Planning Your Time
Those in a big hurry can see Panama City’s main tourist attractions, from Casco Viejo to Panamá la Vieja, in a single day. But try to spend at least a couple of days in the capital. That’s the only way to get a sense of its rhythms and to experience its less-showy charms: feeling a tropical evening breeze at a sidewalk café, splurging on dinner at an elegant restaurant, bargaining for molas (handcrafted blouses) with a Kuna, dancing at an all-night club, or just people-watching on the streets.
Consider spending a day wandering around the city’s more colorful shopping districts. If time and budget allow, plan on at least one evening out on the town. Good areas to combine dinner and clubbing include the Calle Uruguay area, Casco Viejo, and Calle 53 in Marbella.
Parque Natural Metropolitano offers a chance for those who can’t make it to the national parks to enjoy a true tropical nature walk within the city limits. It’s a short drive from downtown, and the longest trail takes two hours to walk.
Those compelled to see and do it all should count on about four full days in Panama City, after which they’ll be ready for a rest. Most, however, will be content to hit the highlights over the course of two or three days.
Because downtown Panama City is so close to the Panama Canal, many visitors prefer to extend their stay in the city and make day trips to explore the canal area rather than shift their home base to lodging in the former Canal Zone. (Some do just the opposite—base themselves in a canal-area hotel and explore Panama City from there.) In that case, plan on an extra day or two to see the major sights on the Pacific side of the canal, and at least another day or two to explore the Caribbean side.
The climate in Panama City is hot and humid in the dry season (approximately mid-December to mid-April) and hot, very humid, and wet in the rainy season. But for most of the rainy season storms don’t sweep in until midafternoon and generally come down in short, powerful bursts that race on as quickly as they arrive.
Because of the high ratio of concrete to trees, midday can be wiltingly hot. Explore in the early mornings and reserve the afternoons for relaxing. Sunday is by far the quietest time in the city, with the fewest cars on the road. Keep in mind, however, that many places are closed on Sunday.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition