Yet, with its charming old colonial quarter which also houses some of the city’s best small boutique hotels and a chance to explore both manmade and natural wonders right on the doorstep, Panama City is the perfect base from which to explore the whole country.
Explore Spanish colonial ruins, verdant city centre parks, museums, a breath-taking skyline, staying in elegant classic hotels or restored colonial houses. Close to downtown, you will find yourself at the Mira Flores and Pedro Miguel Locks where you could easily while away a few hours watching vessels expertly manoeuvring into seemingly impossibly tight spaces through the Panama Canal.
The historical centre of Panama City is known as “Casco Viejo” and is a haven of tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of the CBD, a charming district low-rise traditional two and three storey houses set along narrow streets overlooked by balconies planted with bright tropical flowers.
Here you can wander along the shady paths of French Park, a monument to the French builders who started the Panama Canal, many of whom perished in the harsh tropical conditions. There are also some really fascinating and engaging museums here including the Canal Museum, which traces Panama's history through the ages.
On the opposite side you will find yourself at the Museum of National History and the old cathedral, whose shiny spires are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Nearby, you can explore San Jose Cathedral and particularly the Gold Altar, intricately carved of wood and gilded with gold.
A fantastic spot not to be missed for some stunning views of the city skyline is the Amador Causeway at the southern entrance to the Panama Canal, lined with palm trees and with magnificent views. It was built from material that was excavated during construction of the Canal and is now a brilliant spot for a promenade (or a gentle bike ride if you are feeling active!) along the marina as well as a good place for dining and shopping. Check out the Marine Exhibition Centre of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).
Panama City makes a great base from which to explore the fabulous wildlife and the dense jungle of the highlands regions, haven to abundant and unique species. You don’t even have to go that far as Soberania National Park can be reached in under an hour for excellent birding and even the city’s own Metropolitan Park has an astounding diversity of tropical flora and fauna.
Visit traditional Embera communities close by or head to the Pearl Islands for the day for spectacular whale-watching. It is also from here that domestic flights depart from here to explore the many coastal regions and islands of the country from the San Blas archipelago to Bocas del Toro.