of Palo Alto River, in a rural setting, just 3 minutes drive away from Boquete. All rooms have AC and private bathroom. There’s a restaurant on site.

In March 2012, expect to pay US$125 per night in a double room, breakfast included. The Loft Suit (sleeps two) is US$100 per night in June 2012.

The Haven Spa

The 4-star hotel is located just 10 min walk from the city center. All rooms have flat screen TV, free wi-fi, coffee and tea making facilities and minibar. The hotel has a gym and spa.

In June 2012, expect to pay US$115 per night in a queen room (sleeps two), breakfast included.

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Panama travel guide

Cheap Hotels in Panama City

Search Panama City hotels with up-to-date availability and book a hotel in Panama City

Blessed by the nature, Panama’s cities welcome visitors and offer plenty of things to do and see. The capital city – Panama City – doesn’t lack historical sites and also offers a multicultural experience. When planning a vacation here, one of the most important things to consider is the accommodation. Thankfully, the city caters for all types of travelers so you can easily find budget , mid-range and luxury hotels for your stay.

Here are some places to consider from each category:


Hotel Santana

The 3 star hotel is located in the city’s old town. The Canal Museum is just 500 m away It offers free parking and free wi-fi. All rooms have private bathrooms, TV , minibar and AC. There are a restaurant and a bar on site.

In March 2012, expect to pay US$45 per night for a double or twin room.

Hotel Andino

The 3-star hotel is located close to Albrook Mall. There’s free wi fi within the hotel. All rooms have safe deposit box and TV.

In March 2012, expect to pay US$45 per night for a double room.


Hotel Benidorm Panama

The 3-star hotel is located in the center, close to the Balboa Avenue. There’s free parking and free wi-fi (including in the room). All rooms have AC. The on site restaurant serves Italian food.

In March 2012, expect to pay US$66 per night for a double room, breakfast included.

Hotel Bahia Suites

This 4-star hotel features a rooftop swimming and terrace. The transfer to/from the airport is complimentary. Located just 1 block from the main avenues, the hotel’s on site restaurant offers view of the Panama Bay. All rooms have TV, private bathroom, AC and free wi-fi. Those who want to work out can use the gym. And if you don’t travel with a laptop, there’s the on site internet café at your service.

In March 2012, expect to pay US$79.50 per night in a queen room (sleeps two) including breakfast.


Riande Aeropuerto Hotel & Resort

The 3 star hotel is located 5 min from the Tocumen airport and offers free transfer to/from the airport. All rooms have flat screen TV, AC and private bathroom.

In March 2012, expect to pay US$140 per night in a standard double or king room, including breakfast.

Albrook Inn

The 4-star hotel is located about 4 km from the city center, close to the Albrook airport and to the Camino de Cruces National Park. The hotel offers a swimming pool and a restaurant. All rooms have flat screen TV, free wi-fi and AC.

In March 2012, expect to pay US$100 per night in a standard double or twin room, breakfast included. The junior suite (sleeps two) is US$154 per night , including breakfast.

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Panama travel guide

Things to do in Panama City

Panama City is the capital of Panama and an enchanting place with great shopping, excellent local cuisine and plenty of historical sites to check out.

See the Panama Canal

This is a must-do activity while in Panama City . Go to the Miraflores locks and visit the museum to learn more about the Canal. While you are here you can choose to take the luxury train along the Canal. Or , obviously, you can take a boat.

Visit the old part of the town – Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo is the old part of Panama City and comprises many colonial style buildings. There are some good dining options in the area but prices for accommodation are high here.

Visit the site of the original city

Panama Viejo is what it’s left of the old city of Panama which has been sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan in the 1600s. As a result, the city moved to Casco Viejo. Entrance to the site is US$11 for an adult.

See the city from above

Cerro Ancón is the highest peak in Panama City and offers lovely panoramic views. There are marked walking paths and make sure to bring your camera as you’ll be able to do some bird watching while here.

Visit the San Jose Cathedral

Iglesia de San Jose (San Jose Cathedral) is known for its Baroque golden altar. Admission is free.

Bike or jog on Amador Causeway

Amador Causeway connects three islands to the mainland and is used as breakwater to protect the Canal. You can walk, jog or ride a bike here. Also, enjoy a meal with a lovely view of the city.

Learn Spanish

If you always wanted to learn Spanish or you want to improve your skills, Panama City is a great place to do that. Immersion programs include salsa dance lessons and cultural activities.

Soak up the sun on the beaches of Portobelo

Portobelo is located just 1 h (by bus) from Panama City. It is a port city and offers a lot of interesting things to do. Soak up the sun on the beach, visit the forts or try horseback riding.


The native handicrafts rival Mexico’s in beauty, so you really shouldn’t leave Panama without buying something to remind you of the trip. Molas are made by the Kuna Indian tribe and are intricate reverse appliqué embroidery. The hand-woven baskets and the tagua nut sculptures are also interesting things to pick up.

Photo credits: Panama Canal , Casco Viejo , Panama Viejo , San Jose Cathedral , Amador Causeway , Portobelo , Souvenirs

Panama travel guide

Panama in January

January falls during the dry months in Panama which also means you’ll travel during peak travel season. Expect high airfare and crowds. But make sure to pack your swimsuit as you’ll definitely head to the beaches.


On the Pacific Coast, January falls during the drier period. It’s not as dry on the Caribbean Coast, but the rain won’t ruin your trip.

Sample temperatures

Boca del Toro avg high 28C / avg low 28C
Boquete avg 19C
David avg high 31C / avg low 22C
Panama City avg high 31C / avg low 24C

>>read more about Weather in Panama

Flights and accommodation

January falls during the peak travel season in Panama. And it’s a known fact that everyone wants to escape the cold weather in North America and Europe, so the airfare to Panama is high now. Things are the same when it comes to the accommodation , so book in advance and expect higher prices.

Things to do

In January, plan to visit the Pacific Coast to enjoy the beaches . Also, enjoy the scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing or kayaking. The nigh life is also at its best now and don’t forget the shopping part, either.

The Caribbean Coast is another good option. You can explore the San Blas Islands. Or head to Bocas del Toro for some scuba diving and tanning. Or just relax and soak up the soak with a cocktail in hand. Should you feel adventurous, try the rainforest tours.

You really cannot avoid Panama City when planning a trip to Panama, but that’s good because there are quite a lot of things to do here. Take a city tour, especially if you don’t plan to stay here for too long. Visit the ruins of the 16th century original city and see the famous Panama Canal . San Jose Cathedral with its Golden Altar is also worth your time. Try the local cuisine and plan for some cardio sessions while shopping. Or if you want the real cardio action, then jog or cycle on the Amador Causeway . You can enjoy a meal with a view here.

There are some interesting museums to check out in the city, such as Museo del Canal Interoceanico which highlights the latest chapters of the Canal’s history.

The Panama Canal Railway can be an excellent choice for a half-day trip. It spans between the two oceans and it takes only 90 min to cover the distance.

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