Home Food + DrinkBars A Long Weekend in Panama City, Panama Itinerary

A Long Weekend in Panama City, Panama Itinerary

by Jennifer Tripucka
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A weekend getaway to Panama City, Panama might sound a little extra adventurous for a few days of time off, but we’re here to tell you it’s actually a hop, skip, and a jump directly from Newark Airport. The city is rich in culture, history, architecture, ceviche, and rooftop bars. So buckle up to hop in that Uber en route to EWR and get ready for an incredible itinerary and trip to Panama City, Panama for a long weekend.

It’s worth noting, Panama City is a city filled with history, delicious food spots, and a plethora of hotels, and it can be hard to know where to start.

LK Travel Experience really hit it home for us in the booking and planning department — Lindsay is a local travel agent in the NYC metro that specializes in 4- and 5-star hotel trips all over the world, and her picks were on point. And no, this isn’t sponsored, we just loved the trip that much!

Because this is an overview of Panama City as a whole, we’ll just note the spots she recommended, as well as the other discoveries made along the way.

Hotels in Panama City

Hotel La Compania | Avenue A + Calle 8, Casco Antiguo

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This was where we stayed in Panama’s Old Quarter thanks to LK Travel — and it was one of the coolest hotels, hands down. There’s an outdoor pool, a rooftop spa, five in-house restaurants, and two bars within, including a rooftop bar. But what set this property apart was its decor and ambiance; the hotel itself encompasses an entire city block with three distinct cultural time period wings. Each wing pays homage to the cultural time periods that influence the property — which was originally built in the 17th century by Jesuit priests to house San Javier University, Panama’s first university. In 2022, after several years of construction and wing additions, it debuted as La Compania in Panama, with incredible amenities throughout. It is absolutely worth booking, as it was an amazing stay.

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A few other hotels of note to look into (but contact Lindsay, and she’ll get you fully situated!):

La Concordia Boutique Hotel | Avenida Central + Calle A + Calle B, Santa Ana, Casco Viejo

La Concordia is a smaller boutique hotel with 10 rooms — all, according to its owners, exclusively tailored to provide a tasteful and unique experience. Each room ranges from 376 to 646 square feet and has its own private balcony.

Central Hotel Casco Viejo | Plaza de la Independencia, Corregimiento San Felipe, Casco Antiguo

Steps away from the Presidential Palace, Central Hotel Casco Viejo was constructed over 150 years ago. It was recently renovated to include preserving its incredible and historic facade — one which the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Ferdinand de Lesseps (RHONY reference, amirite?) stayed within. Today it still remains a 5-star hotel, with historic luxury that is worth a visit to the lobby if nothing else.

Sofitel Legend Hotel | Calle Primera Oeste, San Felipe, Casco Viejo

A new hotel to the Panama City scene, Sofitel is a luxury chain that is set right on the peninsula of Casco Viejo by the water. It’s a 5-star hotel, and has a beautiful interior and grounds next to the shoreline.

American Trade Hotel | Boulevard 1Plaza Herrera, Casco Viejo

This boutique luxury hotel is located in Casco Viejo with quite a storied past. Previously, it was run down with graffiti all over its walls. In its restoration, its owners decided to keep the walls as-is, adding to the uniqueness of the design and layout. It’s right in the heart of Casco Viejo, with a lot of places to go right around — including its coffee shop, Cafe Unido, a must-stop for coffee.

Dreams Playa Bonita | Camino a Veracruz, Km 7, Veracruz

This is a hotel located on Playa Bonita, the closest beach to Panama City — and it’s essentially an all-inclusive. If you’re not up for major exploration and just want to hang around, this may be a better option.

Restaurants + Bars

Panamanian foods that are quite popular include rice and beans, plains, yuca, seafood dishes — especially ceviche or sancocho de pescado (a fish soup), and other meats such as chicken and pork. There was no shortage of good meals, unique dining, and rooftop experiences in this city. Here are a few top picks for restaurants and bars in Panama City.

Fonda Lo Que Hay | Casco Antiguo, Ciudad de Panama, Calle Jose Obaldia, Edificio el Colegio, Planta Baja

A ‘Fonda’ is known in Panama as an inexpensive roadside restaurant (similar to Italian coffee bars in Italy). Jose Olmedo Carles Rojas, the mastermind behind Fonda Lo Que Hay, created a modern spin on traditional Panamanian dishes, served in a neon-lit dining room that is giving hipster-meets-Michelin. It’s known by locals as one of the best — with the menus changing regularly. You cannot book in advance, so make sure you get there early.

El Santuario | Avenida A + Calle 8, Casco Antiguo

La Compania’s restaurant complete with a wine cellar should be added to your list of things to do. It’s one of the restaurants within the hotel, and the secret lower level complete with your own sommelier will elevate the experience ten-fold.

CasaCasco | Calle 10 + Avenida A #8-15

Panama is known for having spectacular rooftop bars and views, and Casa Casco is one of its best. It is perched atop the three different restaurants below it, all with various cuisines — but the crown jewel is definitely the open-air bar on top.

La Barbara | Calle 10

While in Casco Viejo, this spot is a fun visit— it’s an upscale hair salon in the front (we got a great blowout/haircut there randomly while walking by!), but behind the salon are doors that open up into a cocktail and sushi bar. The dazzle of the interior isn’t the only perk, the food and mixology are delicious as well.

Sisu Coffee Studio | Calle 9 + Avenida B

The Lamastus Family Estates created this upscale coffee house, and while coffee prices rival NYC here, it’s such a luxe coffee shop that deserves a visit. One can also taste-test Geisha coffee here, which is indigenous to Africa, Asia, and some areas of Central America.

Tantalo Rooftop Bar | Calle 8 Este con Avenida B, Casco Viejo

 

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Tantalo Rooftop bar is open seven days per week, and often hosts live music in its space. The bar has any cocktail imaginable, and it’s open from sunset until late-night.

La Pulperia | Calle 9 Este, Casco Antiguo

Another Casco Viejo gem, this spot has a mix of tapas and cocktails served up by mixologists in an upscale setting. The noteworthy aspect here beyond the food and drink is definitely the ambiance; it’s dark and moody, with a touch of upscale.

Mahalo Snack Shop | Avenida A

This was a smoothie and breakfast/lunch spot we went to a few times throughout the stay, and for good reason. There are several locations in Panama City, and each one has a health-focused menu where smoothies and other juices can be found. Everything was fresh and with the heat, the beverages were a perfect afternoon pick-me-up. It’s also a good spot to pop up your laptop if you’re doing work while on your trip.

Historic Sites + Must-Visits

Mercado de Mariscos | Panama City’s Seafood Market

This is worth a walk-through to see how the fish is caught and sold at restaurants within. Each small restaurant is no-frills and has pretty similar takes on local dishes, but the vibrancy of the market is an experience in itself. It’s common to experience restaurant workers summoning you in, sometimes intensely, so if that’s not your thing, stick to the market area.

Panama Canal

Perhaps similar to visiting the Empire State Building in that it’s a major tourist attraction, however, we’re here to tell you this is one of the modern wonders of the world and an experience you need to take time to do. A ticket to the Locks will get you to the viewing platform, and it’s recommended to get there early morning or late afternoon to see the boats line up to enter the canal. While it takes each boat 30 minutes to an hour to pass by the viewing platform, it’s quite enamoring to see how the boats can be navigated through the most strategic artificial waterway through manpower. A local guide will share tidbits and interesting facts about the crossing process — including how high the boats are raised — and the construction. It’s a slow-moving endeavor, but relax and take in the engineering feat.

At the visitor center, there is also an IMAX film about the canal. We did not attend due to time, but from our understanding, it is phenomenal (and narrated by Morgan Freeman!). There are also full tours through the canal if you want to actually cross through its 150 miles.

Walking Tour of Downtown Casco Viejo

Also known as Casco Antigua, this neighborhood is in the historical center of Panama City as well as the heart of the gastronomy scene of Panama — and is considered the ‘old quarter.’ It’s a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site, with beautiful plazas and picturesque streets surrounded by colorful buildings throughout. Everywhere you turn is a photo opp, and the area is a must for walking around, stopping into various restaurants and shops, and even some of the city’s top museums and vintage churches.

Take a Photo in Front of the Panama Sign

If you’re looking to get extra touristy (for good reason!), there are two spots to snap a photo in front of the famous Panama signs. One such spot, Avenida Balboa, has memorable skyline-meets-waterfront views in the background. The other signage locale is near Biomuseo.

Eat Ceviche

This is an obligatory activity when in South and Central America in general, and Panama City is no exception. A few noteworthy spots for this raw, citrusy delicacy are Casablanca, Santa Rita Casca Viejo, and Lazotea Jorge Rausch.

Visit the Panama City Rainforest

If Central Park was a rainforest, it would look like this. Perched atop a mountain in the middle of the city, it’s a sweaty climb to the top — but the view and wildlife sightings make it all worth it.

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Amador Causeway

This is worth even just an Uber ride or bike ride along the water all around — you’ll be able to take in the views and perhaps grab a bite or a drink. The causeway, facing the Pacific Ocean, was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. The Biomuseo is also here, which is a museum focused on the natural wildlife of Panama.

It’s a truly spectacular place that is worth every second of exploration, and a short flight from the U.S. to boot. Panama City, we loved you.

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