You’re planning a trip and wondering how many days you should spend in Panama. To see the top highlights, spend at least five days. Visitors should spend at least seven days if seeking to explore areas far from Panama City. There is so much to see in Panama that travelers can easily spend several weeks exploring this enticing Central American country.
Panama is one of my favorite countries, as I’m both a beach person and a culture person. It’s a hidden gem. The beaches on the islands along the north shore of Panama were the best I’ve ever seen! And, the vibes in Casco Viejo are everything that I could ask for.
I don’t hear about a lot of people venturing to Panama. It’s a quick flight from the US but doesn’t get nearly the amount of visitors that Costa Rica does.
I typically travel solo or with my other “young adult” friends. On this jaunt, my travel buddy Susan joined me for a food-filled, activity-packed itinerary. From the beaches, water, wildlife, rainforest, landscapes, and food, we had a fantastic time!
How Many Days in Panama: Where to Go
How many days in Panama and where to go in Panama largely depend on your interests. As a culture and beach traveler, I wanted to spend time in the vibrant Panama City and the laid-back coast.
Beach lovers may spend more time in San Blas or Bocas del Toro. Panama City is not the best location for the beach. The Pacific Ocean is much rougher than the Caribbean. The jaw-dropping beach photos you’ll see from Panama are on the Caribbean side.
Nature lovers may want to stay in the Gamboa rainforest or travel to Boquete.
How Many Days in Panama: Itinerary
How many days in Panama? This itinerary presents the best way to see Panama in less than 7 days.
I’ve set this up with my top recommendations at the beginning. So, if you only have one day in Panama, choose the day one itinerary. If you have two days in Panama, follow the two-day itinerary, and so on.
Make Panama City your base, at least at the start of your trip. If you have more than five days, you can move throughout the country.
Day 1: Casco Viejo
Day 2: Panama City Tour
Day 3: Gamboa Rainforest
Day 4: Portobelo and Mamey Island
Day 5: San Blas Islands
For longer itineraries:
- Toboga Island
- Bocas del Toro
- Playa Venao
Where to Stay in Panama City
I recommend staying in the Casco Viejo neighborhood. Casco Viejo is incredible. You’ll be in walking distance to some of the best sights and restaurants in Panama.
TIP: Since there is a Panama City in Florida, many of your searches may default to Florida, especially for US travelers. Ensure you are booking and planning for Panama.
📍 Selina Casco Viejo
I highly recommend Selina Casco Viejo for the under-35 crowd looking for excitement. This combo hotel/ hostel offers basic rooms, plus a delightful café on the first floor, a cute library, a massive rooftop with a pool, several bars, and a coworking space.
Selina offers rooms with different combinations of beds. Because we wanted at least two beds, we opted for a bigger room – we had two twins, one bunk bed (4 beds total) setup. Prices are reasonable. It does get loud at night, as the rooftop is party central.
Casco Viejo, Panama City Hotel Recommendations:
Panama City Recommendations:
When we booked, I considered staying downtown because of the beautiful hotels with luxurious infinity pools and lower rates. As I always do, I searched many forums online and found that most recommended staying in Casco Viejo. That recommendation held! This neighborhood is where the heart of Panama City is – the vibes, restaurants, bars, and music.
📍 Gamboa Rainforest Resort
If nature is your calling, I highly recommend spending a night or two at the Gamboa Rainforest Reserve. With more days in Panama, you can split your time between Casco Viejo and this stunning property, which sits 45 minutes outside Panama City. This stunning property feels high-end without the high prices.
While staying at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, you can do all the activities listed in the Gamboa day trip below. You can also take an aerial tram that brings you high above the trees to see the rainforest, river, and wildlife from above. This is one of my favorite travel memories.
How Many Days in Panama: How to Get Around Panama
How many days in Panama might determine your transportation. In our itinerary, we based ourselves in Casco Viejo, Panama City, and either walked, joined organized tours, or used Uber to get around. This was the most efficient way to see the areas of Panama that we wanted to see. I’d highly recommend this method!
You can use Uber to get to and from the airport. It’s reliable and cost-effective (~$20 one way). Expect about a 35 – 40 minute ride, though this depends on traffic. If you prefer, schedule a private transfer.
If you have more time in your itinerary and are adventurous, you can rent a car to explore other areas of Panama on your own.
You cannot reasonably arrive at San Blas on your own. Not only will you need a 4×4 but you’ll need a very skilled driver to navigate the messed up road (legitimate craters in the middle of the road) that leads to San Blas (more than that later). Don’t attempt it – we saw many get stuck. Also, you’ll need a boat to get to the islands anyway.
Day 1 in Panama: Panama City, Casco Viejo
My top recommendation is to explore Casco Viejo. If you’re on a stopover and only have one day in Panama, see Casco Viejo.
Casco Viejo is an incredible neighborhood, walkable to the water, hotels, restaurants, shops, and more.
Casco Viejo was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The revived architecture is stunning (though not quite the detail of Marrakech!). I adore looking at the beautiful old buildings, especially when they’re painted brightly.
Per UNESCO regulations, the buildings must be restored instead of rebuilt. This rule is also why you’ll see buildings falling apart – it’s incredibly expensive to restore them.
The colorful buildings remind me of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Casco Viejo Walking Tour
To dive into the rich culture and history, take a walking tour of Casco Viejo.
What to See in Casco Viejo
On the walking tour or as you explore on your own, you’ll see Casco Viejo’s most impressive sights.
- Plaza Herrera is the heart of the city. This square comes alive at night with live music, dancing, and restaurants.
- Salsipuedes market with artisan products
- Café Coca-Cola, the oldest Panamanian restaurant in town
- Archo Chato (flat arch)
- National Theatre of Panama with its neoclassical style
- La Cathedral Metropolitana
- El Arco Chato
- Independence Square with the Panama Canal Museum
- Plaza Bolivar
Where to Eat in Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo is rich in culture and offers some of the best restaurants in Panama. All of the spots mentioned are within easy walking distance inside Casco Viejo.
How many days in Panama will determine where you eat. I’ve ranked the restaurants in order of my preferences below.
🍽 Fonda Lo Que Hay
Fonda Lo Que Hay is our favorite restaurant in Panama City. We loved it so much that we went twice. The signature Tuna carpaccio with crispy yucca is top-notch. We ordered it both times we visited, along with a slew of other dishes to share.
A Fonda is a casual roadside restaurant. Top chef José Olmedo Carles Rojas takes a modern spin on traditional dishes at this more upscale establishment, recognized as a top restaurant in Latin America.
Fonda Lo Que Hay only takes walk-ins. You can put your name down, have a drink, and return for an impressive meal.
🍽 Santa Rita
This gorgeous restaurant has the most friendly atmosphere. We were well taken care of as we enjoyed ravioli and other delicious bites.
Santa Rica is a 2-minute walk around the corner from Selina.
Tantalo is all about the scene. The restaurant and bar boasts an awesome rooftop and a sleek, modern interior. The food is delicious, too. The Eggplant Carpaccio is one of the best eggplant dishes I’ve ever had!
Come for a late dinner and stay for the party.
🍽 Finca del Mar
Finca del Mar has a great vibe. Get a table along the water to watch the sunset. It’s the ideal way to finish a day of exploring!
After the sun sets, head inside for some drinks. You can sit on swinging chairs at the bar, like we did.
Mahalo is an adorable breakfast/brunch spot. The café has a chic inside, as well as a floral courtyard. The breakfast burrito is a good move.
🍽 Madre Pizza
The vibes in the outdoor seating of Madre Pizza cannot be beat. The square comes alive at night with many diners, live music, and dancing. The Italian food is fantastic, and I highly recommend a visit if you have a few other nights to enjoy local food.
This building houses several restaurant options inside. Have a glass of wine and a snack on a balcony or the rooftop. The ambiance, with the feeling of fresh air and the Panamanian beats, is where you’ll want to spend your evening.
Coqueta is a cute café nestled on the same block as Selina. It would be an excellent place to visit as a remote worker.
TIP: If you’re on a budget, avoid restaurants with English menus. They cater to tourists and will typically be more expensive.
Nightlife in Panama City
Panama City has a thriving nightlife scene, especially in Casco Viejo. Many of the partygoers in this area are younger visitors, and there are many bars.
The Selina rooftop is the biggest party spot in Casco Viejo. Revelers line up outside to get into this venue which has several bar areas along the roof. For those not looking to party too hard, the happy hour scene is worthwhile.
The Tantalo Rooftop also turns into a party scene at night. Lazotea is another rooftop happy hour turned party scene but it’s pricey. The Selina rooftop offers better views!
How many days in Panama may determine how many times you go out. This wasn’t a party trip for us. We had happy hour and wine at dinners, and only ventured up to the Selina rooftop one night.
Day 2 in Panama: Panama City
Go beyond Casco Viejo to explore more of Panama City. The easiest way to get around is a guided tour.
Highlights include the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal, the Amador Causeway, the Bridge of the Americas, and the return to Casco Viejo.
You can also plan your city tour on your own and get around via Uber.
What to See in Panama City
These are the top Panama City sights.
Miraflores Locks – Panama Canal
No trip to Panama would be complete without seeing the Panama Canal. The best place to watch ships is the Miraflores Locks. There, you’ll find a great viewing platform, as well as an exhibit about the canal’s history and how it works.
Around 40 ships pass through the Panama Canal every day. The best time to view ships is between 9 -11 a.m. Arrive early to beat crowds and stake your spot along the viewing platform. If you only have availability in the afternoon, go between 2:45 – 5 p.m.
The ships take quite a while to pass through the canal, so expect to only see one ship, unless you want to stand there for hours.
The Miraflores Locks are an easy 20-minute ride from Casco Viejo. If you’re on a tour, the guide will handle all ticketing and explain how the locks work as it happens. The guide can also show you the neighborhood around the Locks, including the old US military development.
Amador Causeway and Cinta Costera
The Amador Causeway is a must-see while in Panama. Visitors can drive or walk down the pedestrian walkway along the water. It’s a long stretch with awesome views.
At the end of the causeway, you’ll find restaurants and the famous “Panama’ sign. The restaurants are touristic and charge high prices based on the location. It’s worthwhile to stop in for a drink if you have the time.
The causeway is lively and provides great views at night, as well.
The Amador Causeway is typically part of city tours, but it would be easy to do on your own via Uber.
Mercado de Mariscos
For some of the freshest seafood you’ve ever had, visit Mercado de Mariscos. It sits on the water and is a 10-minute walk from Casco Viejo. This seafood market has many outdoor stalls selling ceviche, fried fish, lobster, octopus, filets, rice, fries, yuca, and more.
Choose the stall with the most locals dining there – for me, that was the stall at the end, with cafeteria-style seating.
Food is incredibly affordable – with ceviche around $2.
Sunrise at Ancon Hill
Start your day early by watching the colorful sunrise over Ancon Hill. You can do this with a tour or on your own.
Ancon Hill is an 11-minute car ride and a 30-minute walk from Selina in Casco Viejo.
How many days in Panama City may determine if you want to skip this or not.
Downtown Panama City
Downtown Panama City is a thriving metropolis filled with modern skyscrapers. As far as tourism and sights, there isn’t much to see and do there, but it’s worth a quick visit.
Day 3 in Panama: Gamboa Rainforest
The Gamboa Rainforest is a must for anyone who appreciates nature and wildlife.
This day trip provided the most incredible experience. It picked us up in the morning and whisked us away from city life to the rainforest, only a 40-minute drive north. The day starts with a stop at the beautiful resort.
Visit the butterfly house with thousands of beautiful butterflies. The frog exhibit is cool, too.
The Sloth Sanctuary at Gamboa Reserve is a must-see. We were able to awe these beautiful creatures while the caretaker gave a talk about animal care and conservation. The sloths were adorable!
The tour also includes a boat ride along the river where you can get up close to monkeys. We saw many. I enjoyed watching them hop around in the trees.
Day 4 in Panama: Portobelo and Mamey Island
This Portobelo and Mamey Island day trip is a great combination of sights, beaches, relaxation, and fun.
You’ll start with about a two-hour drive north to Portobelo, where you’ll stop and experience an old Spanish fort and the small town.
From there, you’ll drive another 35 minutes to a dock where you’ll then take a small boat on a 5-minute ride to Mamey Island, a gorgeous small island right off the coast. We spent a few hours relaxing on the beach, swimming, and picnicking before heading back to Panama City.
This day trip is a relaxing way to see the beautiful northern coast of Panama.
Day 5 in Panama: San Blas Islands
One note for the itinerary – if you only have four days, see San Blas instead of Mamey Island. San Blas Islands follow Mamey Island in my five-day itinerary because they are even more impressive than Mamey (which is incredible already!)
San Blas is an adventure.
And it’s not be an adventure for everyone.
If you are not willing to wake up in the super early to take a three-hour plus car ride through remote Panama, then take a very choppy 40-minute boat ride out to islands, and then do it all coming back, stick with Mamey Island.
Is San Blas Worth Visiting?
The San Blas islands, also known as Guna Yala, are made of 350 small, remote islands in the Caribbean Sea. The breathtaking islands have gorgeous green palm trees, crystal clear water, and powdery soft sand beaches. On the islands, you’ll see small huts and some outdoor/indoor kitchens.
These are the best beaches I’ve ever seen. You also may recognize them from season 3 of La Casa de Papel (Money Heist), where Denver and Rio hid away.
On the San Blas islands, you will not find resorts, hotels, shops, or large boats. Electricity, as well as plumbing, are limited.
Locals will catch fish daily, grill them up, and serve them to guests. If you want anything more than the basics, bring your snacks.
How to Get to the San Blas Islands
Take a tour to see the San Blas islands. You can go for the day, an extremely long but worthwhile adventure.
You can also stay over on the islands. Since the islands don’t have modern conveniences and the huts don’t lock (confirmed with the tour company), Susan and I decided to go for the day.
The tour will pick you up in a large jeep and take you on a three-hour drive through remote Panama. You’ll stop for breakfast at a roadside gas station café. The last hour especially is incredibly bumpy as the jeep navigates through an unkept road. Take Dramamine if you’re prone to car sickness.
You eventually arrive at a port where you’ll board a long speedboat. The waves are choppy, and the boat goes fast, so you’ll just be hitting the waves. I found this all very funny. Since we were hitting the waves, we weren’t rocking, and no one got sick.
The tour visits three unique islands. The first is a stunning beach. Next is an amazing sandbar in the middle of the water. And the third is a larger, more established island with a dock and a lunch spot. At all the islands, the water and beaches are pristine. The tour includes lunch, but bring your snacks, especially if you are a particular eater.
Our day in San Blas is an unbelievable memory that we’ll remember forever.
How many days in Panama will determine if you get out to San Blas.
7+ Days in Panama
If you have more time in Panama, check out these areas.
Visit Toboga Island off the Pacific Coast. It’s a short 30-minute ferry from the Amador Causeway or you can take a guided catamaran tour.
On this island, you can relax on the sandy beaches or hike up to El Cruce to see impressive views of the island.
Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is another collection of islands on the Caribbean Sea, known for snorkeling, water sports, and partying. There are two Selina hotels/hostels and coworking spaces there.
For snorkel fans, Bocas del Toro is home to 95% of the coral species living in the Caribbean Sea.
To get there, take a domestic prop-plane flight. Shuttle and bus are also available from Costa Rica.
Boquete is a small town located in the region of Chiriqui in western Panama. This mountainous region offers an escape into nature with hiking. To get there, you’ll drive seven hours northwest or take a 45-minute flight to David, then another 40-minute drive north.
Playa Venao is a small beach area along the Pacific coast. It’s known for its relaxed vibes with no crowds. Locals offer zipline, snorkeling, and whale-watching excursions. To get there, take a 6-hour shuttle west from Panama City. Selina has two locations with coworking in Playa Venao.
Is Panama Safe?
Panama is considered a safe country. I traveled with my girlfriend and I also spent some time exploring alone. We always felt safe. Stick to the Casco Viejo neighborhood, Amador Causeway, Cintra Costera, major metro downtown, and Canal visitors areas.
Panama has some remote areas, flagged as dangerous by the US government. However, tourists do not go anywhere nearby.
Just like in any location, travelers should be aware of their surroundings and secure valuables.
Is Panama Expensive?
Panama City is the business hub of Central America. It’s also a tourism hotspot. Like in most tourist areas, prices will be higher than in local areas.
A majority of businesses accept credit cards. Have cash on hand for tips.
What Language Do They Speak in Panama?
Spanish is the primary language of Panama. Because of Panama City’s international trade, heavy past American influence, multicultural ex-pat community, and tourism, most people you encounter in Panama City will speak English well.
What is the currency in Panama?
Panama operates with two official currencies – the US Dollar and the Panamanian Balboa. Take small US bills with you.
What is the best time to go to Panama?
Visit Panama during its dry season between late December and April. We experienced fantastic sunny weather during our February trip.
During other times, expect to encounter rain and high humidity.
What is the weather like in Panama?
Panama offers a warm tropical climate. Temperatures generally range in the 70- 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can I work remotely in Panama?
Panama City is also a great remote work destination. The weather is fantastic. Wi-Fi speeds are high in Panama City. Casco Viejo also offers Selina coworking, and many other cute cafes have wifi, too.
What Should I Bring to Panama?
Don’t forget these items in your packing list:
✅ Reef Safe Sunscreen
Final Thoughts: How Many Days in Panama
How many days in Panama likely depends on your work schedule and flight prices. Try to take as much time as you can! Panama is an underrated country that is well worth a visit for any traveler who loves culture, the beach, and nature. How many days to spend in Panama depends on your schedule. Spend at least five days enjoying the area.
Interested in visiting Panama?
Contact me about my planning services!