ultimate Panama itinerary
Your ultimate Panama itinerary!
Planning a trip to Panama and trying to put together your itinerary?
I´ve got you! In this blog post I am sharing an adjustable 10-21 days itinerary covering all the places you should visit on your trip through Panama!
This ultimate Panama itinerary covers everything this country has to offer. From picture-perfect beaches to cloud forests, mountain town and beautiful islands!
1. Panama City, 1-3 days
Chances are, you are starting your trip through Panama in the capital, by flying into one of the two International airports. In case you are sailing to Panama from Colombia, you will do the San Blas Islands first and if you are traveling South by land from Costa Rica, you an do this ultimate Panama itinerary the other way around.
Panama City is a vibrant city and a great starting point for your trip.
From a charming old town, to an impressive skyline and lush parks with a lot of wildlife, Panama City has it all.
The world famous Panama Canal is located not far from the downtown and a day trip to the canal is a must. But there is much more to do and see in and around Panama City!
How to get to Panama City?
Being the capital of Panama, it is easy to reach Panama City from anywhere. Either internationally by flight or locally by bus.
Where to stay in Panama City?
Panama City has MANY accommodation options, suiting all budgets.
What to do and see in and around Panama City?
- Panama Canal
- Casco Viejo (old town)
- Metropolitan Natural Park
- Miraflores Locks
- Cerro Ancon Reserve
- Camino de Cruces National Park
2. San Blas Islands, 2-4 days
The next stop on your ultimate Panama itinerary is also easily one of my favourite places in all of Central America – the San Blas Islands.
If you are sailing from Panama to Colombia or the other way around, this beautiful archipelago will be on your Panama Itinerary. But even if you don´t take a sailing trip from one country to the other, you should definitely add this paradise to your Panama itinerary.
Still relatively few tourists make their way to see the unspoiled beauty of the San Blas Islands or Kuna Yala. White sandy beaches, crystal clear water, palm trees and thriving marine life.
The archipelago of over 350 islands lies in the Guna Yala territory, governed by the Guna indigenous group.
For everything you need to know before visiting, see my detailed guide about the San Blas Islands HERE.
How to get to the San Blas islands?
The most common way to reach the San Blas islands is by boat. They leave from the port in Carti, about 2,5 hours drive from Panama City.
To get to the port, you need to be transported in a 4×4 vehicle. Even though the roads are not extremely bad, there are many portholes and muddy areas and the local community only lets 4×4 cars enter the area.
Where to stay on the San Blas Islands?
If you book your tour to the San Blas Islands through one of the many tour operators, you can book accommodation directly with them. They usually have a few different options available. There are no super fancy or luxury hotels but only a few budget guest houses with cabins and dorms as well as some mid range options. I stayed on the island Niadub (Diablo island) and went for the cheapest option they had – a dorm with sandy floor, but they also have dorms with wooden floors as well as . Some islands also allow camping, which is a great budget option as well. More places to stay in my guide about the San Blas Islands HERE.
What to do and see?
- Island hopping
- Learn about the local Kuna culture
3. El Valle de Anton, 1-3 days
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 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.
The area is also home to a few waterfalls and even hot springs.
El Valle is one of my favourite places in Panama, due to it´s unique hiking.
How to get to El Valle de Anton?
El Valle de Anton is about 2 ½ hours drive from Panama City and easily reached by public transportation.
Also, if you are coming from North, busses run regularly between larger towns and El Valle.
Where to stay in El Valle de Anton?
There are a hand full of options in town. I personally camped at the Windmill Hostel and was able to use their amenities and pool, which was great, but they have dorms and private rooms as well.
Some other options are:
What to do and see in El Valle?
- La India Dormida hike
- Aguas Termales de Anton (hot springs)
- El Chorro Macho waterfall
- Chorro Las Mozas waterfalls
- Cerro Cara Iguana hike
- Cerro La Silla hike
4. Boca Chica, 1-3 days
Boca Chica and it´s surrounding area is a real hidden gem with wonderful beaches along the Pacific coast.
There are several islands to be explored here as well and hopping on a boat to explore some of them, is one of the best things to do here.
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 adding this area to your ultimate Panama itinerary.
I have spent several days here, camping at secluded beaches and enjoying the calm waters and pretty surroundings.
How to get to Boca Chica?
Due to the fact that some areas that are worth a visit, are more remote here, I suggest renting a car.
The nearest airport is the International airport in David, from where you can either rent a car, take a taxi or hop on a bus to Boca Chica town.
If you would like to explore some of the islands, you will need to hop on a boat!
Where to stay in Boca Chica?
I loved camping in this area, but of course there are also (limited) accommodation options here. I did not find great budget options to stay here, but hey, why not camping in the unspoilt nature surroundings?
Here are some hotels as well as camping locations:
Camping: Punta Bejuco, Playa Gavilla
What to do and see in Boca Chica?
- Hop on a boat and explore some of the islands
- Snorkeling & scuba diving
- Wildlife watching
- sport fishing
5. Santa Catalina & Coiba NP, 2-3 days
Santa Catalina is a laid-back surf town and the starting point, if you want to visit Coiba National Park. (and you should!)
If you are looking for the typical, relaxed beach vibe of a Central American surf town, you have to add Santa Catalina to your ultimate Panama itinerary.
Even if you are not into surfing, the vibe here is amazing as well.
Coiba National Park should be on top of your Panama to-do list. This UNESCO World Heritage site is famous for it´s incredible marine life and snorkeling and/ or scuba diving here is a once in a life time experience.
How to get to Santa Catalina?
To get to Santa Catalina, you can either take the bus from Santiago or book an organized shuttle from any other tourist hotspot in Panama. As always, I highly recommend renting your own car, as this gives you the ultimate freedom and I just love a good roadtrip, but I also understand that´s not in everyone´s budget and some prefer to take public transportation instead. To get to Coiba National Park, you need to book a tour starting from Santa Catalina.
Where to stay in Santa Catalina?
Being a surftown, there are multiple budget options available in Santa Catalina but also some boutique hotels. Some of the top picks:
What to and see in Santa Catalina?
- Go surfing or take a surf class
- Visit Coiba National park
- Explore the local beaches
6. Boquete, 1-3 days
Located in the highlands of Panama, Boquete is a paradise for nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts.
Here you can explore magical cloud forests, hike the trails of Baru Volcano (the highest peak of Panama) or visit coffee plantations and learn more about the local production.
After hiking one of the many trails in the area, check out the local hot springs and just relax.
The mountain town itself is worth exploring as well, many local coffee shops and boutiques are awaiting you!
How to get to Boquete?
Due to the fact that Boquete is a quite famous place in Panama, you will be able to book private shuttles from other tourist hubs or public busses from other cities. To get around Boquete and to have access to the trail heads of the many hikes, you can either rent a car or take the local mini busses.
Where to stay in Boquete?
Being a quite popular tourist destination, Boquete has many accommodation options available for travelers.
From budget hostels to boutique hotels, you will find a suitable stay! Check out some of the below:
What to do and see in Boquete?
- Lost waterfalls hike
- Pipeline trail Hike (look out for the Quetzal bird here)
- Take a coffee tour
- Hike the highest peak of Panama – Baru volcano
- Los Ladrillos climbing wall
- El Pianista hike
- San Ramon waterfall
- Caldera Hot springs (a bit of a drive to get here)
7. Bocas del Toro, 2-3 days
Last station on your ultimate Panama itinerary: Bocas del Toro, an archipelago known for it´s overwater bungalows, stunning beaches, thriving coral reefs as well as the ultimate party in Panama – Filthy Friday.
Now, I am not much of a party person, so gladly skipped the party but many travelers come here just to experience this crazy party!
I preferred spending my time exploring the beautiful beaches, snorkeling and relaxing one of the many amahing eco lodges in the area.
Bocas del Toro is made up by several different islands, the main island with most hotels, shops and restaurants being Isla Colon.
Whether you are flying into Bocas del Toro or taking a public boat from Almirante to get here, Isla Colon is the place you´ll arrive to.
If you have booked your stay with a eco-lodge or luxury resort, located on another island, you might also be picked up directly in Almirate.
How to get to Bocas del Toro?
Due to it´s quite remote location, many people take domestic flights to get here. The other option is to take a long bus journey from other cities in Panama. If you are traveling your own car or rental, you can park your car in Almirante as I did, while you visit the islands of Bocas del Toro.
Where to stay in Bocas del Toro?
There are many options. Some of the most popular for backpackers and the party crowd are the two Selina hostels:
However, I highly recommend staying in an overwater bungalow here, as it´s one of the cheapest places on the planet to check this off your bucketlist. Some are luxury and expensive but there are some mid-range and budget options as well. I personally stayed at Cocovivo and totally LOVED my stay at his eco lodge.
Other overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro:
I hope this blog post with the ultimate Panama itinerary was helpful.
Check out more Panama blog posts below to help you plan your trip: