1 day to visit Panama City – What to see

After our stay in Bocas del Toro Islands, we came back to Panama City where we spent our 3 last days of the end of our 12 days tour in Panama.

For our first day in Panama City, we decided to visit the city, its historic district, the business district, the fish market and Causeway des Amador.

1 day in Panama City – Contrast of populations and cultures

Cut in half by the Panama Canal, Panama City is surprising because it looks nothing like the other capitals of Central America or South America.

This is an astonishing contrast to the “Caribe” regions that we have just discovered. In Panama City, you can see in the same time businessmen, a Chinese family, wealthy bankers, Kunas women, fishermen, big blondes, street vendors … It’s a beautiful pachwork of different people and cultures.

Panama city in 1 day kunas in the streets
Panama city in 1 day what to do in one day
Panama city in 1 day fisher men

Similarly, you can walk on a craft market or in the historic center, some streets made us think of Cartagena. But in the same day, you can also do your shopping as the Americans can do in huge malls or eat in fast food chains. And the Chinatown still brings a little more diversity to this nice mix of genres.

Nicknamed the “South Miami”, it proudly displays magnificent tall buildings overlooking the ocean.

Finally, at the end of the city, overlooking the sea, still resists the El Casco Viejo district. This is the historic district of Panama City where there are some beautiful, colorful buildings a little decrepit and some pretty cobbled streets. We were able to note with happiness that this district is in full renovation. It seems that the government has realized that this magnificent heritage must be preserved and taken steps to preserve it.

1 day in Panama city – El Casco Viejo

We started by visiting Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It takes an hour to walk around. The Plaza de Francia in honor of the 22,000 workers who died during the construction of the Panama Canal is very nice for the view and for its small craft market. It is in this area and near the Mercado de Mariscos that we find the best restaurants in Panama (except those of the Palaces of course).

Panama City in 1 day el Casco viejo
Panama City in 1 day a street in el Casco viejo

1 day in Panama city – El mercado de mariscos

Next to the Casco Viejo district (10 minutes walk) is the fish and shellfish market. It is a small covered market where fishermen come to sell their fishing. It is a bit noisy, there are strong smells but it is so authentic that it is a place that I highly recommend.

Mercado des mariscos the fish market in Panama City in one day

Behind the market have settled dozens of small, inexpensive restaurants that serve delicious ceviches and other seafood. Count 10 USD a good ceviche or 20 USD for a lobster.

PANAMA CITY a lot of restaurants near the fish market
PANAMA CITY restaurant fish market

On leaving the market, you can access a walk that leads to a magnificent view of the city. Here is a picture taken here:


1 day in Panama city – Museum of Biodiversity

We did not take the time to visit it. We simply admired his architecture.

Juan (our private driver) told us that this museum aims to tell how the isthmus of Panama came out of the sea forever changing the biodiversity of the planet. The permanent exhibition is a combination of art and science focused on ecology and the protection of biodiversity.

From the museum you can see the modern city, the historic district, Ancon Hill and the bridge of the Americas.


1 day in Panama city – Amador

From the Museum, we took a 6-km stretch of road into the Pacific Ocean to the point where the Panama Canal meets the Pacific Ocean. We gradually access to 3 peninsulas (built with the earth and rock extracted from the canal). We went to Isla Naos, Isla Perico and Isla Flamenco. It’s modern, very clean, very organized, with some marinas and zero-rated shops. This is where you have to go to take the ferries to the islands around Panama City including the islands of las Perlas.

This is also where we take the snapshot for tourists!

best of panama city in 1 day

1 day in Panama city – The Business District

Huge and magnificent buildings, big banks, shops, restaurants and quite heavy traffic at the office exits: It’s almost like being in Shanghai!

Business district in Panama city in 1 day

1 day in Panama city – Other activities in Panama City

  • Miraflores Lock (see my article: Panama Canal Tour)
  • Soberania Park (see my article: Panama City between canal and parks)
  • Centro de Artesanias Panamenas: Avenida Arnulfo Arias Madrid and Avenida Amador

1 day in Panama city – Excursions from Panama City

A lot of tours are proposed from Panama City in 1 day or more…


1 day in Panama city – Transportation in Panama City

From our hotel, we could easily go by metro to El Casco Viejo. It was enough to walk 5 minutes to reach the metro station El Carmen and exit at station 5 de mayo. From there, we walk about twenty minutes to reach the historic center.

There is only one metro line for now, so it’s very easy to find one’s way …

metro line panama city 1 day

In addition, by taking the metro, we went on the last day to the last station ALBROOK. From there, take an overhead bridge to get to the bus station. And from the gallery of this bus station, one reaches the largest mall in Central America ALBROOK MALL.

Private driver in Panama City

For our Panama City tour, we didn’t take always the metro. We preferred to take a private driver to save time and make visits more comfortably and at our own pace. It sure has a cost but it was a real pleasure. Juan gave us lots of good advice, good restaurants, gave us the best views of the city and commented everything as a guide would have done.

Here are the contact details of Juan Manuel Rivas Dugarte and his 24/7 agency Transporte:

Panama City cheap restaurants

As I like to eat local, Juan had advised us to eat at Trapiche Restaurant which was 5 minutes walk from our hotel in Via Argentina.

Very good place to eat typical dishes of Panama at very very good prices for Panama City (between 10 and 15 USD the full course). We made our canteen and tasted almost every dish! The one that I recommend above all is the Casuela de Mariscos, a huge seafood casserole of about 500 grams very well prepared.

1 day in Panama City restaurant El Trapiche
1 day in Panama City restaurant El Trapiche drinks

Cheap hotel in Panama City

In the very secure and central EL CANGREJO district is the Clarion Victoria Hotel. I chose this hotel because it is close to bars and restaurants and 8 minutes from metro Iglesia del Carmen.

What a surprise when we arrived! Indeed, while I booked a standard room at 65 Euros per night, the receptionist upgraded us at no extra cost. We were able to enjoy during our stay a beautiful and huge suite on the 7th floor! It included an entrance equipped with a coffee maker, fridge …, a living room (sofa + large screen TV), a bedroom with TV, safe and a nice shower room. From the room we had a great view of Panama City (see below). And the icing on the cake is the pool on the roof of the hotel!

Everything was perfect. A special mention for the breakfasts. As a buffet, there was something for everyone: salty, sweet, cereals, fresh fruit, yogurt, pastries, fresh fruit juice …

More information on Booking

View from the roof terrace of the hotel :

swimming pool cheap hotel in panama city
HOTEL CLARION VICTORIA in panama city center

See our second day arount Panama City:

Soberania Park, Panama Canal, Gatun lake, Gamboa…

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