Panama City is one of the best places to visit in Central America, as it has no shortage of historic sights, popular attractions, natural beauty and nightlife and entertainment. Panama City may be best known for its world-famous canal, but it has so much more to offer visitors, from the picture-perfect beaches nearby to the beautiful streets of the historic district. There’s a colorful, old-world charm to Panama City, and I was determined to find the heartbeat of this city during my recent trip to Central America.
I can admit that I have a hard time passing up great travel deals, so when I saw an astoundingly cheap flight to Panama City, I knew I had to jump at the opportunity. It had been a long week at work, after all, and with a holiday weekend quickly approaching, I decided to make the most of my long weekend by taking an impromptu getaway. Since my Central America trip was so spur-of-the-moment, I had to find a last-minute hotel in Panama City. Fortunately, finding last-minute hotels is easy when you rely on HotelTonight, which offers great deals on last-minute hotels all over the world. Within minutes, I had booked a hotel room in the center of Panama City, and I was ready to see what the historic capital of Panama had to offer.
Casco Viejo is Panama City’s old quarter, so naturally it’s a popular spot for tourists. However, this hip neighborhood is also a favorite among locals, which is something I quickly discovered while strolling through the historic streets. This UNESCO-protected district features beautiful old colonial buildings, crumbling walls and picturesque squares. As one of the prettiest areas in Panama City, this neighborhood is definitely worth a visit. But be warned – you may end up spending an entire day in Casco Viejo, since this district is home to historic sights, great restaurants, and vibrant nightlife.
Located in the old quarter, the Mercado de Mariscos is a slice of heaven for seafood fanatics. With so much fresh seafood, it’s almost impossible to decide what to eat. Fortunately, a few locals pointed me toward the ceviche, which was easily some of the most delicious ceviche I’ve ever had. After grabbing a bite to eat at the market, you can watch the fishermen hauling in their catches at the dock, and then you’ll realize just how fresh your meal really was.
After chatting with some Panama City expats at the Fish Market, I decided to take their suggestion and head to the Artisan Market, or the Mercado Artesanias de 5 de Mayo. While the surrounding area of the Artisan Market is a little seedy, I was so glad I found out about this hidden gem. As I walked through the stalls of artisanal goods, I saw virtually no other tourists. This local shopping hot spot features an array of goods from local artisans, and you can pick up everything from handcrafted necklaces to hand-woven hats, so it’s a great place to purchase authentic souvenirs from Panama City
It’s hard to visit Panama City without checking out some of its most famous sights, such as the Canal and Panama Viejo. This World Heritage Sight is composed of the remaining relics of the old Panama City, so you can walk through the ruins of what was once the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast. The mixture of Spanish and Central American architecture is striking, and it’s definitely a must-see sight for any history buffs visiting Panama City.
The next day, I decided to head out of the city to one of the beloved beaches nearby. I opted for a day trip to San Blas, a string of hundreds of islands east of the Panama Canal, most of which are uninhabited. The beaches of San Blas look like something straight out of a screen saver, and I had to continuously pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. This was the perfect way to spend a day – lounging on sugary white sand, swimming in clear aquamarine water and interacting with the friendly locals. I had only been in Panama for less than two days, but I had already fallen in love with the country, its culture, and its stunning natural beauty.
Even though I only had a few days in Panama City, I was able to get a great feel for the heart of the town thanks to all of the locals and expats I encountered. I always try to experience new cities the way locals experience them, because that’s the best way to understand what a city is really all about. Fortunately, I was able to explore Panama City that way thanks to HotelTonight, which made it possible for me to book a last-minute Panama City hotel in a matter of minutes. You can bet that the next time I take an impromptu trip out of the country, I’ll rely on HotelTonight to book my last-minute accommodations.