Panama Tours – Natural Paradise | Cultural Hub | Gastro Treat!
Panama Tours come in all shapes and sizes and offer a range of active, relaxing, and cultural experiences, read down as we cover a few options below. Panama is a tropical paradise and as such beach time can be enjoyed in some stunning locations. If you wish to add beach days in places like the San Blas Islands, Pearl Islands or Bocas del Toro then let us blend them into your schedule.
There are a number of activities that you can enjoy from Panama City itself, often day trips so you can base yourself in the exciting metropolis at a very comfortable hotel, and not carrying your luggage around. For extra adventure and adrenaline, we can arrange expeditions out into the jungle near the Darien Gap or island-hopping from Panama to Colombia.
Introduction to Panama
Of course, Panama is most famous for the engineering marvel that connects the Pacific with the Atlantic Ocean, providing much shorter shipping routes worldwide. Each year, over a million people visit the canal to see how the huge lock system works and marvel at the size of ships coming through. Panama is very proud of its canal, operating 365 days a year, and providing an important income stream for the country. But as you will see below Panama is much more than its canal. Tropical forests, its wonderful beaches, history, culture, and gastronomy plus great weather of course. The country is very well served from airports all over the planet, particularly North America.
Must do – City Tour and the Panama Canal
Whatever else you do while here in Panama a visit to the canal is a must-do. The Miraflores Lock visitor center is a great experience. Seeing the workings of the locks and the massive vessels up as a backdrop is great for photos as you can see. With our local guide in attendance, you will learn all about the history and the construction of this waterway while watching tankers and cruise ships moving through.
After spending time watching huge tankers and container ships going slowly through the locks we head off to the old city center. The old colonial-style city is formed of just a few city blocks jutting out into the bay, but what character the place has. Casco Viejo means ‘old quarter’ and is a Unesco-protected district and one that has changed significantly over recent years. Gone are the gangs, violence, and squalor – lots of new investment has been made to restore the beautiful old houses changing them into hotels, bars, shops, and restaurants. It is a great place to wander and have something to eat or drink. We will have a late lunch here at one of these places, and then head out for great views of the skyline from the Amador Causeway.
Gastronomy Tour – Coffee | Chocolate | Markets and Ceviche
Like the previous tour, this one also takes you to the Casco Viejo so you can enjoy walking along narrow streets, among the colonial buildings, old ruins, and churches. Our first gastro experience involves chocolate and coffee. Cacao and coffee are important crops in Panama, maybe not by volume but certainly by quality. The coffee is organic and high-quality and the chocolate produced from organic Cacao is world-class. We will stop at a lovely cafe in the old city to learn about and try Panamanian coffee and chocolate. Maybe you will want to try the most expensive coffee in the world, Geisha Coffee?
We will have a look around a local market at some point along the route in the old city. Fruits of the season will be seen, such as pineapples, oranges, papaya, and watermelons, and probably a few fruits and vegetables that you cant identify. Wandering the market your guide will give you the inside track on Panamanian food.
Next, we will have an in-depth look around one of the fish markets that are found on the edge of the old city to see what local fishermen are pulling out of the sea here. After being instructed on what is being caught you will end up a seafood restaurant nearby where you have the chance to try a fresh dish made from what you just saw. Ceviche is just the thing to eat at lunchtime, fresh, raw fish that is cured in lemon juice with added herbs, spices, and onions. Local people will be eating here, not just tourists, and after enjoying our meal with a view of the ocean its off to the last stop for today.
We will board our vehicle and drive maybe 10 or 15 minutes to a craft brewery in the city. Here we will enjoy a tour of the brewery and learn more about the process and ingredients. A tasting will follow, of course, and as some of these beers are matured in oak barrels some interesting tastes will be enjoyed. At the same venue, you will be able to try Panamanian rum, which is well regarded worldwide. In this case, this is a boutique, artisanal rum distillery so you can get up close and personal, many times at large distilleries you have to keep your distance. After all this, we will drive you back to your hotel and pour you into the hotel reception!
Portobelo and the Caribean Coast.
Enjoy a great day away from the hustle of the city enjoying the sunshine, golden beaches, and exploring historic landmarks and ruins, all set against the backdrop of the lovely Caribbean. Portobelo is a small fishing village on the northern coast of Panama some 90 minutes drive from Panama City. There is a deep water harbor here that once served as the largest conquistador port in Central America. As the Spaniards looted treasures and precious metals from Peru and Bolivia, Portobelo formed an important link in the chain of transport back to Seville.
During the day you will visit the colonial ruins of the San Jeronimo Fort and the Santiago Battery as well as the old customs house which controlled the flow of goods back to Spain. Portobelo is also known for the annual Festival de Cristo Negro. During periods of celebrations, many thousands of Panamanians and tourists descend on this sleepy place. The church of San Juan de Dios is home to the Cristo Negro and is one of the most important religious sites in Panama.
After some lunch, its time for the beach, and the idyllic island of Mamey is visited after a short speedboat ride from Puerto Lindo, which itself is a short scenic drive from Portobelo. The golden sandy beaches and Coconut trees provide a tiny slice of paradise and an ideal spot to swim and enjoy some beach time before heading back to the metropolis.
Panama Canal Transit
Today you will navigate through the most famous canal in the world and a true engineering marvel. We will pick you up from your hotel and drive you to the Flamenco Marina, the starting point for the adventure of sailing from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. Casting off we will get great views of Panama City’s impressive skyline before passing under the Bridge of the Americas.
Your vessel will then pass through the first set of locks, which you may have already seen from the visitor center, the Miraflores Locks. Your vessel will rise some 18 meters in two stages at this lock. You will continue through the Miraflores Lake, which has formed between the locks you just exited and the next set, the Pedro Miguel Locks. Here your boat will be lifted 9 meters in a single stage.
Exiting the Pedro Miguel locks we travel through the Gaillard Cut, this is where the Chagres River flows into the canal. The next stretch of water is called the Culebra Cut because its meandering course resembles a snake and is one of the main points of interest for visitors because it was carved through the continental divide. This area is subject to continuous maintenance as there is the risk of landslides that might disrupt shipping. If you are doing the shorter cruise version you will disembark at Gamboa port and return to Panama City by bus. If you are on the longer tour you will continue onboard.
So now we head out across Gatun Lake, which was formed by erecting the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River, passing the Smithsonian Research Station at Barro Colorado. We are then lowered 26 meters in three stages at the Gatun Locks, which are the only set of locks in the Atlantic sector. Now we have returned to sea level allowing us to arrive at the Colon port. Here you will disembark and travel back to Panama City on our comfy bus. You will have traveled between the two oceans in a single day, seen massive ships, impressive locks, had lunch on board, taken great photos, and have memories that will last a lifetime.