3 Best Places to See Around Panama City

Panama City is the most cosmopolitan city in Central America. It is the major air hub of the region and has the best nightlife, restaurants, etc. However, no trip to Panama is complete without checking out other areas of the country. There are several day trips you can take to great and interesting places right around Panama City. Here are my three favorite spots.

1. The Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is one of the world’s greatest man made marvels. It stretches 50 miles from Panama City on the Pacific side to Colon on the Atlantic side and it cuts right through the Continental Divide.

It accommodates 15,000 vessels per year and makes some $6 million a day; yes a day. The Panamanian Government is also in the midst of a $5.25 billion expansion project to allow it to accommodate even larger vessels to make more money as they charge by container.

The canal has three sets of locks; Miraflores and Pedro Miguel on the Pacific side; and Gatun on the Atlantic side. These locks are what allow the boats to pass through. It still is considered an engineering wonder of the world.

The canal is surrounded by lush rainforest; which contains some of the best places to view wildlife in Panama. It is also a big construction zone at the current time and the traffic if you time the ships passing through wrong can be brutal. However, no trip to Panama is complete without at least checking it out.

2. Portobelo

This awesome little Caribbean fishing village is really laid back. It is so laid back that it is hard to believe that it was once the greatest Spanish port in Central America. The town once housed great treasures from South America and Asia in its customs house. While many of the great buildings were destroyed over time by privateers, some still stand including the customs house and the impressive Iglesia de San Felipe.

The Iglesia de San Felipe is the home of the famed Cristo Negro or Black Christ. As you can see, it is in fact a black Jesus wearing lavish robes and carrying a wooden cross. Nobody knows exactly how, when and why the statue originated because Captain Henry Morgan destroyed all the church records during the sacking of Panama in 1671. However, there are some interesting folklore tales that will keep you entertained if you ask a local. Ask Jack at Captain Jack’s bar and he’ll tell you all about it…mention Holy Cross football and he’ll get even more excited!

Portobelo also has the impressive Fuerte Santiago. As you drive into Portobelo from the west it’ll be the first thing you see in town. It is outlined with cannons aiming out to sea and is a nice place to walk around and think what life was like 400 years or so ago.

There is also a great viewpoint across the road from Fuerte Santiago. It is a pretty steep climb up some really muddy stairs. It’ll take you between 10-30 minutes to get up there depending on how fit you are. There is a little lookout watchtower that you can enter and have great views of the fort and the water behind it. It is worth a hike up but bring water because it’s always hot.

3. Fuerte San Lorenzo

The World Heritage Site listed fort of San Lorenzo is pretty spectacular. As far as Spanish forts in the new world go, it’s about as good as any I’ve seen. It is perched high above the Rio Chagres on a promontory not far from the canal. It was built as a strategic fort because it is the where the river meets the sea.

Today the fort is pretty well preserved and serves as an awesome viewpoint of the river and still has some fantastic rooms and preserved areas to walk through. Make sure to walk around the entire site because you will surely discover some little nooks and crannies and perhaps a secret passage or two that you wouldn’t have seen at first glance.

Head deep inside to see the preserved windows with great views of the river. Walk the moat for excellent views of the underbelly of the fort. San Lorenzo is a great stop and well worth the trip out from Panama City.

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  1. Good story, thanks

  2. Makes me want to go to Panama and check them out. I love that San Lorenzo Fort, looks so mysterious.

  3. Beth Walters says

    WHat is that, a trap door where they killed people or something??

    • It’s a systern…although reminded me of the fire pit they sent the guy in Indiana Jones down after Mularam took his heart out!

  4. Very cool, how was the weather down there? Looks rainy/cloudy?

    • HOT and cloudy/rainy but always ominous although we’ve had pretty good luck with weather this week so I can’t complain

  5. Very nice pictures of my country.

  6. Looks like a great place, I don’t know much about Panama other than the canal.

    • There’s a lot more to Panama than the canal! But yes most people only know that…very diverse place and very humid!

  7. Great pictures

  8. I went to Panama several years ago and took the canal tour. It was cool but a little boring. It’s a good place to stop en route to somewhere else in Panama though. Did you see multiple locks?

    • Hey Tony and yes I’ve seen all 3 sets of locks between this trip and my first one in 2003…I did the tour in 2003 and yes you nailed it on the head…this time we crossed the canal like 6 times and had plenty of time to look around and saw several ships go thru…not the most exciting thing but still cool

  9. Elizabeth says

    That fort is really spooky

  10. Any suggestions on islands or beaches in Panama to visit? I’m thinking San Blas maybe?

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