Panama City is delightfully easy to visit. Flights from the USA are cheap and flights onward to Latin and South America often have long layovers in Panama City, letting you spend a day in Panama City in-between. 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 Panama City layover, 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 at Tocumen International Airport (PTY) plus another 45 minutes on the toll road to the city. 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!
Need to store your luggage at the airport? There are lockers available on the lower level for $5-10 depending on how much space you need.
1 hour: Parque Metropolitano
Panama City is massive and modern, but before all that it was 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, so it’s perfect for layovers at weird hours.
You can complete the lower loop hike 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 Old Town!
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 Miraflores Locks while sitting outside and drinking a cold beer. Order a snack if you’re still hungry after the ceviche.
2 hours: Return to Tocumen Airport
Just like that, one day 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 there aren’t always Uber cars near the canal). 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!
Panama Layover Tour
If you don’t want to worry about arranging Ubers and taxis, there are a few recommended tours you can choose from instead that pick-up and drop-off at the airport.
4-Hour Tour to Panama Canal and Casco Viejo – This tour is shorter, so it skips Parque Metropolitano, but it still shows you two highlights of the city and even routes you over the Amador Causeway for a fun drive. It’s 4 hours from pick-up to drop-off, meaning you’ll need to allow extra time independently for passport control and security checks upon return at the airport.
6-Hour Customizable Panama City Layover Tour – This private tour can be customized to anything, so you can ask them to include the stops I suggested or anything else you like! Having a local guide means they can also recommend stops you might not know about. It’s not cheap but the reviews are excellent.
Hey! Is Your Layover Overnight?
For anyone with an evening layover in Panama City, a lot of these stops won’t make sense.
Instead, grab a taxi from the airport and have them detour on the Amador Causeway to see the city skyline all lit up at night. Have a late dinner in Casco Viejo and if you still have time, stop at the Trump Tower for cocktails with an incredible view from their skyscraper bar before going back for your flight.
* * *
More Info to Plan Your Trip
Don’t have a travel insurance policy yet? My pick is always RoamRight.
This post contains affiliate links. By making a recommended purchase from this page, you’re supporting this website and the free information it provides. Thank you!