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7 Best Day Trips From Panama City

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7 Best Day Trips From Panama City

The capital city of Panama is the aptly named Panama City, an energetic and cosmopolitan destination. Many travelers head to Panama City as a homebase for exploring the Panama Canal, and that is absolutely a great place to start. However, there are many other day trips from Panama City worth planning. From national parks to historic forts, there is absolutely something for everyone. As you put together your itinerary for a trip to Panama City, be sure to include a few of these day trips.

Map of day trips from Panama City

Map of day trips from Panama City© OpenStreetMap contributors © MapTiler © Touropia

7. Soberania National Park

Soberania National Parkdreamstime/© Ignasi Such

Soberania National Park is the ideal day trip for those who want to escape the urban jungle and head into a truly natural landscape. You’ll definitely want to visit the Soberania National Park if you’re interested in birdwatching or you’re hoping to spot some wildlife. Within the park, you can spot everything from howler monkeys to bright green iguanas to blue-headed parrots. Also worth exploring is Las Cruces Trail, a hiking trail that was used by the Spanish in the 16th century as a way to transport gold.

Getting to Soberania National Park

  • Located just half an hour from the city center, Soberania National Park is very easy to drive to. Simply head southwest out of Panama City on Route 1 and then turn off onto the 852, which will take you all the way there. You can either park at the entrance to the Camino de Plantacion trail, which is lovely to wander along, or drive another 20 minutes to the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, which offers up some fantastic birdwatching.
  • Many people who visit Soberania National Park opt to take a guided tour, as a professional guide takes you on a mesmerizing hike through the jungle. In addition to this, you also get to visit a traditional Indian village and take a boat trip to explore the marvelous Monkey Island. See trip reviews & prices.

6. San Lorenzo Fort

San Lorenzo Fortdreamstime/© David Castillo Dominici

In centuries past, the main port destination on the isthmus of Panama was the town of Chagres. Today, Chagres is an abandoned spot, but it is where you’ll find San Lorenzo Fort. Known as Fuerte San Lorenzo in Spanish, this fort was built in the middle of the 18th century. While it is in ruins now, it is an important colonial relic of Panama’s history. After touring the ruins of the fort, you can explore the area and spend time birdwatching or kayaking. You’ll also be treated to magnificent views over the Chagres River and the lush green landscape below the fort.

Getting to San Lorenzo Fort

  • Overlooking Panama’s Caribbean coastline, San Lorenzo Fort is roughly two hours away from the capital by car, although this route does include tolls. From the center, you want to head north out of the city on Route 4, before transferring onto the 9 once you come to the outskirts of Panama City. Follow it all the way north to just outside of Colon, where you then follow the twisting Carretera Nuevo Bolivar for an hour to your destination. You’ll pass lots of fantastic scenery. On the way back, it is well worth stopping off at Colon for a look around the city.
  • Another option for visiting San Lorenzo Fort is to take a guided tour. As well as exploring the fort, the day trip also takes you to visit parts of the Panama Canal and for a memorable tour around Monkey Island, where you’ll get to see lots of amazing wildlife up close. As it takes you from one coast of Panama to the other, you’ll see and learn about a lot of the country’s most interesting sights. See trip reviews & prices.

5. El Valle de Anton

El Valle de Antonflickr/Rose

Drive two hours southwest of Panama City, and you’ll get to El Valle de Anton. This is in the highlands of Panama, and it is a charming village surrounded by a volcanic caldera. The town’s black soil is famed, and it is said to be perfect for agricultural pursuits. There is an emphasis on new age and holistic therapies at El Valle de Anton, so many visitors come to recharge, practice yoga or meditate in the natural beauty. You’ll also want to check out the beautiful waterfall called El Macho, or you can set off on a hike and look for etched hieroglyphic rocks along the way.

Getting to El Valle de Anton

  • To get to El Valle de Anton by public transport, you first need to get to Albrook in the west of Panama City. From here, you’ll find a number of buses to El Valle. The journey usually takes around three hours, as it stops off at different places along the way. Once you arrive, you’ll find all the sights are just a short walk away.
  • By car, El Valle de Anton is a two-hour drive away. On the way, you’ll pass through some lovely countryside scenery, and the directions couldn’t be more straightforward. Simply head southwest out of the city on Route 1 and keep on it all the way to Las Uvas, where you turn onto the 71 which takes you directly to El Valle de Anton. Once there, you can either park the car and wander around at your leisure, or drive up to some of the beautiful viewpoints that overlook El Valle.
  • A great way to see all El Valle de Anton’s wonderful sights in just one day is to sign up to a sightseeing tour. As well as hiking inside a dormant volcano, tours include a trip around a zoo and botanical garden, a stop at a local handicraft market, and a swim in a jungle waterfall and thermal pool. See trip reviews & prices.

4. Embera Indian Village

Embera Indian Villageflickr/Marc Cappelletti

The Embera are a group of people indigenous to Panama as well as some regions in Colombia. There are currently more than 33,000 people living in Panama who identify as Embera, and some of them live in traditional, preserved Indian villages. A wonderful contrast to the international, modern infrastructure of Panama City is a day trip to one of the Embera India villages.

As you’re welcomed into these traditional villages, you’ll be able to fully embrace the culture. You might watch women weave baskets out of palm leaves, paint your body with the local natural dyes or ask questions about life in centuries past. Guided tours are the best way to experience an Embera Indian village, since they are often off the beaten track and not easily accessible to visitors.

Getting to the Embera Indian Village

  • To learn more about Panama’s rich history and cultural heritage, it is well worth taking a tour to a traditional Embera Indian Village. After enjoying a scenic canoe ride along the Chagres River, visitors will take a tour around the village and come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation for their local food, customs, and culture. You can also go for a hike in the surrounding jungle and visit a nearby waterfall. See trip reviews & prices.

3. Panama Canal Sightseeing Cruise

Panama Canal Sightseeing Cruiseflickr/F Delventhal

If you’re in Panama City, you absolutely have to see the Panama Canal. While there are several ways to see the canals and its locks, the best experience will be through a Panama Canal sightseeing cruise. Most of these trips last for a full day, and they will pass through some of the major locks like the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side and the Pedro Miguel locks on the Atlantic side. You’ll also likely spend some time on Lago Gatún, a lake created by the creation of the canal itself. If you want to see the mountains, the scale of the canal and learn more about its history in the process, a sightseeing cruise is the ideal day trip from Panama City.

Taking a transit cruise

  • One of the best ways to see the Panama Canal is to take a transit cruise through the Miraflores Locks. The tour includes a drive along the Amador Causeway, which boasts fabulous views of the canal and Panama City itself. See trip reviews & prices.

2. Isla Taboga

Isla Tabogaflickr/Adam Reeder

Fewer than 16 km (10 miles) off the coast of Panama City is Isla Taboga, which was once inhabited by indigenous Indians who fished and lived in thatched roof homes. The island was also used by the English, the French, the Spanish and even bands of pirates. Today, the island is a mecca for those who want to escape city life and relax in nature. Popular pastimes for visitors include hiking, fishing and enjoying the beach. There are a handful of hotels, restaurants and shops to choose from, but the island is not overly developed and is rarely crowded.

Getting to Isla Taboga

  • Lying just off the Panama City coastline, Isla Taboga is only a 25 to 50-minute ferry ride away, and once you arrive, everything is within walking distance. In Panama City, you can either get a ferry from Balboa Yacht Club or Isla Naos at the end of the Amador Causeway. Between the two companies that run ferries to Isla Taboga, there are only around four or five a day in total, so you’ll want to check the schedule before turning up.
  • A lovely way to visit Isla Taboga is to take a catamaran tour to the island. As well as enjoying the sun, sea, and breathtaking views, the tour includes a visit to the island’s village, a stop off to swim, and an open bar if you want to party on the way back to Panama City. See trip reviews & prices.

1. Miraflores Locks

#1 of Day Trips From Panama Cityflickr/thyngum

If you visit the Panama Canal on a sightseeing cruise, then you might pass through the Miraflores locks by boat. If not, you can still see these incredible locks from land. The Miraflores locks are the closest to the city, and they are easily accessible with a short bus or taxi ride. Once you’re there, you can watch ships large and small pass through the locks. Near the locks there is also a museum, a theater that shows films about the creation of the Panama Canal and a restaurant that serves a very popular international lunch buffet.

Getting to the Miraflores Locks

  • From the center of Panama City, the Miraflores Locks are about an hour away by public transport. First of all, you’ll need to take a bus or metro to Estacion Albrook; this takes about 10 or 15 minutes whichever option you choose. From here, it is about a ten-minute walk to the nearby station of Albrook – Bahia H, where you take either bus F030 or C810 to the locks. Once you arrive, you’ll see signs pointing you where to go.
  • By car, the journey only takes around 20 to 30 minutes, once you escape the capital’s city traffic. Just head southwest out of the city center on Route 1 and turn off onto Route 852, which will take you all the way to Miraflores Locks. As the canal is surrounded by wonderful nature, after seeing the locks, you could always visit the nearby national parks of Soberania or Camino de Cruces.
  • Another option for visiting Miraflores Locks is to combine it with a guided tour around Panama City. As well as watching the ships go through the locks, the sightseeing tour will also take you to explore Casco Viejo, the Amador Causeway, and Ancon Hill, which offers spectacular views of the city. See trip reviews & prices.