YKUT Youkeepustraveling travel blog Panama City must see tips

Panama City is a place full of color and contrast. A modern metropolis mixed up with an picturesque old quarter and some rather pour residential areas. It's easy to fly in, out and get around. Panama City offers a lot to explore well beyond the known touristic highlights. Public transport is cheap and will not only take you around town, but also into the hinterland and across the border if that's what you are after. For us Panama City is home to the greatest present ever given to us and makes up for some pretty unique and magical moments.

Panama City airport public transport downtown YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Getting from the airport into town by public transport was a little tricky. The bus station is just a small walk from the main exit but in order to get on the public bus you need to have a pre-charged chip card. Unfortunately you can only charge, but not buy the card at the airport. We actually read about this before our arrival and decided to ask another passenger for help by paying for us with his card and taking our cash in return. Everyone at the bus station was very friendly and even though our Spanish is close to non existing we did not have any problems getting into town. Flying out was a little harder since we were on a standby list without fix booked tickets and had to make several trips to the airport before we scored some free seats. On those unintentionally trips to the airport towards the end of our two months stay in Panama we discovered that there is a great number of private buses that will happily take your cash. They are not as fast as the regular public speed line taking the highway but will also get you into Panama City safe and cheap.

Panama City YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Your first impression of Panama City will pretty much depend on where you are staying. Like I mentioned before, the city is full of contrasts and rich and poor areas can be just a street apart. For the first days of our trip we stayed in a small private room in a shared flat we found on Airbnb. The apartment was in the top floor of a skyscraper in the modern part of Panama but still in walking distance to the old quarter. Our first stroll around town on the day of our arrival took us right into the less developed areas with the typical latin american street life. Something you might need to get used to, depending on where you come from and how much you have been traveling.

Panama City Financial District and Waterfront by YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Panama City's financial district and waterfront could easily be mistaken with Miami or Florida. There is a nice pedestrian walk and bicycle lane right next to the water stretching all the way to the fish market and old quarter. Unfortunately you will be walking along one of the city's main roads with all its noise and dirt. This does not seem to keep the locals from using this area for all sorts of leisure activities and sports.

Panama City Fish and Seafood Market by YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Panama City's Fish and Seafood market is definitely one of the main attractions and well worth a visit or two. You can buy all sorts of fresh fish and there are many restaurants for eat in and take away food. One of the things you should try is Ceviche, a local dish with raw fish marinated in lemon juice. The citric acid leads to a denaturation of protein making the fish look and feel like it was cooked. Usually I would say Latin American standards of hygiene don't go very well with raw fish but we tried Ceviche many times in all its varieties and never had a problem.

Panama City Vegan Street Food Market YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Every time we get to a new place we love to randomly walk around town just to absorb the local habits. Like in many cities with a hot climate life is on the street and looks somewhat more colorful. In Panama City we never felt unsafe or at risk. Like anywhere in the world we did exercise the obligatory caution and did not go out at night much, at least not in areas that looked like trouble during daylight.

Panama City buy Meat Market by YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Although we are not vegetarians meat markets are not quite among our favorites. Nevertheless I like the reference of a piece of meat towards its origin, recalling that an animal died for you. With a western background pictures like this might look outlandish and most people would not be to keen to eat or buy a pigs head, including myself. But the only thing that changes in modern countries is the way things are presented. In Germany for example, the meat from pig heads is taken to make those famous German sausages. A new look makes all the difference and in my eyes leads to less respect and appreciation towards a life that was taken for your desire for food.

Panama City UNESCO World Heritage Casco Viejo old quarter YKUT Youkeepustraveling

The UNESCO protected quarter of Casco Viejo, literally meaning 'old quarter', is rather small, but in recent years has become one of Panama Citys main attractions. Drugs and crime used to rule the old colonial streets but smart investors and foreign money brought the quarter back to its old glory. The mainly fresh renovated colonial style houses are a joy to look at and you can feel that everything is on the rise again. A large variety of restaurants and exquisite shops are asking for your time and money and the only risk you might encounter is getting caught up in one of the large tourist groups carried into town by gigantic cruise ships.

Panama City Colonial style house Casco Viejo YKUT Youkeepustraveling

As a reminder of the previous run down period you are still coming across a few ruins now and than. These places are like hidden gems and be assured that it is just a matter of time before money and love will make them shine again. We actually enjoyed the contrast giving you a nice inside of what this area might have looked before. Without its history and patina the quarter might feel like a Colonial Disney Land one day, loosing all its origin and charm.

Panama City Rey Supermarket Casco Viejo YKUT Youkeepustraveling

One thing we had to get used to is how close poor and rich can lie together. In some places it is just a matter of meters going from nice and shiny to old and filthy. The picture above shows a fancy supermarket in Casco Viejo. In less than a minute by foot you can reach the shopping paradise on the picture below. A whole different world not only in appearance but also in price and value.

Panama City poor neighborhood Casco Viejo YKUT Youkeepustraveling

If you are after the best bang for your buck this is definitely the place to be. Buying the same bottle of water here instead of indulging in the fancy supermarket within spitting distance will cost you less than half the price.

Panama City Many tourists from cruise ship YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Casco Viejo is inhabited by two species. First we have the tourist, noisy, often disrespectful and always on the move. Driven by time and its shortage they are always eager to take as many photos in the shortest period of time. They can be found almost everywhere and are definitely on the rise.

Panama City local woman YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Second, there's the local, calm and peaceful. Trying to get through the day with a handful of laughs and a belly full of food. Definitely a joy to meet but sadly in this quarter threatened with extinction.

Panama City public transport  YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Public transport in Panama City is great, if not to say super great. It's fast, cheap and will take you everywhere in and around town. It's more or less a modern transportation system that seems to handle the public demand quite well. Beside the regular bus lines there's an armada of old American school buses and they are all pimped to the max. If you think the one in the picture above is already extrem, let me assure you that there are far more scary looking buses on the road. And don't think the revamping stops on the outside. Always make sure the drivers taste of music suits yours as you will be exposed to ear bursting loudness.

Panama City street food YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Like any metropolis Panama City offers a great variety of food from dirt cheap to very expansive. If you are like us traveling on a low budget street food will be your choice and it will be a good one. A more or less healthy meal with great taste will only cost a dollar or two, depending if you prefer veggies or meat. Honestly I really enjoyed Panamas dishes and we never had a bad belly or anything alike.

Panama City barber shop YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Whatever you are looking for, you will find an affordable equivalent on the street. This barber shop was not only fun to visit but he gave me a great hair cut and even shaved my beard.

Panama City becoming pregnant YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Whenever I ask Anita something about the time we spent in Panama City, she's getting that latent feeling of sickness. I was making jokes about her being pregnant before we even started our trip and kept going on every time she was holding her belly. She never quite believed me until one day she made a test. Seeing her coming back from the restroom, screaming I had to come and to have a look for myself, I knew that I was right all the time. It's been such a nice moment and I love to think back to those minutes full of love, joy and of course a little fear. We were to become parents! Something we had talked about and were both striving for. Maybe not at that point of time, but sometime in the future. Well it looks like the future has caught up with us and made us the biggest present of our life.

Panama City Casco Viejo old quarter YKUT Youkeepustraveling

Like you might imagine our trip to Panama was overshadowed by the great news we discovered. As much as we enjoyed the friendly locals, the humming city, the hinterland, the coastal lines on the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea, the great surf, food and drinks, the one thing that really sticks to our mind is Anita being pregnant. For us Panama will always be a magical place filled with great memories making our heart feel warm and soft.

Traveling the world with social and environmental commitment

Get Involved
s5 logo

Current Location


Contact Us

Contact Form This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

S5 Box

Make a donation