Panama City is delightfully easy to visit. Flights from the USA are cheap and even flights to other parts of Latin America often have long layovers in Panama City, letting you enjoy things to do in Panama for the day.
Once you’re there, there’s no shortage of things to do and getting around is simple. Here’s what to do on a layover in Panama City instead of hanging out in the airport.
I developed this itinerary for an 8-hour layover, which is a really common length based on flight schedules I’ve seen.
Is your layover shorter? With a 5 hour layover in Panama City, take a taxi to the ruins of Panama Viejo, which is 15 minutes away and can be toured in about 2 hours. You’ll need the rest of your time for airport security. If you have less than 5 hours, I recommend not leaving the airport.
Panama City Layover Guide: What to See and Do in 8 Hours
1.5 hours: Logistics
Spend your first hour and a half on actually getting to the city. It takes about 30 minutes to get through immigrations and customs plus another 45 minutes in the car, assuming you take the toll road. Don’t worry about changing money — the US dollar is king — but plan ahead and come with cash.
For your ride, I recommend Uber: it’s cheaper than taxis, cars are more likely to have air conditioning, and you won’t need cash since it’s charged directly to your credit card. Use code uberthegirlandglobe for a $5 discount off your first ride.
Be Prepared: 8 Totally Random (but Totally Useful!) Tips for Panama City (opens in new window)
When time is short, knowing what to expect is ultra-important so you don’t get thrown off your game!
1 hour: Parque Metropolitano
Panama City is massive and modern, but Panama was first and foremost a tropical forest. You can still get a glimpse of that in Parque Metropolitano, one of the best things to do in Panama City. It’s open early, making it great for layovers at weird hours.
You can complete the lower loop in about an hour (check the map or ask a ranger for info on Sendero Los Caobos), which should give you a chance to spot sloths, monkeys, agoutis, and other animals while checking out the thick foliage.
1.5 hours: Casco Viejo and a Snack
The colonial center of town, Casco Viejo (or Casco Antiguo, Panama) is picturesque so it’s worth a visit. The charm is less about checking off a list of sights and more about wandering and see what you come across. Peek your head into churches, stroll down cobblestone streets, and visit the squares and plazas for people-watching. Don’t spend too long here, just 45 minutes or so, but don’t miss it!
Once you’re done in Casco Viejo, walk along the gorgeous Cinta Costera to the Seafood Market (Mercado de Mariscos) for lunch. For just $2-3, you’ll get a cup of super fresh ceviche for lunch. I recommend corvina, a local white fish, but you’ll also find shrimp, octopus, and other fish varieties.
1 hour: Miraflores Visitor Center at the Panama Canal
I didn’t want to visit the Panama Canal, but c’mon, it’s definitely one of the more popular things to do in Panama City. And, much to my surprise, it ended up being interesting.
I’ve heard great things about the attached museum, which you’ll have to whiz through if you’re on a short layover. As for me, I’m not really interested in museums (and I missed last entry at 4:15pm), so instead I went to the upstairs restaurant to watch the canal in action.
It’s amazing watching gargantuan cargo ships passing through while sitting outside and drinking a cold beer. Order a snack, too, if you’re still hungry after the ceviche.
2 hours: Return to the Airport
Just like that, your time in Panama City is over (but look at all you saw and did!). Plan on an hour-long ride back to the airport (be prepared to hire a taxi since Uber isn’t always this far outside town). Then, it’s another hour to get back through security and catch your flight. Thank goodness it’s a layover so you should already have your boarding pass and luggage checked all the way through.
If you’re a nervous traveler and that’s cutting it too close to comfort for you, just skip one of the stops on this trip. No big deal…you can always come back for more things to do in Panama City!
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More Info to Plan Your Trip
Don’t have a travel insurance policy yet? My pick is always RoamRight.
Going anywhere else in Panama? Check out all my articles like what I thought of Valle de Anton and 8 tips to make your trip easier.
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