Often called the crossroads of the Americas, Panama is the bridge that connects North to South America, and it’s an action-packed place to visit. This is one of the best countries to visit in the region, and it’s fast becoming a popular tourist destination for those looking for a unique country to explore.
There are a lot of great things to do in Panama because the diversity of this small nation is simply staggering. You can relax on Carribean beaches or islands one day and be exploring the Pacific coastline the next. There are dense, impenetrable jungles, dramatic volcanic peaks and epic mountain scenery.
Few countries can match Panama for culture and history either, and you’ll find colonial relics in Panama City, you can watch the ships cruising along the iconic Panama Canal or you can journey to indigenous villages to experience a truly local way of life.
Here are our favorite things to do in Panama!
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Panama (Travel Guide)
15 Things to Do in Panama
1. Explore Panama City
Panama City is the capital and largest city, and of course, it’s one of the best things to do in Panama.
Found on the Pacific coast, not only is the city the gateway to the country, but it’s the entrance-way to the long Panama Canal that connects to the Caribbean Sea.
The city is one of the oldest in Central America, having been founded by the Spanish in 1519, but as well as having a fascinating colonial district, it’s a thriving modern metropolis too.
Here you can find excellent food, a vibrant nightlife, great museums and a particularly spectacular urban skyline along the waterfront.
Our top recommended tours of Panama City:
- Panama Canal Miraflores Locks and City Tour
- Panama City’s Top Tour
- Panama Canal and City Sightseeing Tour
2. See Casco Viejo
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed old quarter of Casco Viejo is the most historic district in Panama City and the best place in the country to discover Panama’s colonial heritage.
Casco Viejo dates back to the 1670s when a new city was built on the site of the original Spanish settlement that was destroyed due to the piratical antics of the infamous Captain Henry Morgan.
The old quarter is remarkably well preserved, and you can find ramshackle colonial streets, impressive cathedrals and wonderful works of architecture such as the National Theater.
Our top recommended tours of Casco Viejo:
3. Transit the Panama Canal
One of the best things to do in Panama is to see the iconic work of engineering that is the Panama Canal.
When you think of Panama, the canal is usually the first thing to come to mind, because the groundbreaking work of construction connected the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea for the first time in history.
The canal stretches for 50 miles from Panama City, and from the capital, you can visit the viewing spots at the Miraflores Lock which are found nearby.
It’s one of three enormous locks on the canal, and at the visitor’s center, you can learn more about how the Panama Canal was built before watching the huge container ships making their way along the water.
Our top recommended tours of Panama Canal:
- Panama Canal Partial Transit Sightseeing Cruise
- Ocean to Ocean Panama Canal and Jungle Tour
- Panama Canal Full Transit Tour
4. Relax on Taboga Island
Just off the coast, a short boat ride from Panama City, you can find Taboga Island. If you’re short on time then the island makes for a fantastic day trip from the capital, and you’ll be quickly transported from an urban world and into a Pacific paradise.
Taboga Island is also known locally as the Island of Flowers because it’s one of the most colorful places in Panama.
There are some beautiful beaches to be found here, but as well the natural scenery, the island is known for its long history.
You can visit one of the oldest churches in the Americas, or learn about the island’s relationship with the privateers and pirates that would call in for supplies in the 17th century.
Our top recommended tours of Taboga Island:
- All Inclusive Full-Day Taboga Island Catamaran Tour from Panama City, Panama
- Full-Day Tour to Taboga Island from Panama City, Panama
- Full day Private Tour to Taboga Island departing from Panama City
5. Disconnect in the San Blas Islands
Taboga Island might be beautiful, but if you’ve got plenty of time to spare then make the journey to the San Blas Islands, which have fast become Panama’s most iconic tropical island getaway.
The San Blas Islands are found off the Caribbean coastline, and they are arguably the best things to do in Panama. There are several hundred small islands, known for their beautiful beaches and unique indigenous culture.
Ecotourism is big on the islands, and you can enjoy the laid back island lifestyle alongside white beaches, coral reefs and a level of marine biodiversity that’s hard to match elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Our top recommended tours of San Blas Islands:
- San Blas Day Tour – Escape Panama City
- San Blas Island-Hopping Day Trip
- San Blas Islands – Private Cabin On the Island 2D & 1N INCLUDING San Blas Day Tour
6. Get Off the Beaten Path in the Pearl Islands
Panama is surrounded by spectacular islands, and if you are still searching for that tropical paradise, then head back to the Pacific side of the country and catch a boat over the Pearl Islands.
Isla Contadora is the most touristy island in the small archipelago, where you can find resorts and hotels, while there are plenty of deserted and uninhabited islands that you can boat to for a slice of tranquility and peace and quiet.
7. Learn the History of Portobelo
The small town of Portobelo on the Caribbean coast is one of the best things to do in Panama because here you can find historic colonial forts and plenty of beautiful scenery.
Portobelo is best known for the UNESCO World Heritage ruins that were built centuries ago by the Spanish to protect the thriving port from English pirates such as Captain Henry Morgan who were ravaging the rich coast of the Spanish Empire.
8. Go Hiking in Boquete
Close to the Costa Rican border, you can find Boquete, Panama’s ever-growing adventure capital.
Found in the highlands, Boquete makes for a great escape from the humidity and heat of the coastal areas, and you can spend days exploring the surrounding region.
Boquete is the perfect destination for thrill seekers, and you can join white water rafting trips along the rivers, hike through the jungles and fly along zip lines high up in the forest canopy.
Our top recommended tours of Boquete:
- Whitewater Rafting Class III on the Chiriqui Viejo River
- Whale Watching and Island Tour in the Gulf of Chiriqui
9. Trek to Baru Volcano
From Boquete, you can see the high summit of the Baru Volcano, a huge active volcano that rises to almost 4000 meters in height.
The hike to Baru Volcano from Boquete is one of the best things to do in Panama, but it’s a long and challenging trek.
The most popular trail will take 6 hours to walk from the city, and you’ll be given spectacular views over the surrounding highlands, right down to both the Pacific and the Caribbean coast.
Our top recommended tour of Baru Volcano: Cloud Forest Wildlife Hike-Baru Volcano
10. Visit Chagres National Park
Not far to the north of Panama City, you can enter into a nature lovers paradise by visiting Chagres National Park.
This huge area of protected land is home to extensive lakes and rivers, many of which help to feed the Panama Canal.
There are hiking trails through the rainforest, which is full of local wildlife, and camping grounds where you can spend the night immersed in the wild.
The real highlight though is a boat trip along the Chagres River, which will take you deep into this untouched wilderness.
Our top recommended tours of Chagres National Park:
- The Chagres Challenge – A Full day Jungle Expedition from sunrise to sunset
- Embera Village and Jungle Tour from Panama City including Chagres National Park
11. Embera Tribe Village Visit
Panama was home to many different indigenous groups before the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century and the country’s consequent colonization.
Many of the groups survived the colonial era, however, including the Embera.
A popular place to visit to learn more about their unique heritage and history is the Embera Village in Chagres National Park, where you can see how the locals live in the rainforest and be treated to cultural performances.
Our top recommended tours of Embera Village:
- Embera Village and Jungle Tour from Panama City including Chagres National Park
- Embera Village Day Tour
- Private Emberá Village Day Tour
12. Escape to Bocas del Toro
Located in the far northwest of Panama, Bocas del Toro is one of Panama’s original tourist hot spots, and it’s never been more popular.
It’s a great place to visit if you’re looking to enjoy Caribbean islands with a few comforts, and you can easily arrange island hopping trips or snorkeling or diving trips around the archipelago.
Some people find the area too touristy, but the nature is incredible and compared to more remote parts of Panama, it’s an easy place to travel to.
Our top recommended tours of Bocas del Toro:
- Full-Day Bocas del Toro Catamaran Dolphin and Snorkeling Tour in Panama
- Speed Boat tour to Mangrove Point, Starfish Beach, Bocas del Drago and Birds Island
13. Uncover El Valle de Anton
For a unique experience, then travel to El Valle de Anton to see the second largest inhabited volcanic crater in the world. The Valley, as it’s known, is a small town that’s found inside the crater of an inactive volcano.
It’s a great place for hiking and being much cooler than the coastal regions surrounding it is becoming somewhat of a getaway destination from nearby Panama City.
Our top recommended tours of El Valle de Anton:
14. Connect With Nature on Coiba Island
Located off the Pacific coast of Panama, Coiba Island is a fantastic place for wildlife lovers.
Coiba National Park protects Coiba Island and the many smaller, surrounding islands in the archipelago, which are unique due to their isolation from the mainland.
There are many unusual species of animals here that have evolved independently of the rest of the Americas, and you can find a whole array of wildlife that isn’t found anywhere else, from different monkey species to different birds.
Our top recommended tour of Coiba Island: Underwater Magic at Coiba Island Panama
15. Seek Adventure in Darien National Park
Darien National Park is the vast expanse of rainforest that leads to the border with Colombia.
It’s one of the last untouched areas of wilderness in the wild, and the rainforest is so inaccessible and unexplored that there are no roads leading to Colombia.
This is a destination for adventurous travelers, but there are only two points where it’s advisable to visit, at Santa Cruz de Cana or Pirre, where you can trek with local rangers into the jungle.
More on Central America:
- 13 Reasons to Take a Central America Cruise with UnCruise
- Uncover Paradise on this Dreamy Panama Cruise
- The Only Costa Rica Cruise You Should Ever Take
- 9 Unreal Things to Do in Caye Caulker, Belize
- 5 Reasons to Visit Roatan, Honduras