Panama City is the national capital of Panama, as well as the provincial capital of the Panama Province, and largest city of Panama. It is the most modern city not only in Panama, but the rest of Central America. Panama City has been a incredibly popular tourist and retirement destination, particularly for U.S. and Canadian citizens, due to city prices being incredibly cheap compared to most other places. Recently, Panama City has been given the unofficial title of The Dubai of Latin America, due to the recent rapid influx of skyscrapers, high-rise buildings, and increasing number of wealthy people in the city.
Domestic flights leave out of Gelabert/Albrook Airport ICAO/MPMG, a former US military airfield (Albrook Air Force Base). Domestic airlines are safe, and many fly very modern small jet aircraft. There are daily flights to every major town and city in the country. The major carrier here is AirPanama [url=https://www.airpanama.com/].](Aeroperlas regrets to announce the decision to cease operations in Panama as of this 29th of February of 2012.[http://www.aeroperlas.com/[/url]).
There is a now third airport in Panama City, Panamá Pacifico (BLB), formally Howard Wilson US Air Base. It is located about a 20minute drive (US$15~ taxi) from the city center - you cross over the Panama Canal en route. You can get there also by "chicken bus" or "diablo rojo" from Albrook Bus Terminal very cheap. But you have to have Metrobus card, which costs 2 US$. At the Albrook terminal you have to go to Exit 11 or "Salida 11" (located near food court) and pay at the exit by this card just 0.1 US$. Then take bus to Veracruz, in the bus you have to pay 0,7 US$ in cash. This bus will drop you in about 500 meters from the airport.(May 2015) It has been newly opened to the public, and currently there are only two airlines operating from it - Veca Airlines fly to/from San Salvador twice weekly (Mondays and Fridays), and Viva Colombia fly to Bogotá (daily) and Medellin (4x weekly). These flights may not show up on the airfare search engines, it is best to check the companies’ individual websites. Viva Colombia currently offer fares to/from Colombia for under US$100 (if you book a bit in advance), much cheaper than other options. Be aware that there is not much in the airport as of January 2015 since it has been newly converted to civilian use - there are no shops, no currency exchange, no wifi, nowhere to buy food or drinks, so consider this before travelling out. But if you will come by bus you will see near the bus stop there is a gasoline station "Terpel" with a cafeteria and a small shop where you can have a lunch or a coffee before your flight.
There's a once daily train service between Panama City and [wiki=8ff8f2c3fc884fd36d30741d8b285bbc]Colón[/wiki] operated by the [url=http://www.panarail.com/en/passenger/]Panama Canal Railway Co[/url] along the Panama Canal. The train goes out to Colon in the morning and return to Panama City in the late afternoon. It's mostly a freight train, but it has a very nice passenger car. The train ride offers excellent views of the Panama Canal and the tropical rain forest. Since the train leaves early in the morning and returns in late afternoon, you may want to consider whether you want to spend the whole day in Colon, which has an unsavory reputation or take a bus back to Panama City which runs much frequently.
Make sure you have arranged for some transportation upon the return of the train to Panama City. Evidently, some taxi drivers take advantage of the tourists who have been dropped off at the train station without pre-arranged transportation.
Most tourists will arrive via the international airport at Tocumen, where most of the major international rental car agencies have offices in the terminal.
The most important thing to know is that Tocumen does not have a dedicated "rental car return" area that is expressly signed and marked as such, as at most international airports. Instead, the first section of the curb on the right in front of the terminal is the rental car area even though it is not expressly signed as such. This is where you will be taken to do the initial walkthrough on the vehicle you are renting, and this is where you are expected to return the vehicle at the end of your visit.
The main route from the airport to Panama City is via the Corridor Sur tollway. It is a well-designed, well-maintained controlled-access road that runs about 20 km (12 mi) from Tocumen to Panama City.
Corridor Sur (and its counterpart, Corridor Norte) both use a system of RFID electronic cards for payment on which you must deposit cash in advance, then tap the card against a panel with blue LED lights on the side of the toll booth to open the toll gate. Most rental car agencies can sell you a toll road card (although it may not be loaded with enough cash, which they will warn you about) or you can buy one at the first toll plaza about a mile from the airport at Ciudad Radial. Any lane that is marked as a "RECARGA" lane is one that is supposed to be staffed with a human cashier who can credit more value to the card. Panama toll plazas block closed lanes only with cones or gates at the plaza itself and don't properly cone off closed lanes well in advance. Expect wild last-minute lane switching, especially at night, as drivers swerve into lanes that are open. Also look out for cashiers trying to scam you if they think you are a tourist (see the "Stay safe" section below).
The western end of the tollway passes through a tunnel and then connects to a flyover which connects to the Cinta Costera/Avenida Balboa corridor which runs through the city.
Corridor Norte is incomplete and is currently difficult to reach from Tocumen. It also uses a different card than Corridor Sur, meaning that most Panama City drivers have to maintain deposits on two cards to get around the city. After years of delays, the eastern extension of Corridor Norte is finally under construction. It will eventually connect to Panama Highway 1 about 2 km (1.2 mi) north of Tocumen. Corridor Norte is far less scenic than its southern counterpart; its primary advantage, when finished, is that it is a less congested route for bypassing Panama City in order to reach the Panama Canal or destinations beyond.
Panama City has one of the most modern Bus Terminals in all of Latin America. It is the main Hub and well organized. The terminal is next to the Albrook airport (the domestic terminal) and it is very easy to find a bus here. All of the international buses ("Tica buses" too) start and end in this terminal. Arrivals are usually on the top floor and you can transfer to city buses on the lower level. [url=http://www.grantnt.com/]] Bus schedules can be found online.
The bus to Gamboa is located in a section of the bus terminal separate from most of the other buses. Make sure you are in the correct section for your destination by asking before you go through the turnstiles. If you buy a ticket in the main terminal, they will tell you which gate the bus is leaving from. Whenever leaving the terminal by bus, you will be required to a pay a ten cent exit fee to go through the turnstiles. The fee is paid through a rechargeable card that can be purchased in the terminal for $2.00 plus one dollar to be loaded on the card. A passport, or some sort of acceptable identification is required to purchase the card. There seemed to be no problem passing the card back so multiple travelers could pass through the turnstiles on one card. But, whether this is officially approved is unknown. Alternately, it may be possible to pay another traveler ten cents for the use of their card, thus avoiding the need to purchase the rechargeable card. The ten cent fee is not collected upon arrival at the station by bus.
An almost unbelievably big mall adjacent to the bus terminal offers practically all that a traveler may want: showers, cinemas and plenty of shopping and fast food restaurants, etc. [url=http://www.albrookmall.com/[/url]]Restrooms in the mall and bus station charge 25 cents. In the mall, there are sometimes restroom attendants who will make change. However, in the bus station, a quarter is usually required.
* Tica Bus [http://www.ticabus.com/[/url]
* Easy Ride Panama shuttle [http://www.easyridepanama.com/]
* Expreso Panama [http://www.expresopanama.com/]
A ferry now runs twice a week from [wiki=dc26c020ef410a1ad80e4649ba335458]Cartagena[/wiki], Colombia to [wiki=8ff8f2c3fc884fd36d30741d8b285bbc]Colón[/wiki], a 45minute bus or taxi from Panama City. The crossing takes approximately 17hours, and a seat costs US$113, while a bunkbed is US$180 - check the ferry website [http://www.ferryxpress.net/] for more info.
NOTE: this ferry run only for a few months and then stopped. As of January 2016 there is no ferry service Panama - Colombia.
One of the easiest ways to get around town is by taxi. Taxis do not have a meter. Fares are set by the authorities, and are determined based on what section of the city you are starting at and what section of the city you are going to, with a surcharge for every additional person. The cab driver should have a table (which may include a map) that will show the costs for the fare, and they are required to show it to you if you ask. Fares are around $1.25 for travel within one zone, and the longest fares within the City at about $5. Keep in mind that the former Canal Zone is in a different section, and it will be at least a $5 fare. The surcharge for additional passengers should be $.50/additional passenger, and there's also a $.40 surcharge if you call a cab (at least these were the prices a few years ago). A taxi to or from the international airport typically costs $25 plus tolls if you take the Corredor Sur highway. Taxi fare from Tocumen international airport to Panama City is $30.00. A taxi to the Amador Causeway costs between $5 - $10. Cab drivers do not expect tips, and they may pick up additional passengers along the way. The rule is that unless there's little to no deviation from the first person's route, the first person picked up is the first person dropped off, otherwise they will ask if it's ok to pick up the other fare. Cabs can also be rented for the day, and the fares again are set (probably around $20-$25). In this case, they will expect a little extra (tip and/or lunch).
Getting around by bus is also cheap and convenient. Fares are $0.25 and the destination of the bus is written across the front windshield in large letters. Buses are privately owned and drivers usually compete with each other for passengers. For this reason, buses have colorful decorations to attract customers. During rush hour some buses can get crowded, and it is not unusual to see 3 people seated on a 2-person bench and lots of people standing along the aisle. It is not advised to use buses during these hours.
The city has begun replacing the flamboyant "red devils" with modern, air-conditioned city buses ("MetroBus," look for the orange sign to find stops), but the red devils are still around. The MetroBus buses do not accept cash, so make sure to buy a fare card at one of the city's many malls before using them.
As of April, 2014, there is a new Metro (subway) system in operation. It is a clean and economical way to travel. There is currently an extensive police presence (April 2014) at the Metro stations and on the trains. Safety appears good, but it is unknown if the heavy police presence will last past the implementation phase of the Metro. As on all public transit, be aware of pickpockets, especially when leaving and boarding crowded conveyances.
A rechargeable Metro fare cards can be purchased from automated machines in the stations for $2.00. The card is "loaded" with additional money to pay the fare. Fare cards purchased in the Metro station can also be used on the Metro buses. However, fare cards purchased in the Metro stations cannot be used to pay the exit fee (ten cents which can only be paid by card) when leaving the international bus station by bus. However, rechargeable fare cards purchased in the international bus station can be used for all three purposes.
The Metro travels from the Albrook Mall/International Bus Station, through Panama City, to the town of Los Andes, a distance of about eight miles. Most of the route of the Metro is away from the beach and tourist areas. The Cinco de Mayo stop is closest to Casco Antiguo and the fish market. However, a walk through a somewhat questionable area and the crossing of a busy highway is required. It is probably best to wait to cross the highway with a group of Panamanians who are making the same crossing. Avoid the densely packed neighborhood adjacent to Casco Antiguo by walking along the nicely landscaped open area next to the ocean. Walking in this area is best avoided at night.
High quality Panamanian crafts can also be purchased from shops in the Centro de Artesanias in Balboa neighborhood or in the shops of Mi Pueblitos.
Indian stores on every major shopping district (El Dorado mall and surroundings, Los Pueblos, and along Via Espana) also sell many Panamanian souvenirs. Gran Morrison is also a place to find many handicrafts.
There's several cafes along Via Argentina. The Spanish sandwich shops offer excellent sandwiches, coffee, and churros. Try Manolo's Churreria (don't miss the churros rellenos, pastries filled with dulce de leche and rolled in sugar) or Del Prado. Sandwiches should cost from $3-$5.
Also on Via Argentina is El Trapiche, serving traditional Panamanian food for under $12/person. They serve excellent breakfast food.
Niko's Cafe has several locations around the City. Owned by Greeks, they are all open 24 hours and the have a good selection of sandwiches and hot food served all day long.
Don Lee is a panamanian chain serve Chinese fast food, and definitely worth a try.
There's an abundance of Chinese restaurants, and some can be very affordable. Try some around El Dorado, they should be pretty authentic.
Doraditos Asados in Chanis. An extremely popular panamanian restaurant that's always full and can take an infuriating amount of time to order. That said it's likely always filled by locals because the prices are cheap and the food is extremely good. In particular the rotisserie chicken (a full one costs about $5) is a local favorite with two types of chimichurri to choose from.
Fish market outside of Casco Viejo. Entering Casco Viejo there's the main fish market for the city exists and has recently undergone some refurbishing. There are some restaurants upstairs where the fish is obviously very fresh and the prices are cheap.
Restaurante Poli (Corner of 26th and Avenida Sur) A very crowded, noisy restaurant, mainly for single males who eat solid Panamanian food and drink cheap bottles of Bilbao beer with ice while sitting in a pair of darkened rooms filled with revelers. Do not miss the delicious fish soups and the bistec picado, both for under 2 USD each. In addition, the Garlic Chicken is perfectly baked and in a light garlic sauce... The Bistec Entomallado is also a Panamanian speciality and perfectly cooked and sauteed. Prices seem average at first but the portions are quite large- an order of fried rice ($7.50) easily feeds 2 to 3 people, and is quite tasty. Would recommend paired with wonton fries, and lots of whatever savory sauce looks like soy sauce but isn't (only mildy salty). The place can be difficult to find - It's Avenida Sur Nr. 2 (Cuba) and a short talk from the 5 de Mayo subway station.
Forever Yogurt Cafes in Casco Antiguo and Coste del este (100% certified kosher products only) has gained quick popularity among Panamanians that never knew FROYO could be so good and ex-pats that were longing for real FROYO finally in Panama. This Chicago based franchise has taken the concept of frozen yogurt and made it an art because of the highest quality of their frozen yogurt (imported frozen, not a powder) and the endless number of toppings that are also all imported from the USA including many from premiere chocolatiers and specialty bakeries. They raise the benchmark on quality, variety and customer service even by USA standards. The self-serve/pay by weight concept makes it affordable for all as a snack or a meal. The coffee is equally as great with trained baristas serving some of Panama's best coffee. Certified kosher parve/dairy free sorbet, No-sugar added yogurt and toppings, and careful attention to dietary labeling make it the perfect haven for all to beat the heat or get out of the rain and enjoy as a snack or a healthy meal. Open 10AM-11PM daily.
*Lung Fung on Transistmica Avenue serves some of the best Chinese food in the City. It will be a different experience. Try dim sum any day of the week (expect long lines on weekends), although it has lost some of its charm now that the wait staff speaks such good Spanish instead of only Cantonese or Haka.
*Marbella is a very old school Panamanian restaurant on Balboa Avenue. It's a Spanish place specializing in seafood. Excellent paella and overall good seafood. Prices are stuck in 1984, so a hearty plate of paella will set you back $13, and there's only one item with a higher price on the menu.
*Van Gogh - This nice little Italian restaurant is right near the Via Venteo Casino. It has great food, great service, and a great atmosphere. It is one of the best Italian restaurants in Panama City.
Manolo Caracol [url=http://www.manolocaracol.com]]is an excellent restaurant in the Casco Viejo that serves tapas. Each day the chef invents a new fixed menu with seasonal ingredients. Meals are $30 without drinks.
*Puerta De Tierra is another excellent restaurant in the Casco Viejo. The restaurant is primarily a steak house but has some very appealing appetizers also.
*Ten Bistro Calle 50 and in Multiplaza Mall is another excellent choice serving contemporary cuisine.
*Casa Del Marisco [http://www.lacasadelmarisco-acha.com/home.html[/url] Seafood restaurant located in the banking area walking distance away from the Marriott. The food here is quite good but also pricey.
*Sake located on the ground floor of Torres de las Americas office tower by Punta Pacifica hospital, is Panama City's hottest sushi restaurant. Probably the best sushi in the city but the city is not known for its sushi. If you're only here for a short while and not desperate for a sushi fix, there are better options for the price.
*Miraflores Restaurant is situated at the top of Miraflores Visitor Center. The terrace section overlooks the Panama Canal and tables are most likely reserved in advance. Buffet is around $30 without drinks. It is open from 10 AM to 10:30 PM (much after the visitor center is closed), so if you need to see the canal late night (and can afford to spend extra for dinner), Miraflores restaurant is the place to be. (The Miraflores Lock opens both way in the night, so you are definitely going to see a couple of ships pass by)
Set in a Spanish colonial mansion built upon the water´s edge in Casco Viejo, Luna´s Castle Hostel attracts those who seek the ideal Panama City backpacking experience. Amenities include a modern communal kitchen, free breakfast, free coffee, the legendary movie theatre, a spacious outdoor courtyard, free internet, and sweeping views of the Bay of Panama and the modern city skyline and a great social atmosphere. Information is also available for sailing boat departures between Panamá and [wiki=8d9a019e5ca6f159cd5fa7c161c822b2]Cartagena[/wiki] in [wiki=ef3388cc5659bccb742fb8af762f1bfd]Colombia[/wiki]. Keep in mind, these rooms above the bar are LOUD! They don't take reservations for privates and it's a popular place, so be prepared to find an alternative.
*Hospedaje Casco Viejo url="http://www.hospedajecascoviejo.com" Dorm $13, Private $28/38 without/with bathroom, This hostel is in the heart of the old quarter in a beautifully restored historic building. Most of the rooms have their own bathroom and balcony and very comfortable beds. Friendly and knowledgable staff, clean, kitchen, free wifi. Includes breakfast of coffee, sliced bread, toaster, butter, peanut butter, jelly, and bananas (perfect for making toasted peanut butter and banana sandwiches!). Definitely the best deal in Panama. They also take reservations online. 8a con Avenida A. Casa 8-31, San Felipe phone(507) 211-2027 .
*La Casa de Carmen, [http://www.lacasadecarmen.net/maini.html]. $30-45/double, This hostel is in a cute house located on a busy street. Try to get a room further in the back to get away from the traffic noise. Breakfast is included, which involves toast, cereal, coffee and orange juice. Two computers with internet access are also free for guests. Accommodations are clean and spacious. Calle 1a de Carmen 32
*Information is also available for sailing boat departures between Panamá and Cartagena in Colombia. Shared kitchen and free pancake breakfast.
Several computers available for free and good WiFi throughout.
*New hostel opened in 2010. Some floors are still under refurbishment.
Shared kitchen, internet and wi-fi. Friendly employees.
*Closed since some months!
Country Inn & Suites by Carlson Panama City, Panama [url=http://www.countryinns.com/panama-city-hotel-pa-8001/panama].]Conveniently located at the heart of Panama City, near the Panama Canal, the Metropolitan Park, US Embassy, City of Knowledge,and business district. Walking distance from Shopping Mall, 3 casinos and restaurants. It is close to domestic airport and highway to Colon. The hotel has a TGIF restaurant on-site with room service available. Other amenities include swimming pool, fitness center and 24-hour business center access. Free shuttle to nearby Albrook Mall on schedule. This value oriented hotel offers free breakfast buffet and free Wi-Fi access. Guestrooms feature warm décor with amenities like 32” LCD TVs with cable programming, refrigerator, microwave and in room safe. Meeting rooms available for events and groups.
*Las Vegas Hotel [url=http://www.lasvegaspanama.com/english/principal.htm[/url].]Suites are clean, safe, centrally located and relatively affordable. There's also a nice little Italian restaurant and a wine bar attached to the hotel.
*Country Inn & Suites by Carlson, Panama Canal, Panama [url=http://www.countryinns.com/panama-city-hotel-pa-8001/pancanal[/url].]In Panama city with great view of the Panama Canal, this hotel offers easy access to the domestic airport, pier, railway and the highway to the country side. The hotel overlooks the Panama Canal entrance and is close to Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute, Bridge of the Americas, and Panama Old Quarters. Near Frank Gehry Biodiversity Museum, Miraflores Locks and Albrook Mall. It is also ideal for business travelers due to its closeness to the City of Knowledge, Panama Pacifico Business Park, shipping companies and the banking center. The hotel features 2 restaurants, a coffee shop and 24-hour business center. Meeting rooms available. Guests will enjoy modern amenities like the free breakfast buffet, free Wi-Fi, large 42” TVs, and minibar. The property features outdoor swimming pools, a whirlpool and a fitness center. Near many restaurants.
*Casa Las Americas [url=http://www.casalasamericas.com[/url].]$60-$105. There are six rooms in this very nice Bed & Breakfast in Betania. You cannot beat the location for peace and quiet in a lush setting. There is a large pool and lovely terrace with a city view. Centrally located and easy access by inexpensive taxi to shopping, restaurants, and proximity to the sights of the city. Also a big plus -- the pool is large and lovely, very quiet and private and surrounded by lush greenery.
*Magnolia Inn offers comfortable and spacious deluxe private rooms as well as luxury hostel rooms. The restored French colonial mansion is full of historic character, as well as modern conveniences such as A/C, orthopedic beds, free Wi-Fi Internet and safe deposit boxes. The Inn has a stylish social areas to relax and meet fellow guests. A fully equipped kitchen and sunbathed dinning room is available for guest use.
*Tribe Panama [http://www.tribepanama.com[/url]. $120-$160. Located in historic Casco Antiquo(Viejo) on Plaza Simon Bolivar; there are 4 suites with each having two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and wonderful views of the sea and Plaza Simon Bolivar. There are over 20 restaurants and Bars within walking distance. Free internet and satellite TV. The building sits across the street from the Presidential Palace grounds which provides for the best security and neighbor that Panama has to offer.
Trump Ocean Club® International Hotel & Tower Panama, [url=http://www.trumphotelcollection.com/panama/].]Tel: (011) 507 215 8800. A luxury Panama City, Panama hotel rising 70 stories above Panama Bay. This waterfront hotel features lavish guestrooms and suites, restaurants, vacation packages, spa and meeting and wedding venues.
*The Bristol Hotel, [url=http://www.thebristol.com[/url].]Tel: 507-264-0000. $200/double. Luxurious modern hotel in the heart of Panama City. Outstanding bar and restaurant on site. First-class service.
*An intimate hotel located in a Colonial mansion in the heart of Panama City's historic district. The Canal House was selected by the New York Times as its Editor's Pick for Panama City hotels and is the country's first Green Globe Certified Hotel. The Canal House has three rooms and a staff of six, including two English speaking managers. It is located just to the side of the Canal Museum, walking distance from some of the city's best bars, restaurants and cafes.
*Las Clementinas Chambers, Café & Bar, [url=http://lasclementinas.com[/url],]Calle 11 and Avenida B in Casco Viejo, Tel: +507-228-7613/17 (Panama) or 1-888-593-5023 (US & Canada). A small boutique hotel located in Panama's exciting historic district, Casco Viejo. Las Clementinas has just six rooms, each of which is a full apartment with kitchen, 12-foot ceilings and wrap around balconies, some with plaza views, some with ocean views. Above the rooms is a rooftop terrace with stunning views of Panama City, the Pacific Ocean, the entrance to the Canal and the rooftops of the historic district. Below the rooms is the Cafe & Bar. Las Clementinas is managed by The Canal House and leisure and business travelers can expect the same excellent and personalized service that defines The Canal House.
*InterContinental Miramar, [url=http://www.miramarpanama.com/[/url],]Av. Balboa, Tel: 507-206-8888. Luxury high-rise hotel overlooking Panama Bay. Facilities include upscale dining, large swimming pool, tennis courts, full-service marina, helicopter landing pad.
*Panama Marriott Hotel, [url=http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/ptypa-panama-marriott-hotel/[/url]Calle]52 y Ricardo Arias, Area Bancaria Panama City, Panama. Phone: 507 2 109100 Fax: 507 2 109110 As cosmopolitan as the city surrounding it, the Marriott Panama City Hotel offers the elegance, outstanding service and amenities that you'd expect from a luxury Panama City hotel. Soaring 20 stories above the financial district, and considered among the best Panama City hotels, it offers an ideal location for business or leisure travelers near shopping, entertainment and vibrant night life.
*Marriott Executive Apartments Panama City, Finisterre [http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/ptyer-marriott-executive-apartments-panama-city-finisterre/[/url] Calle Colombia & Calle Republica del Paraguay, Panama City, Panama. Phone: 507-214-9200 Fax: 507-297-6320 Luxury apartments settled in the heart of the Panama City financial district, the Marriott Executive Apartments Panama City, Finisterre are the perfect place for your business stay in Panama. Amenities include an outdoor pool with an ocean view, The Adegas international fusion restaurant, a fitness Center and Free wireless Internet.
* The Courtyard by Marriott Panama Real Hotel offers guests 120 rooms with high speed internet, restaurant, bar, gym, pool, four banquet halls and a meeting room, as well as laundry service, laundry and shop.