Panama City easily tops my list of favorite places in Central and South America. A city that is rich in culture and history but at the same time increasingly modern and cosmopolitan, there’s an infectious energy to Panama City—as well as a never-ending list of things to eat, see and do. But no matter how captivating Panama’s capital, sometimes the concrete and urbanization can just be a bit too much. Luckily, Panama City’s ideal location between two oceans means that there is also plenty to experience in the surrounding area.
These three awesome and diverse day trips from Panama City will get you out and adventuring but still have you back in the city in time for dinner and dancing downtown:
1. Sunbathe at nearby Isla Taboga
Also known as the ‘Island of Flowers’, Isla Taboga is just 12 miles from Panama City. The volcanic island boasts one road, two hills, a handful of beaches and a slow-paced way of life; it’s the perfect getaway if you’re looking for a quick escape from the frenzy or to kick back with the sand in your toes.
Isla Taboga doesn’t necessarily have the best beaches in Panama, but they are as quaint and convenient as could be. If you tire from sunbathing all day long, it’s also possible to hike both of the island’s hills, Cerro Vigia and Cerro de al Cruz, for beautiful views from above. Just be sure to head out in the early morning or late afternoon as Isla Taboga stays hot, hot, hot!
There are two passenger ferries that take tourists to the island every day of the week. Ferries depart from the Amador Causeway; in less than an hour you’ll be transported to island paradise. Just try to avoid visiting Isla Taboga on the weekend, as you’ll be sharing your paradise with hordes of fellow Panama City day-trippers.
2. Ride the historic Panama Canal Railway
Most people opt to experience the famed Panama Canal with a visit to the Miraflores Locks, conveniently located just outside the city center. But if you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-track experience, hop aboard the historic Panama Canal Railway.
The Panama Canal Railway runs parallel to the Panama Canal. First built in 1855, it was the first railroad to directly connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Today, tourists can take a step back in time and experience the old-world charm of the train via the 45-minute railway journey. A popular option is to take the train one-way to Colon, get off to view the Panama Canal’s Gatun Locks, and then journey back to Panama City via bus.
Keep in mind that the train ride is more for the nostalgia than the opportunity to see wildlife or learn about the Panama Canal. Additionally, you’ll want to arrive early to get a prime seat on the same side of the canal.
3. Hike the hills of the Altos de Campana National Park
It’s hard to believe that the craggy hills and stunning vistas from the Altos de Campana National Park are just an hour’s journey outside of Panama City. Easily one of my favorite places in all of Panama, the Altos de Campana National Park remains a well-kept secret that only avid bird watchers and a handful of Panamanians are savvy on.
There is one main trail that runs through the National Park’s cool rolling hills and lush secondary forest; a few shorter hikes that go deeper into the forest stem off from it. The walks are more like shady strolls than strenuous hikes, which makes it easy to appreciate the surrounding nature and views. The Sendero La Cruz boasts the best vistas, with the Pacific beach resorts even visible from the hilltop on a clear day.
The wonderful drop in temperature and humidity combined with jaw-dropping views from 800 meters above sea level makes it hard to ever want to leave the park. Luckily, there are options to turn your daytrip into an overnight excursion. The best accommodation available is at Pousada Loma Grande. The charming boutique B&B boasts views that rival those of the National Park, an owner that will have you feeling like family, and a convenient location just minutes away from the park entrance.
Have you been to Panama City? Did you go on any memorable day trips?