Panama’s capital is heavy on the international influences brought in by the canal, with the famous short cut also providing the city’s real must-see sight. Sitting by the locks and watching the boats float is a great way to pass a day, but you can have an even better time taking a train along the canals edges or a boat through a part of it.
Of course, Panama is a little light on tourism, and they can’t afford to miss a cash in chance like their most famous sight, so you’ll also find a number of museums exploring its history – everything from the original build to the magnificent vessels that have passed through it – as well as a few areas that are fairly openly enhanced for photographic purposes. The tourist-grabbing aspect might grate a little, but only until you get home and view the pictures.
The Casco Viejo district of town is the place to go to explore Panama’s chequered history (this is different place than Panama Viejo ruins), with most of the major sights – including an ornate cathedral and crumbling, aging town houses– to be found here. The city’s beaches aren’t too bad, either, though at spring break you’ll be inundated with the hippest of American students drinking the nights away.
Another local draw is that Panama is good spot to learn Spanish, and there could hardly be a more useful language to learn while in Central America. Take an intensive course and many of the schools will have you walking the streets and practicing your skills in no time. Alternatively, you could head out into the beautiful jungles and stay in one of the impressive eco-lodge hotels, or look down on the city from the heights of the nearby islands.
Panama is certainly not an obvious choice for tourism, not even in Central America, and it’s a rustic, down to earth and backwards kind of place, and charming with it. Having said that, it’s not the safest place on earth, or the most spectacular, but the fact that the city’s surrounded by jungle and rarely visited by anyone other than yachties is more than enough reason to visit, right?