best things to do in Panama
The best things to do in Panama!
Panama is one of my favorite Central American countries and in my opinion so underrated.
This country got everything you could ask for in a destination: picture-perfect beaches, magical cloud forests and a ton of wildlife.
If you plan a trip to this country, check out my 9 best things to do in Panama and be inspired!
Also check out other helpful blog posts for your upcoming trip, such as the ultimate Panama itinerary.
Table of content
1. Visit the San Blas Islands
Easily one of the best things to do in Panama – visiting the San Blas Islands.
When you see these picture-perfect islands, you won´t believe your eyes. Crystal clear water, white sandy beaches and palm trees. One of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.
If you are into beaches, you definitely can´t miss out on the San Blas Islands.
The archipelago consists of over 300 islands and are home to native Indians of the Guna Yala culture.
Even though visiting the San Blas Islands has gotten more popular recently, this tropical island paradise is still considered a hidden gem in Panama. A popular option to visit the islands is through a sailing trip from Panama to Colombia or the other way around.
Make sure to add the San Blas Islands to your to-do list and If you want to learn more about the islands, check out this detailed blog post HERE.
2. Stay in an overwater bungalow in Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is known to be one of the cheapest places in the world to stay in overwater bungalows.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
On top of that, Bocas del Toro is home to beautiful beaches including starfish beach, a thriving underwater world and some of the wildest parties in Panama (Filthy Friday).
Bocas del Toro consists of several different islands, the main island being Isla Colon. Here you can find most accommodation options. For a more relaxed and quiet experience, I recommend checking out other islands as well.
I personally stayed at an affordable overwater bungalow at Cocovivo Eco Lodge. If you are looking for a relaxing experience, far off the Filthy Friday party crowds, I highly recommend this place.
The property has a lot to offer such as a thriving coral reef, free of charge kayaks and paddle boards as well as amazing wildlife such as sloths and many different birds. If you are lucky, you might even spot dolphins passing by the eco lodge.
Some other overwater bungalow options in Bocas del Toro are:
3. Explore the hiking trails in El Valle de Anton
Nestled in a volcanic crater, this mountain town is a real hidden gem and wonderful area in Panama that you should totally add to your ultimate Panama itinerary, especially if you are into hiking. The area is also home to a few waterfalls and even hot springs.
The climate here is due to the higher elevation a little cooler, which makes great temperatures to explore some of the many hiking trails around El Valle de Anton.
Most trails in El Valle feature amazing views and lead you over picturesque grassy hills.
Some of the best hikes in El Valle de Anton:
- La India Dormida (The sleeping Indian)
- Cerro Cara Iguana
- Cerro La Silla
- Cerro Gaital
- Cerro La Gaita
My favorite hikes were Cerro de La Silla and Cara Iguana.
4. Relax at the unspoiled beaches of Boca Chica
The Boca Chica area is a real hidden gem with wonderful beaches along the Pacific coast.
Relaxing at some of the unspoiled and secluded beaches here is easily one of the best things to do in Panama.
There are several islands to be explored here as well and hopping on a boat to explore some of them is well worth it.
The area is famous for it´s clear water as well as snorkeling, diving and wildlife spotting.
If you like beautiful, secluded beaches, I highly recommend visiting this area.
I have spent several days here, camping at secluded beaches and enjoying the calm waters and pretty surroundings. Even when I visited during a weekend, I had hundreds of meters of beautiful beaches to myself only!
My favorite beaches in the Boca Chica area:
- Punta Bejuco
- Playa Gavilla
5. Visit Coiba National Park
First off I have to mention that I have not personally visited Coiba National Park but it is one of my top priorities fo the next visit to Panama.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is known for it´s incredible underwater world, thriving wildlife and beautiful beaches.
To get to Coiba National Park, you take a boat from Santa Catalina, in the region of Chiriqui in the North of Panama.
If you are into scuba diving, I highly recommend you take a dive here, the underwater life is supposed to be absolutely insane here.
From dolphins to sharks, octopus, colorful corals and tropical fish – you can find it all here!
Many excursions to Coiba National Park include snorkeling as well.
Note that visiting this place is not exactly one of the cheapest things to do but definitely one of the best things to do in Panama.
6. Hike and chase waterfalls in Boquete
Another dream destination for passionate hikers: Boquete.
This mountain town is surrounded by cloud forests, home to beautiful waterfalls and multiple hiking trails.
Due to the higher elevation of Boquete, temperatures here are quire cool compared to most other parts of Panama.
Boquete is a quite popular tourist destination in the country, so make sure to hit the trails early in the day to avoid crowds.
On some of the trails you even have a high chance to see the magical Quetzal bird, the national bird of Guatemala, so keep your eyes open and pay attention!
After a challenging hike, visit one of the waterfalls in the area, explore the beautiful town or take a tour to a local coffee plantation.
Hikes in and around Boquete:
- Lost waterfalls hike
- Pipeline Trail
- El Pianista trail
- Sendero Piedra de Lino
Waterfalls in and around Boquete:
- Lost waterfalls (3 waterfalls)
- San Ramon waterfall
- Cascada Escondida
7. Visit the Panama Canal
A once-in-a-lifetime experience – visiting the Panama Canal.
One of the most important canals in the world, crossed by hundreds of ships every day.
Witnessing the operation of this canal is a unique and impressive experience.
To visit the Panama Canal, you can either book an organized tour or visit by yourself.
I highly recommend taking a guided tour to get to know everything about the canal.
I did a tour years ago, while still working on cruise ships. Very impressive.
8. Go surfing in Santa Catalina
One of the best things to do in Panama and one of the best places to surf in Central America – Santa Catalina.
Santa Catalina is a small beach town in the Chiriqui region and also the starting point for excursions to the Coiba National Park, as mentioned above.
But it´s also known as one of the best surf spots in Panama.
If you are into surfing or always wanted to try, make sure to do it here!
Surf lessons are quite affordable in Santa Catalina and the surf breaks at the different beaches is great for all experience levels.
Even if you don´t want to try surfing, you will enjoy exploring the beautiful beaches and taking in the typical relaxed surf vibe of Santa Catalina.
9. Swim in Cangilones de Gualaca
One of the most unique places to swim in Central America!
Los Cangilones de Gualaca is a natural canyon slot inside a river in the town of Gualaca.
The water is very clear and pretty deep, so you can jump into the narrow canyon and have a swim.
When I visited on a random afternoon, there were only a few local teenagers around, no other tourists.
On the rocks of the slot canyon, there´s enough space to relax and sunbathe when taking breaks from the swims.
This place gets pretty busy, especially with locals, on weekends and holidays, so try to avoid those days and visit during the week instead.
Don`t miss out on this swimming spot and enjoy a refreshing dip into this unique slot canyon!
Hope you added some of these best things to do in Panama to your to.do list and are excited about your upcoming trip.
Make sure to check out more Panama blog posts to help plan your trip: