Traveling to Panama City, Central America? And looking for an ideal 1-week itinerary? Well, you’ve come to the right place! When Kevin and I began planning our 7-day vacation in Panama, I was a little overwhelmed. Beyond seeing the Panama Canal, we weren’t really sure what else would be unique.
Seven days isn’t a lot of time. However, Panama is a compact country and Uber has made it so easy and cheap to get around Panama City. Below you’ll find our itinerary, which had a nice balance of activity with relaxation. Or as much relaxing as our type-A, city personalities allowed us!
I’ve included approximate timing for each activity as a guide. I find it helpful to include the times, especially if your plans shift (as they often do while traveling). Plus, life seemed to move a little slower in Panama than what we’re used to in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s the humid weather? The Caribbean vibe? Whatever the case, take a deep breath and go with the flow. Or at least, just pretend. That’s at least what I tried to do!
Day 1: Travel Day, Arrive in Panama City
We always like to use the first day to acclimate and walk to get our bearings. Airline advice: Avoid Copa Airlines at all costs. This is a Panama airline, which has terrible customer service. If you have any minor issues or changes with the flight, you’re basically losing that money. We learned this lesson the hard way (and should have probably done our homework before booking). Oh well, hopefully our mistakes will help others.
- 7 PM, Arrive in Panama City, Check into La Concordia Boutique Hotel ($280 USD for 1 night)
- Casco Viejo, the historic part of Panama City, is by far the best neighborhood to be based in. It’s walkable and has fantastic shopping and restaurants.
- La Concordia Boutique Hotel had spacious rooms, but it seemed overpriced. The walls were paper thin and music from a nearby club blasted late into the night. Later in the trip, we stayed at Central Hotel Panama (which we loved). It was half the price and we enjoyed it much more.
- 9 PM, Drinks and dinner at Lazotea Restaurant & Rooftop (closes 1 AM, 2 min walk from La Concordia)
- The food was delicious and the views were spectacular. We recommend getting some wine and ordering a few small plates including the creamy mac n’ cheese.
Day 2: Explore Panama City and Flight to Bocas Del Toro
- 9-10 AM, Enjoy breakfast in Casco Viejo. Be sure to grab some Gesha Coffee (or often called “Geisha Coffee”) at Café Unido located off the restaurant at the American Trade Hotel.
- Gesha Coffee is considered the most expensive cup of joe in the world. It can run up to $600 a pound, especially from some of the top end producers from the highland region of Boquete, Panama.
- You can go to Cafe Unido and buy a cup for $9 USD. It’s worth it for the experience alone. Just keep clumsy people away – a certain SOMEONE bumped my mug sending about $3 dollars’ worth of coffee onto my lap!
- 10-12:30 PM, Walk just 5 minutes to the impressive Canal Museum (aka Museo Del Canal)
- This museum completely blew us away. Admission is $9 USD per person, but I recommend shelling out the additional $3 USD for the audio guide. You’ll get so much more context/enjoyment out of the experience.
- Fun fact: the museum is housed in a restored building that once served as the headquarters for the original French canal company. So you’re literally walking through history here!
- 1-2 PM, Relax over some tea and chocolate at Tropical Chocolate Cafe. We loved the comfy seats and the strong air conditioning!
- 3 PM, Depart for Albrook Airport and board Air Panama Flight at 5 PM for Bocas Del Toro.
- Bocas Del Toro is a series of islands in northern Panama, along the Caribbean coast. You can only get there by boat or plane, and once there, water taxi or biking is pretty much the main way to get around. It’s the epitome of small, sleepy, beach town. So bring along a good book!
- 6 PM, Arrive in Bocas Del Toro, Explore
- 7 PM, Check into your hotel and grab some Caribbean street food at Captain Caribe.
Day 3: Bocas Del Toro (Full Day)
- 11 AM – 6 PM, Open day. Here are some ideas of things to do:
- Rent bikes, ride to Starfish Beach (which is known for its massive starfish)
- Green Acres Chocolate Farm (10 AM or 2 PM), Tours 2-3 hrs
- Take a water taxi to visit Red Frog Beach (and yeah, pretty obvious what you’ll find there!)
- If you’re looking for some more adrenaline, there are tour operators that offer ziplining and snorkeling
Day 4: Back to Panama City, Food Walking Tour & Exploring
- 7 AM, Wake-up, enjoy breakfast
- Board 9:15 AM Air Panama Flight 687 from Bocas Del Toro to Panama City (Albrook Airport) – 1 hour flight
- 11 AM, Check into Central Hotel Panama for 3 Nights ($200 USD with tax per night)
- 12-4 PM, Shop and explore Casco Viejo
- 5-8 PM, Join Barefoot Panama for a Food Walking Tour ($75 USD per person)
- Eat and drink your way through Panama City with a local guide on this small-group walking tour. Stroll past historical landmarks in Casco Viejo to the city’s hippest food and drink joints. You’ll try craft beers at a microbrewery, sample Panamanian coffee and chocolate, savor ceviche at a seafood market, and sip rum at a rooftop cocktail bar. The evening culinary tour is limited to 12 people, which allows a personalized experience.
- 9 PM, Check out a movie in style at Cineapolis VIP (Soho Mall in Panama City)
- This is a high-class theater with wait staff, reclining seats and a full bar. Basically the only way to see a movie!
- 11:30 PM, Time to hit the sack at Central Hotel Panama
Day 5: Museums, Animals and Spas (3 of our favorite things!)
- 10 AM, go check out the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo – FYI, the museum is closed Dec 31/Jan 1. This place is really fun and combines tech, science and art to illustrate the natural world.
- 12 PM, Lunch at the Biomuseo
- 1-4 PM, Pick up some rental bikes and ride 20 minutes south to Punta Culebra Nature Center
- Operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), the marine museum features 2 small aquariums and a nature trail with three-toed sloths. Signs are in English and Spanish.
- 7-8 PM, Spa time! Treat yourself to some relaxation. We outline a few options below.
- Sortis Hotel’s Essentia Spa (BIG!), Open: 7:00 AM – 10:00 PM
- Waldorf Astoria Spa, Open: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
- W Hotel’s Away Spa, Open: Mon-Sun: 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Day 6: Panama Canal, Jungle Tour, New Year’s Eve
- 7 AM – 4 PM, Ocean to Ocean Panama Canal Eco Tour ($135 USD total per person)
- Taking a guided tour of the Panama Canal allows you to hop between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans with little hassle. This experience allows you to enjoy Monkey Island and enjoy a picnic lunch near the Gatun Dam before exploring San Lorenzo National Park and Fort San Lorenzo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
- Lunch and round-trip transportation from Panama City hotels are included.
- This trip allows you to see the Panama Canal in action and get a chance to experience the jungle — the perfect combo for us!
- 5-6:30 PM, Refresh for New Year’s Eve party and explore Casco Viejo.
- 9:30 PM – 1 AM, Lazotea Restaurant & Rooftop Bar – New Year’s Party. The place to be!
Day 7: Panama City on New Year’s Day
- 9-2 PM, Slowly wake up. Get some coffee and grab some breakfast.
- Most places are closed down on New Year’s Day. We recommend strolling around, picking up some last-minute souvenirs (like a Panama Hat or Geisha Coffee) on your final day. There is a market along the waterfront that is open pretty much every day of the week and even on holidays.
- Young designers are emerging in Panama with an eclectic selection of books, posters and fun pop culture items. On Paseo Las Bóvedas, along Casco’s sea wall, Guna women display their work. (Tip: negotiating is pretty much expected).
- 4 PM, arrive at airport for 6 PM flight to Los Angeles.
What a packed trip! And clearly, 7 days is just the tip of the iceberg for any travels to Panama. We can’t wait for our next adventure.