Who doesn’t love another quick destination and stamp in the passport? Long layovers offer an amazing opportunity to see a new city. Let’s be honest, waiting in the airport is the worst. So with 4+ hours on a layover, I always encourage getting out and exploring. If you’re flying Copa Airlines to South America you’ll likely have a stop in Panama City, Panama.
Panama City is beautiful, approachable and easy to enjoy whether you have 4 hours or a full day. Getting through customs is quick and Panama also uses the US Dollar so converting money is not a problem. The airport taxi companies offer a 4-hour tour for $100 per car. If you cut it down to 3 hours you can negotiate down the price $20-$30, but they do these tours all the time so there’s not much flexibility.
The main highlights include:
- The Panama Canal
- The Historic District “Casco Viejo”
- Panama Viejo
If you ask for an English speaking driver there are usually one or two people available so don’t worry about needing to be confident with Spanish. The first time I did the tour, our Guide named Rogelio was AMAZING. He spoke English fluently, played great music in the car and was well versed in Panama’s history. We wanted to customize the tour a little and Rogelio was full of suggestions. Since it was a short tour the key thing to note is that he got us back in time for our flight with an extra stop to eat at a local fresh fish market. If you can find him, he’s the best!
The Panama Canal:
The best part about going to the Panama Canal is seeing a boat pass through. Something about it is just so historic. It takes forever for the boat to pass through fully so check with your guide to make sure you get there at a good time. The Visitors Center at the Panama Canal is cool but there is not much to the museum. I quickly passed through the second time I visited and found watching the boat pass to be way more exciting.
Panama’s Historic District Casco Viejo:
I loved walking through plazas and streets lined with old buildings to get to a great waterfront view. This part of Panama City is beautiful. Wonderfully walkable and perfect for wandering. We stopped for iced coffee at Super Gourmet and it was amazing. I wish there had been time to eat lunch! There are tons of little coffee shops and places to eat, if you have time I would suggest making a quick stop. If you love seafood I would recommend getting ceviche or a freshly fried fish at the waterside from Restaurante Delicias del Mar.
The key takeaway…if you have time, get out of the airport and experience this wonderful city!