Panama City is one of those cities that is delightfully easy to visit. Flights from the USA often run less than $350 roundtrip, and flights to or through Central America often have long layovers, letting you explore for the day.
Once you’re there, there’s no shortage of things to do in Panama and getting around is simple. Here’s what to do on a Panama City layover instead of hanging out in the airport.
I’ve developed this itinerary for an 8-hour layover, which seems to be a really common length based on flight schedules I’ve seen.
If you only have ~5 hours, I’d take a taxi to the ruins of Panama Viejo, which is 15 minutes away and can be toured in about 2 hours.
If you have longer than 8 hours, congratulations! You’re in for a treat! Instead of trying to pack in a whistle-stop tour of even more attractions, I’d recommend just lengthening the stops recommended below. You could easily double the time at each place for an enjoyable visit.
Panama City Layover Guide: What to See and Do in 8 Hours
1.5 hours: Logistics
Spend your first hour and a half on actually getting to the city. It takes about 30 minutes to get through immigrations and customs plus another 45 minutes in the car, assuming you take the toll road. Don’t worry about changing money — the US dollar is king — but plan ahead and come with cash.
For your ride, I recommend Uber: it’s $5 cheaper on the flat rate from the airport compared to taxis, cars are more likely to have air conditioning, and you won’t need cash since it’s charged directly to your credit card. Use code uberthegirlandglobe for a $10 discount off your first ride.
Be Prepared: 8 Totally Random (but Totally Useful!) Tips for Panama City (opens in new window)
When time is short, knowing what to expect is ultra-important so you don’t get thrown off your game!
1 hour: Parque Metropolitano
Panama City is massive and modern, but Panama was first and foremost a tropical forest. You can still get a glimpse of that in Parque Metropolitano, one of the best things to do in Panama City. It’s open early, making it great for layovers at weird hours.
You can complete the lower loop in about an hour (check the map or ask a ranger for info on Sendero Los Caobos), which should give you a chance to spot sloths, monkeys, agoutis, and other animals while checking out the thick foliage.
1.5 hours: Casco Viejo and a Snack
The colonial center of town, Casco Viejo (or Casco Antiguo, Panama) is the picturesque so it’s worth a visit. The charm here is less about checking off a list of sights and more about wandering and see what you come across. Peek your head into churches, stroll down cobblestone streets, and visit the squares and plazas for people-watching. Don’t spend too long here, just 45 minutes or so, but don’t miss it!
Related Post: Love at First Bite: a Panama Food Tour (opens in new window)
If you’re spending longer in Panama, this food tour was one of my favorite things to do in Panama City because you get to sample local favorites and cultural fusions throughout Casco Viejo.
Once you’re done in Casco Viejo, walk along the gorgeous Cinta Costera to the Seafood Market (Mercado de Mariscos) for lunch. For just $2-3, you’ll get a cup of super fresh ceviche for lunch. I recommend corvina, a local white fish, but you’ll also find shrimp, octopus, and other fish varieties.
1 hour: Miraflores Visitor Center at the Panama Canal
I didn’t want to visit the Panama Canal, but c’mon, it’s definitely one of the more popular things to do in Panama City. And, much to my surprise, it ended up being interesting.
I’ve heard great things about the attached museum, which you’ll have to whiz through if you’re on a short layover. As for me, I’m not really interested in museums (and I missed last entry at 4:15pm), so instead I went to the upstairs restaurant to watch the canal in action.
It’s pretty amazing watching gargantuan cargo ships passing through while sitting outside and drinking a cold beer. Order a snack, too, if you’re still hungry after the ceviche.
2 hours: Return to the Airport
Just like that, your time in Panama City is up (but look at all you saw and did!). Plan on an hour-long ride back to the airport (be prepared to hire a taxi since Uber isn’t always this far outside town) and then you’ll need an hour to get back through security and catch your flight. Thank goodness it’s a layover so you should already have your boarding pass and luggage checked all the way through.
If you’re a nervous traveler and that’s cutting it too close to comfort for you, you’ll need to skip one of the stops on this trip. No big deal…you can always come back to Panama City!
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Share your story in the comments!
Have you ever sped through a city during a flight layover? Where did you go and what did you do?
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Keep Reading on The Girl and Globe (all links open in new window):
- My Guide to Panama: Whether you have 1 day or 1 week in Panama City, check out all my tips to plan a great trip.
- Surprise! Welcome to Manchester: I unexpectedly found myself with a day in Manchester, England after I missed my flight connection, but I made the most of it.
- Stopovers: Take ‘Em or Leave ‘Em?: When given the choice, I prefer longer stops in fewer places compared to rapid travel, but what’s your take?