How to Plan the Perfect One-Week Trip to Panama

Panama is a country that has been on my travel bucket list for a while, which is why I was excited when Spirit Airlines announced new direct flight routes from my hometown airport to Panama City!  If you live in the Orlando area you can now take advantage of this direct flight route as well as many other direct routes from Orlando (MCO) to Guatemala City, Cartagena, San Jose, Santo Domingo, and more!  Check out www.spirit.com for more information.

I spent two full weeks in the country exploring the modern capital city, the Panama Canal, the rainforest, white sandy beaches, and more.  I’ve decided to share my idea of the perfect one-week itinerary since I spent the second week mostly catching up on work while lounging around the beaches and mountains.  In this blog post you’ll find a one-week sample itinerary which is jam-packed full of the best activities in and around Panama City.

Panama City

During the first week of my trip I traveled with my mother who likes to stay busy and we decided to base ourselves in the Panama City area for the entire week since it was easy to book most of the activities and tours we wanted to experience.  Staying in and around the city was also convenient for us since we traveled on a direct flight from Orlando to Panama City. 

We stayed in Panama City for 4 nights and in the rainforest (about 45 minutes outside of the city) for the other 3 nights.  When we were in Panama City, we stayed at the Wyndham Panama Albrook Mall and in the rainforest, we stayed at the Radisson Summit Resort & Golf Panama.  I highly recommend both hotels which are pictured below. 

For one week in Panama we booked day tours just about every day which allowed us to maximize our time and see as much as possible within only 7 days.  Below you can find a list of these tours and the included activities.  I decided not to list out an exact day-by-day itinerary as these activities can be planned for almost any day of the week.  I highly recommend reaching out to each individual tour company and asking for availability.   

Panama City & Canal Tour with Barefoot Panama

No trip to Panama is complete without a visit to the world-famous Panama Canal! When I was searching for a tour company that would take us to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal, I decided to book with Barefoot Panama as they offered a combined city tour with a visit to the Panama Canal.  Moreover, I noticed Barefoot Panama had amazing reviews on TripAdvisor! 

The tour started around 8-9 am and lasted for approximately 8 hours.  Our guide provided us with a walking tour of Casco Antiguo which is Panama City’s ‘old town’.  We received a historical overview of a few of the plazas in this UNESCO World Heritage Site before heading off to the Panama Canal’s Miraflores Locks to watch ships pass through from all over the world.  We also spent about an hour and a half at the visitor’s center which provided four floors of exhibits and a short film about the history of the canal. 

This tour ended with a visit to the Amador Causeway for the best views of the city skyline and a visit to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Nature Center where we were able to see turtles, frogs, and sloths! 

Taste of Panama City with Barefoot Panama

If you are a foodie this is a tour you must book!  The Taste of Panama City is a 2.5- hour food tour which runs every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  The tour begins at 5 pm in Casco Viejo at a café where we were able to sample Panamanian coffee and chocolate.  I have to honestly say that it is the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted! 

Barefoot Panama also took us to visit a local seafood market which was made famous thanks to Anthony Bourdain.  Moreover, there was a visit to the first ever local brewery in the city where we had the chance to sample several types of beer.  The tour ended with a rum cocktail at the best rooftop bar in the city. 

San Blas Islands

In my opinion a visit to the San Blas Islands is a must, but if you only have one week to spare in Panama then you should book a day trip to the Islands.  This is exactly what we did during our trip!  Once again, we booked this tour through Barefoot Panama, however, the tour isn’t operated by Barefoot.  Tour companies in Panama will advertise San Blas tours but only the local Guna people operate tours to these islands. 

The San Blas Islands are beautiful but keep in mind that it’s about a 3.5-hour drive from Panama City to the Guna Yala Province.  We were picked up at our hotel at 5 am and spent about 6 hours visiting two islands and a natural starfish pool.  It was our longest day on the trip, but I can’t recommend this day trip enough! 

Monkey Island, Indian Village, & Lake Gatun

This was my mother’s favorite tour in Panama.  She loved the boat ride in Lake Gatun to Monkey Island where we had about 15 different monkeys jump on our boat.  One even sat in her lap! 

The boat tour also took us to a Native Indian Village along the Chagres River where we were able to learn about the community, history, art, music, and danced.  The children were so sweet and even showed us how to dance. 

Hiking Soberania National Park with EcoCircutos Panama

The Soberania National Park is approximately 45 minutes outside of Panama City and next to our hotel when we stayed in the rainforest.  We decided to go for a guided tour because we wanted to make sure we were able to view as much wildlife as possible.  EcoCircutos provided an expert tour guide who helped us spot frogs, multiple species of birds (including toucans, anteaters, and sloths.  We also had the chance to go above the treetops and experience amazing views of the rainforest. 

Panama Partial Canal Tour Cruise with Panama Marine Adventures

In my opinion, this is another “must book” tour with a visit to Panama City.  Panama Marine Adventures offers a 6-hour cruise along the Panama Canal which includes both breakfast and lunch.  The cruise ship is large enough to hold up to 250 passengers and includes a dining room, bathrooms, and two deck levels for passengers to sit or stand. 

We thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing experience with amazing city and rainforest views.  We had the chance to view vessels from all over the world and the tour guide provided an explanation of our surroundings along the way. 

DIY Activities

We did have a bit of downtime in between tours or on the days when we had short tours booked.  I have listed below a few of the DIY activities we enjoyed without booking a tour. 

  • Golf Cart DIY tour at the Radisson Hotel in the rainforest – we drove a golf cart around the hotel property and had the chance to view anteaters, alligators, and more! 
  • Shopping at the Albrook Mall – this is the largest mall in Latin America and we easily spent a few hours shopping here. 
  • Museo Panama Viejo – this is an archeological site of the original city in Panama City.
  • Biomuseo – the building is designed by world-renknowned architect Frank Gehry and includes eight galleries about Panama and biodiversity. 

In my opinion, these are the best activities if you only have one week to spare in Panama.  I highly recommend flying into Panama City, staying in and around the city, and booking day trips to get around this part of the country.  As always, if you have any questions or feedback about this blog post please feel free to leave comments below or email me at [email protected]

Thanks to Spirit Airlines for flying me to Panama.  As always, thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own. 

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