Panama City, a lively city that falls somewhere between a dense skyline and a rustic old town.
My boyfriend and I knew that we wanted to head somewhere hot for New Years Eve to escape the NYC cold, and after careful exploration of options, we settled on Panama City. Talk about a clutch decision. There are so many amazing aspects of the city – I don’t even know where to begin!
If you are looking for a city with colorful houses that line cobblestone streets that can’t help but throw charm your way, Panama’s old quarter is for you. If you are looking for a city that luxury 5-star hotels and a mass array of skyscrapers overlooking the ocean, Panama City is for you. Quite drastically different are Casco Viejo (meaning Old Town, aka the original site of Panama City) and Panama City.
Casco Viejo is rather picturesque with the charming mixture of Spanish colonial and French inspired buildings that all seem to have street facing flower covered balconies. The cobblestone streets are small and grid like, so it is easy to navigate your way around town. There are tons of shops along the streets, as well as a large vendor market found at the very edge of town. Panama hats are huge here (shock!) and can be found at nearly every vendor – definitely pick one one up, I mean, when in Panama. Am I right?
Panama City is much larger than Casco Viejo and equally as much more modern with massive chain hotels housed in skyscrapers, which loom high above the ocean. As you can imagine, the skyscrapers create quite a dense skyline that really is stunning to look at from afar.
Best part, they are minutes away by car ride so you have the option to experience both the new and the old. TIP THAT WILL SAVE YOU $$$: take ubers everywhere. Cabs are super expensive and up-charge foreigners. Uber is a fraction of the price and are extremely reliable. After mass amounts of research, we decide to stay in Casco Viejo, because mainly, I am a sucker for old town charm.
WHERE TO STAY:
Hotel Casa Panama – In Old Town, Hotel Casa Panama was fairly new at the time we booked, which resulted in a bit of construction during our stay. Don’t you hate that? I hate that. The construction only started after 9 AM, however, when venturing to a city for NYE, you are expected to sleep much past 9 AM. Overall though, I would recommend this hotel. Mainly for it’s rooftop pool & views along with the cute nature inspired rooms – I am a sucker for aesthetic. Hotel Casa Panama sits on the edge of Casco Viejo and is relatively small with only 31 rooms. Along with the rooftop pool, there is also a bar and a restaurant with epic views of the Panama City skyline. They serve breakfast daily, so if you choose to stay here, don’t miss out on the traditional Panamanian meal to start the day!
WHAT TO DO:
- Panama Canal – Definitely make time to hit the Miraflores Visitor Center to watch the ships role in through the Panama Canal. This is just something that has to be done when in Panama. My understanding is that 1-2 PM is the ideal time to get there to view the…painfully slow process. It’s seriously awesome to watch, but honestly, it’s so slow. There is museum, gift shop and a video all available to you through your day pass tickets. I reccommend checking them all out. If you are daring, as we were, watch the video in spanish and test one another after on how much you understood. If you speak fluent spanish, you go girl.
- Visit the Rainforest – Gamboa Rainforest Resort
- The Amador Causeway – BioDiversity Museum, Bars + restaurants on a man-made archipelago build. Go in late afternoon for sunset and rent bikes to bike around + stop at bar for sundowner (Balboa Yacht Club for drinks and Pencas or Mi Ranchito for Panamanian food)
- Panama Canal Headquarters/Goethals Monument/Cerro Ancon – Head out to Balboa, only a short trip from Panama City or Casco Viejo and visit the Panama Canal Headquarters and the Goethals Monument. Once you have seen both, hike the Cerro Ancon – it leads you to an amazing view of the city. You will also be bumping up against the Panamanian flag that can be seen around city. The entire hike will set you back 30 minutes, well worth it!
WHERE TO EAT:
- La Posta – This was my #1 favorite dinner spot in Panama City. We went here the first night of our stay and made a reservation in advance to do so. It is fancy italian restaurant, and friends, it is goooood. Make a reservation for dinner, and then plan to hit the town after. This spot is located on Calle Uruguay – you’ll read more about this below.
- Caliope – We ventured to this joint for NYE and it was fabulous. We had a group of 8 and were given our own glass room, which was perfect for the atmosphere we were looking for. The food was amazing and the service was impeccable. This spot is located in Casco Viejo and was a short walk from our hotel. I would highly recommend stopping in for dinner, and at least apps. It is that good.
- L’OSTERIA – In full disclosure, I didn’t actually get to go but we did try! Unfortunately though, it was closed. This place is recommended on just about every list I read prior to my visit. If you get the chance to go, please let me know what I missed out on, because I know I did.
WHERE TO DRINK:
- Calle Republica de Uruguay – This street is infamous for having the largest night life scene in Panama City. Situated just between Panama City and Casco Viejo, it is the perfect destination. You can either opt to have dinner here or just purely come for the nightlife, but regardless, it will not disappoint. There are with multiple hot spots sitaated along the street, just Manrey, etc.
- Tantalo Hotel & Rooftop – New Years Eve party on an open air rooftop bar. Legit bartenders on the the bar pouring shots down the attendees throats. Good time? You decide.
- La Rana Dorada – Beer, beer beer. Pizza, pizza, pizza.
- Capitol Bistro – This is the spot. Outdoor lounge areas mixed with (pricey) cocktails and light bites, this is the perfect pre-dinner happy hour joint. Chill out on the water and watch the sunset over Panama City with a drink in hand, it won’t disappoint.
Panama City was such an amazing slice of culture that I am so happy I got to see. If you are planning on embarking on the trip, I suggest mixing it up and hopping over to the other side of the country to experience the beach life while you are there. Bocos Del Toro was my plan of action, just a short flight away.