The Perfect Panama City Weekend Itinerary

Panamá Viejo ruins are a great stop on a Panama City weekend itinerary.

Panama City is the vibrant capital of Panama. You can base an entire vacation from Panama City and take day trips out and about. This perfect Panama City weekend itinerary is how to spend just a few days in Panama City and surrounding areas! If you only have a few days to see the country and its 10 provinces, I recommend a second trip! Really! There’s so much to do and see like other Central American countries, the country’s diversity in people and landscape is vast.

Hotel: Aloft Panama City

I think picking your base camp is crucial. If you’re going to stay in the city and just make short trips out and about, I recommend Aloft Panama. When you are only in Panama City for a few days and need convenience and comfort — choosing a familiar brand like Marriott is a good plan. This hotel was right around $146/night at the time of our stay. Since it’s a Marriott property, there were toiletries, a pantry, breakfast, and English-speaking front desk attendants. The hotel was safe and well-located for traveling to the sites mentioned here. Staying at one hotel the entire time is a bit out of character for us — we love to stay at eco-lodges, and boutique hotels, and hop along the map. However, because we were in one spot, I could check this bag and as a result could unpack a bit, which was refreshing! Aloft Panama City is a great spot for a weekend itinerary in and around Panama City.

The Perfect Panama City Itinerary Includes Visiting the Panama Canal

Panama canal with cruise ship crossing
The Panama Canal is a must-do while visiting Panama City for a weekend.

This is such a big part of Panama’s developmental history. You can’t visit Panama without seeing the Canal. The IMAX movie is really fabulous. I initially rolled my eyes at sitting in a movie theater for 45 minutes while in Panama. Morgan Freeman narrates a beautiful film which is in English with Spanish subtext. The movie covers the renovation of the Canal, natural history, and so much more than just how ships get from one side to the other. Make sure to look into the schedule of when ships are in the Canal. It’s a real treat to watch a giant ship like a Norwegian cruiser to slowly but steadily pass through, while all the passengers wave happily from on board.

Plan at least 2 hours for the Panama Canal, depending on ship schedules and the IMAX showings.

Panama sign for photo opportunities
Panama sign and lovely park with oceanside walkway.

Colonial Downtown and the Causeway

The historic colonial down town area of the city is a dream walking tour. There are street vendors set up in the park and so many places to eat around each cobblestoned corner. Some of the buildings have art deco influence, others take on the feel of French Quarter New Orleans. It’s a true mixing pot of architectural beauty when you look around the neighborhood. You can find traditional Panamanian fare or contemporary menus with fun mocktails. It runs the gambit. Spend an hour walking around after your meal to really drink in the culture. The Panama sign in colorful letters near the seafood market on the causeway makes a perfect photo spot!

The Panama sign is located in a lovely park with a walking path along the water. It’s an easy Uber from area hotels in Panama City. The fish market is within 5 minutes walking distance of the sign.

Mother and son posing in the Embera demonstrative village in Panama.
Every moment in Panama can be an adventure.

Visit the Embera Demonstrative Village

The Embera are such warm and welcoming people! We visited their demonstrative village (along with several cruise excursion-goers) and while I expected naively a more exclusive, intimate experience, this was a highlight of our trip. This tribe pivoted their livelihood from utilizing natural resources and subsisting to ecotourism to be more sustainable on the land they call home. That’s pretty admirable! We were able to play a game of soccer with the local kids, admire and purchase hand crafted items from village artisans, and even get traditional tattoos before heading back to Panama City.

The canoe trip to the village is about 15 minutes from the marina and just a short drive from Panama City.

Photo of author at the top of the hill.
It’s humid hiking the trail up — but the views are great!

Take a Hike up Ancon Hill

You wouldn’t think that a magical uphill hike (on a paved road no less) would have been the spot where we found snakes, leaf cutter ants, birds, and even — a sloth. The paved roadway seemed to be decommissioned for auto traffic. This made it a lovely path for those with mobility needs and strollers to be able to enjoy alongside the other morning runners and leisurely walkers. At the top of the hill there are so many vistas with sweeping cityscape panoramas. The hike has alternate paths with stairs, which get you up quicker. The winding path is much easier on your knees for going down. This is an easy out and back of a little over 2 miles (1.6 km)  total.

Bring water (there will likely be someone toward the bottom selling bottled water, too.) There are benches at the top.

Head to the Valley

The Anton Valley is another special place — though this spot requires a few hours travel, you’ll love the diversity in the landscape and the beauty of the lush valley. It’s worth the drive! Enjoy a local traditional meal at one of the small restaurants in the city center. The open air market is full of fruits, vegetables, woodcrafts, and other traditional art to bring home amazing souvenirs to remember each day of your Panama City weekend itinerary!

A traditional Panamanian meal from an Anton Valley restaurant.
Traditional meals were the very best! This one may have been my favorite.

This was a two and a half hour drive one-way. Make sure to spend several hours in Anton’s Valley to really take in your surroundings. It’s worth the trip to see different scenery and to get our of the city to a more pastoral setting. 

These are full days. You’ll be tired and sweaty when you return to your hotel or casita. You will be able to squeeze every minute of your weekend in Panama City from this travel itinerary though! Feel free to reach out to me on Instagram @WayfaringMandy with your best Panama City tips and go-to spots!