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After wrapping up our week around Panama, we all left with a love for the city and the people. It’s been one of our favorite Central American Cities and it has a really fun vibe to it.
We spent 3 days in Panama City and that was a fantastic amount of time to see the city well, and to enjoy interacting with the locals. We combined that with a 5 day sailing trip through the nearby San Blas Islands which is probably one of the best things to do in the area.
Since we are fully aware that not all Central American Cities are kid friendly (having spent 8 months in Central America with kids), we wanted to showcase the best things to do in Panama City with kids.
How To Get Into Panama City With Kids
Most international flights into and out of Panama City will go through Tocumen INternational Airport. The airport is fairly nea and modern and we had an incredibly fast transition into Panama. We encountered almost no lines at the airport (actually, the whole country was that way), and we go through immigration and customs seamlessly.
Tocumen International Airport is about 45 minutes outside of the city.
Getting from Tocumen Airport to Panama City by Car
To get into Panama city by taxi, follow the signs at the airport to the Taxi area. THe fixed price from the airport to Panama City is $30.
For more space, consider taking an Uber. An Uber XL between Tocumen Airport and Panama CIty will cost around $25, and will have plenty of room for your luggage. We did this on our return since it was the most convenient way to travel with our luggage (most Panama taxis are VERY SMALL, so transporting luggage and people can be difficult).
Getting from Tocumen Airport to Panama City By Metro
This is by far the most affordable way to get into Panama City. The entire trip costs $0.85 per person and kids under 10 were free on the metro. The metro line from Tocumen to the airport had just opened about a month before our trip, so we decided to give it a try. Getting to the metro was about a 4-minute walk once we left the terminal, and there were several metro staff on hand to help explain the system to us. You will need a metro card, which we purchased for $5 at the sim card shop inside the airport ($3 for the card and $2 of credit on it – one card works for multiple people).
Our initial impression was fantastic, however, we had 2 train transfers, and this was very hard with our luggage. While it was easy to get around the metro stations, the trains were very crowded and it was difficult to get on and off with our luggage (with standing room only). We were traveling around noon, so we weren’t dealing with rush hour traffic. While we made it to the city fine, it was a bit of a challenge, so this option is better with older kids or if you’re on a strict budget.
Getting Around Panama City With Kids
There are a few different options for getting around Panama City with kids. Here are the best options:
Panama City Uber
Uber is easily the most convenient way to get around Panama City and is often the most affordable. We rarely had to wait more than a few minutes for our Uber and our drivers were always polite.
Panama City Taxi
Taxis are abundant in Panama City. The only downside is that they often charge per person, not per ride. So if you have a family of 4, you’ll pay more than for just one person. For this reason, we found Uber to be the more economical option. Also, if you have limited Spanish, explaining your directions to a taxi driver can be difficult.
Panama City Metro
Panama City Metro is incredibly affordable, and with frequent trains, it’s one of the best options. Metro rides in Panama since rides are incredibly affordable at just $0.35. You will need a metro card, which costs $3. A Panama Metro card also works on metro buses, which connect to the stations, and cost $0.25-$0.35 per ride.
While it was difficult to take the metro with our luggage, it was never a problem without luggage and we used the metro several times during our week in Panama.
Is It Safe To Drink The Water In Panama City?
Generally, the water is considered safe to drink in Panama City. However, it doesn’t taste great, with most places having a dirt flavor to the water. In fact, the most of the bottled water had the same taste as well. We had some of these little drink mix packets we would carry with us to help make the water taste better and to keep the kids drinking and hydrated all day long. Our whole family drank primary tap water in Panama City and we didn’t have any problems.
Casco Viejo is also known as the Old Quarter. It is a historic district in Panama City, Panama, known for its beautiful architecture, vibrant culture, and rich history. While we had great hopes that our kids would appreciate all of the culture and history here, they mostly loved running around the plazas, chasing pigeons, looking for souvenir shops and looking for the next place to get a raspado (a Latin American snowcone with sweetened condensed milk on top).
We used this self guided walking tour and it was great to show us some of the highlights as well as get a good idea for what the area was like. You could easily spend a few hours at Casco Viejo with kids, but anything more than half a day would be overkill. If you want to take a tour to learn more about the history from a local, consider this Casco Viejo tour.
Here are some of the highlights of Casco Vieo with the kids:
Visit Plaza de la Independencia
This historic square is a great place to start your exploration of Casco Viejo. Kids can run around and play while you admire the beautiful colonial buildings and the statue of Simon Bolivar. We visited in early April and the trees were blossoming which was stunning.
Walk along the waterfront
Take a stroll along the waterfront at Paseo del La Bovedas. The kids could watch boats go by and everyone enjoyed the street performers and looking at local handicrafts here. There are fantastic views of downtown Panama City from here.
Visit the Iglesia de San Jose
This historic church is home to the famous Golden Altar, a spectacular work of art made from gold leaf. Kids may be fascinated by the intricate details and the history behind it.
Mi Pueblito is a small replica of what old Panama would have been like around the building of the Panama Canal. This was one of the most educational and interesting experiences we had in Panama City with kids. In Mi Pueblito, there are several buildings with replicas of what you would have seen when the canal was being built. You’ll see old classrooms, a farm, a church, a barber shop, and more.
While we typically avoid tours, since they can be difficult with our younger kids, we decided to do a tour here, and it was so worth it. In fact, our 6-year-old was incredibly engaged and came up with tons of great questions for our tour guide. Entrance to Mi Pueblito was $1 for locals and $3 for visitors. Tour guides were there and were free and work for tips (ours had great English skills, since our kids don’t speak much Spanish).
Panama Canal at Miraflores
In our homeschool history curriculum this year, we’ve been studying about the Panama Canal and so a visit to the Miraflores Locks with kids was an obvious choice. From downtown Panama City, the drive was about 15 minutes, and cost $6 in an Uber.
TIP: If were were to visit the Panama Canal again, we would have done it on a tour where we could actually sail THROUGH the canal.
Tickets are pretty expensive to visit the Panama Canal, but it’s an experience that was well worth the money. Adults (13+) were $17.22 and kids were $7.22. Ticket prices include a visit to the observation decks and an IMAX 3D movie.
The most complicated thing about visiting the Panama Cana with kids is that you can only go the Observation Deck once. That means that you have to do the IMAX for half of the time and the other half for the Observation deck. The IMAX movies play about every hour and thirty minutes so try to time your visit accordingly.
While most of Panama City felt very empty, the Panama Canal was the exception. It was quite crowded here. Boats only go through the canal at certain times, so make sure to check the Panama Canal Transist schedule here to see when the boats are going through the canal during your visit (the times vary slightly each day)
Sail The San Blas Islands
The San Blas Islands are hands down the most beautiful part of Panama. The tropical, often deserted islands are like a dream, and the warm Caribbean water is perfect for kids. Ruled by the native Guna Indians, the San Blas Islands are worth spending some time during your Panama City Trip.
While there are plenty of tours selling day trips to San Blas Islands, you’ll have about 3 hours of transportation each way to get there, so we recommend spending more time there. Our family spent 5 days sailing the San Blas Islands, and it was absolute perfection.
Bike The Amador Causeway
Our family LOVES to bike, so we always look for great opportunities to bike when we travel. The Amador Causeway is the best place to bike in Panama City with kids. From one end to the other, it’s about 4km, which was perfect for our kids to go down and back, with a few photo stops in an hour. If you’ve got younger kids, 2 hours is a good amount of time to plan here.
There is almost no shade along the Causeway, so plan to bring plenty of water, and try to go earlier in the day when it’s a bit cooler. On your way back, plan a stop of Juegos Amador Park for the kids to enjoy the great playground and splashpad.
The splashpad was a lifesaver for us on the hot Panama Day we were there. The kids got fully soaked and were only damp by the time we got back to Moses Bikes. Tip: make sure the kids take their shoes off since they won’t dry as quickly as clothes (yes, we made that mistake).
We rented bikes at Moses bikes (just around the corner from BioMuseo), and were so impressed with their operation. They had bikes for the whole family and even fun surrey bikes and buggies. We found everything from 12″ bikes with training wheels, to 29″ mountain bikes. To make the day a little more exciting, we decided to try a little bit of everything with Grandma on an Ebike, mom and dad on a tandem, and one of the kids on an electric scooter. Prices for bikes were $3 for kids bikes, $4 for adult bikes and more for specialty bikes.
Stroll The Waterfront
The waterfront in Panama City is beautiful and it’s where you’ll see a lot of local families out together. From Democracy Plaza to the Mercade de Marisco, there’s a fantastic walking path, along with bike lanes and plenty of green space.
Connecting the walkway with the city, are several large red bridges, may of which will drop you off at a park on the other side of traffic. While seeing the sunset from the top of a Panama Skyscraper was highly recommend to us, we would say that walking the waterfront at dusk (when the lights are all turning on), was even better.
Enjoy a Rooftop Pool
Panama City has two types of weather – hot and rainy. Even when it’s rainy it’s still pretty warm. Make sure that you do yourself a favor and get a hotel with a pool. You’ll absolutely need it when you visit Panama with kids. Most large hotels have rooftop pools, so plan on a sunset swim when you can swim and catch the sunset over the cityscape at the same time. We stayed at the Tryp by Wyndham and their 2 room executive suit was an an incredible deal at $72 per night and the rooftop pool was so fun for the kids.
Take a Trip on the Panama Metro
I mentioned the metro several times above, but a trip on the Panama City metro is a must do. Panama City is the largest metropolitan area in Central America and is the only place where you’ll find a metro system as well. The metro trains and stations are generally clean and operate well, and it’s the cheapest way to get around Panama (well, besides walking). At just $0.35 per ride, you really can’t go wrong.
Explore the Biomuseo
The Biomuseo, also known as the Museum of Biodiversity, is a unique museum located in on the Amador Causeway. Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the museum opened in 2014 and is dedicated to showcasing the rich biodiversity of Panama and the importance of preserving it. Truthfully, the most spectacular part of the building was the architecture (which you can enjoy from outside for free.
The museum consists of eight galleries, each focused on a different aspect of Panama’s biodiversity, including its ecosystems, species, and geological history. If you want to learn more about the rainforest, this is the place. If you’re already planning a trip to the jungle while you’re in Panama, the Biomuseo won’t be as impressive.
The galleries are designed to be interactive and engaging, with exhibits that use multimedia displays, hands-on activities, and interactive technology to teach visitors about the importance of biodiversity and the challenges facing conservation efforts in Panama and around the world.
Visit the Puente Culebra Nature Center
The Puente Culebra Nature Center is home to a variety of animals, including howler monkeys, sloths, and toucans, as well as a number of reptiles and amphibians. The center also has an aquarium, where visitors can see the freshwater fish and other aquatic life found in the rivers and streams of Panama.
The center offers a range of educational programs and activities for visitors of all ages, including guided nature walks, lectures, and workshops. Visitors can also learn about the history of the Panama Canal and the role that the natural environment played in its construction and operation.
The Puente Culebra Nature Center is only open from Wednesday-Sunday with very limited hours. Unfortunately, we were hoping to visit on a Monday or Tuesday so we didn’t get to experience this firsthand, but several people told us it was fantastic!
Hike The Parque National Metropolitan
If you’re headed to Mi Pueblito, plan on also spending some time at the Parque National Metropolitan, since they’re at the same place. The park is such an anomaly since it’s a huge hill (Cerro Ancon) that’s untouched right in the city. We’ve heard that you can see sloths and Coati here as well as lots of birds. While we didn’t see any fantastic wildlife here (likely due to how active the kids were), the chance to get out into nature while still being right in the city was very appreciated. The views from here were also spectacular.
Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo
The Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo is a little bit outside of Panama City, near the Miraflores locks at the Panama Canal. The botanic gardens are about 250 hectares and have some lovely, landscaped grounds where you can get to know the local flora of Panama. There are plenty of spaces here that are perfect for picnicking.
The zoo here isn’t a zoo in the regular sense, but rather a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center. Here they take care of endangered or mistreated animals, with the hope to eventually release them back into the wild. The facilities are pretty basic, and you never are completely certain what you’ll see, but you’ll almost always see a good variety of birds and monkeys as well as some sort of larger animal.
Tour Monkey Island
Monkey Island, also known as Isla de los Monos, is a small island located in the Gatun Lake in the middle of the Panama Canal. The island is home to several species of monkeys, including capuchin, howler, and spider monkeys, as well as other wildlife such as sloths, toucans, and crocodiles.
To tour Monkey Island, visitors typically start by taking a boat ride from Panama City to the town of Gamboa, which is located near the entrance to the Panama Canal. From there, they board a smaller boat that takes them to Monkey Island, which is located a short distance away.
Check out this great wildlife tour of Lake Gatun to see monkey island!
Once on the island, visitors can observe the monkeys in their natural habitat, as they swing through the trees and interact with each other. The monkeys are accustomed to human visitors, and often approach the boats to get a closer look or to beg for food. However, it’s important to note that feeding the monkeys is discouraged, as it can disrupt their natural behavior and even make them sick.
In addition to seeing the monkeys, visitors to Monkey Island can also enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding rainforest and the Gatun Lake. Boat tours often include a stop at a nearby crocodile farm, where visitors can see these fascinating reptiles up close.
Where to Eat in Panama City with Kids
Panama City has a huge variety of foods, so it’s easy to find something here that your kids will like. While most regular menus were pretty good, the majority of kids menus simply consisted of chicken tenders or fish sticks – making this a great place to have your kids split an adult meal so they can try the local fare.
Here are some of our favorite places to eat in Panama City with kids.
Manolos Churriria: This dessert stop on Via Argentina is great for grabbing some churros and the ice cream specialty Batitos
El Trapiche: There are branches of El Trapiche all over the city and it’s our favorite place to get local Panamanian food at really affordable prices. We love getting the sampler platter so the whole family can try a variety of dishes from the area.
Restaurante Tinajas: Local food, but the real highlight is the dancing and singing show at 9pm nightly from Tuesday-Saturday each week. While it might be a bit late for some kids, it’s worth trying to make it happen (Make sure to get reservations for eating here with the show).
Safety Concerns Visiting Panama City
Generally, Panama City felt like a pretty safe town. As with all big cities, be aware of your surroundings, don’t keep valuables out, and stash your phone and cash in an inside pocket. I used this anti-theft bag in Panama City and it’s great because it’s splashproof and has enough space to carry my wallet, snacks for the kids, and 2 water bottles.
Money in Panama City
Panama City uses the Dollar and the Balboa interchangeably. They both have equal value. While most street vendors and taxis will just accept cash, credit cards are widely accepted. We just got cash out of the ATM, and recommend using the Scotiabank ATM’s since they allow you to withdraw up to $500 cash, and all other ATM’s have a $250 limit.