Celebrating its 500th anniversary in August 2019, Panama City exudes cosmopolitan cool. It has a Miami vibe, and similar to Singapore and Hong Kong, has diverse cultural influences and colonial architecture standing alongside modern skyscrapers. There's plenty of action to keep mom, dad and the kids entertained and happy. Panama City is an easy destination abroad for families. You can drink the water, they have the same electrical sockets and the US dollar is the main currency, so there's no need to worry about changing money. Panama City also has Uber, which is a cheap and easy way to travel around. It's worth noting, the dry season is from November to April, and this is probably the best time to travel, although it is also the busiest. There's an abundance of activities to keep your crew busy.
Here our are picks for the best activities in Panama City for families.
In the center of the city is the trendy old quarter, Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cobbled streets are lined with beautiful Spanish colonial buildings with terracotta roofs, which are being transformed into stylish hotels, chic restaurants and cool bars. It is very walkable and is fun to wander around. There are museums, historic churches and craft markets where you can pick up souvenirs, as well as coffee shops serving up Panamanian coffee and stylish boutiques.
When your brood needs to re-energize, stop off for a tasty treat at one of Casco Viejo's many dessert spots. PalettAmérica serves up gourmet ice pops in an array of locally inspired flavors; at Ay mi Negra you can enjoy custom you'll find a variety of decadent cookies on offer. There's also the Tropical Chocolate Café, which has a small play area for kids.
Of course, you can't go to Panama without visiting the legendary Panama Canal. Located 20 minutes from the city center, this 48-mile waterway connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through five locks, and is considered one of the world's greatest engineering marvels. You can watch one of the enormous container ships pass through one of the locks at the Miraflores Visitor Center, where you'll find three observation decks, a museum, IMax movie theater and restaurant. The best time to go is before 11 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
Courtesy of EcoCircuitos Panama
Just 45 minutes from Panama City is Gatun Lake, an artificial lake in the Panama Canal that was created when the Chagres River was dammed. Located on the edge of the Gamboa Rainforest, the wildlife here is spectacular and you can enjoy an up-close experience on a river cruise. As well as sloths, you can see a variety of species of monkey, turtles, birds of prey and crocodiles. You can either arrange it through a tour company such as EcoCircuitos or do it yourself and head to the Gamboa public dock and hire a boat with a guide there. For those with older kids, another option is a guided kayak trip, which is sure to be an adventure you'll never forget.
The Amador Causeway is a four-mile boardwalk that runs along the edge of the ocean at the entrance to the Panama Canal. It's fun to cycle along it and there are several places where you can hire bikes or pedal carts for four people, which are ideal if you have younger ones. As well as being home to some top attractions, there are several playgrounds and the Centro Artesanal craft market. It's also a great spot to view the enormous container ships entering and exiting the canal.
The iconic Frank Gehry-designed Biodiversity Museum is a fun and interactive museum dedicated to the fascinating origin of the isthmus of Panama and its impact on the planet's biodiversity. It has eight galleries with hands-on exhibits exploring Panama's history, cultures and wildlife. One of the most impressive galleries is Panamarama, a three-story projection space with ten screens showcasing the country's incredible ecosystems. The museum is located on the Amador Causeway overlooking Panama City's skyline.
Courtesy of Smithsonian
One of the best activities in Panama City for families is Punta Culebra, a Smithsonian Tropical Research outpost. This open-air museum provides an insight into the natural world through science with a mix of marine and amphibian exhibits including the Fabulous Frogs of Panama. There are walking trails where you can spot wildlife, aquariums and touch tanks, as well as plenty of places for little ones to run around. It's also fun to bring a picnic and sit and watch the ships pass by in the distance.
After a few days in the city, you'll probably be in need of some R&R. There are some stunning beaches within easy reach of Panama City on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts. On the Pacific side, around two hours from the city, is the beautiful and family-friendly Buenaventura Golf and Beach Resort. This breathtaking resort is the perfect place to spend a few days relaxing.
As well as the stunning beach and a main pool to die for, it has six other pools, a spa, numerous restaurants, top-notch sports facilities including an 18-hole golf course and tennis courts, horseback riding, ropes course, zip line, and even an animal sanctuary and petting zoo. There's also a kids' club (for ages 5-11) with an action-packed activity schedule that includes arts and crafts, mini-golf and pool games.
Courtesy of The Santa Maria
This new 182-room urban escape made its debut in 2018. It is a quick ride from the airport and although it is popular with business travelers, it is also ideal for families who want a luxurious, resort-style base that's super close to the city, but away from the hustle and bustle. Top-notch facilities including three restaurants, coffee shop and deli, fabulous outdoor pool with a kids' pool, immaculate 18-hole golf course, spa and fitness center. Rooms are stylish and spacious and some come with balconies overlooking the pool. Younger guests can take golf lessons or play mini golf, and there's a lavish weekend brunch with entertainment for kids that's popular with guests and locals. The hotel can also arrange custom tours ranging from a lunch at a favorite local restaurant or a canoe trip down the Chagres River to spend the day with the Embera tribe.
This centrally located 66-story hotel has over 1,400 rooms, some with ocean view balconies and stunning views of the skyline. It is very family-friendly and has an array of facilities including four restaurants, rooftop lounge, infinity pool, spa, gym, beauty salon and even a helipad. Parents can relax by the pool while youngsters enjoy rock-inspired games and activities and hard-to-please teens can hangout at the Teen Spirit Club. We love the in-room extras, which are sure to delight both kids and grownups. The whole family can rock out like Jimmy Hendrix (without annoying other guests) with a fender guitar and headphones or mix some tunes on a Crosley turntable.
Located in the heart of Casco Viejo, this hip and historic boutique hotel is a real treat. It is housed in a beautifully restored Art Deco building and is close to most of the sights, attractions, restaurants, bars and boutiques. The 50-room hotel has an old world colonial vibe and chic modern comforts including a small rooftop pool, restaurant, bar and very popular coffee shop. Although it does feel quite grown up, this is a great hotel to spend a night or two especially if you have older kids. Rollaway cribs and highchairs are available if you have little ones.
By Janine Clements