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Panama City is best known for the Panama Canal, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for what it has to offer! Easily one of the best places to visit in Central America, this is a cool, metro city you’ll want to stop by.
Panama City is easily accessible and fun to explore. History buffs will love the historical Old Town and the Panama Canal, the party crowd will feel the lively night vibes in Casco Viejo, and everyone will be amazed by the nature that surrounds the city – think rainforests, wildlife sanctuaries, and island day trips!
We’ve spent a lot of time in Panama and love checking out all the activities in Panama City every time we’re here. From the Caribbean coast to the Pacific views at the Amador Causeway and everything in between, tours are an ideal way to get the most out of your Panama City visit without worrying about the logistics.
Check out our recommendations of the 10 best tours in Panama City for a round-up of fun, diverse activities for every traveler!
Why Book a Tour in Panama City, Panama
Though it might look small on a map, Panama City and its surrounding attractions still involve a bit of traveling to get from place to place. That means dealing with logistics, which is among my least favorite things to do while traveling! If you’re like me and just want to be in the moment, tours are a great way to take the hassle out of planning some of your experiences here.
While wandering around on your own is great, some of the best things to do in Panama City require a lot of pre-planning – you might be traveling by car, boat, hiking, or even in a canoe! Taking a guided tour in Panama City means you’ll get to see what you came here for and won’t have a million other things going on in your brain like how to get there, admission fees, opening times, etc.
You’ll also benefit from an awesome tour guide who can give you tons of current and historical information and translate for you if needed (just in case your Spanish isn’t quite there yet!). I find there’s something extra special about experiencing a new place with a group of travelers and not worrying about the little details along the way.
Panama City offers many different types of tours that work for all budgets and travelers, so let’s get into the tours of Panama City you shouldn’t miss!
Our TOP Three Panama City Tours
Best wildlife tour:
When it comes to seeing some of the most incredible wildlife in Panama City, you’ve got to give this wildlife tour a try! This is my personal favorite because of all the different animals you get to see, from the loud howler monkeys to the adorable sloths. Tickets for this tour cost $152 USD per person and can be reserved in advance here.
Best island-hopping tour:
If you’re in Panama City, I highly (highly) recommend taking this San Blas Islands day tour to experience your own little slice of paradise! Make sure to charge up your phone, as you’ll be filling up your Instagram stories on this one.
With snacks, lunch, and all transportation included this is such a cool experience. You can purchase your tickets online for just $159 USD per person.
Best budget-friendly tour:
I absolutely love a good walking tour. They’re budget-friendly and you get to experience more of the city for yourself on foot! This walking tour of Casco Viejo is just that, where you’re paired with a super friendly guide to experience the best of what this trendy neighborhood has to offer.
At just $39 USD per person, this tour really is a steal! You can select your dates and book online here.
Best Tours in Panama City, Panama
1. Half-Day City and Panama Canal Tour
We only knew a bit about Panama City before visiting, but we quickly found it’s a pretty cool metropolis with towering skyscrapers, charming historical quarters, and of course, the famous Panama Canal! Whether you’re visiting for a while or just have a short layover, this 5-hour city and Panama Canal tour is a great way to get a taste of the city without having to do all the planning.
Tours include local pick-up and drop-off with a quick history lesson en route to Miraflores Visitors Center, where you can stare in amazement at the Panama Canal. Honestly, you don’t have to be a history or engineering lover to appreciate this place – it’s super impressive to everyone!
The tour continues to scenic Amador Causeway, then for a stroll around Casco Viejo, the Old City quarters with beautiful architecture and old-world charm. This tour had many points of interest along the way, and I learned way more about Panama City’s history than I would have on my own!
Tours run twice daily with the choice of a morning or afternoon tour from $67 USD per person, including snacks, drinks, and an air-conditioned ride. You can also make it a fully customizable private tour, which is handy for bigger groups or if you’re looking for a more personalized experience.
Don’t forget that the Miraflores Visitors Center tickets are an extra $18 USD per person, so bring cash for that and any extras you might want to pick up along the way!
I’d recommend this tour for anyone visiting Panama City for the first time and to do it on one of your first days as a great introduction to the city! Tickets can be easily booked online here.
2. Ocean to Ocean Panama Canal Tour
While most people have heard of the famous Panama Canal, not many get the chance to travel on it. Well, this full-day canal and jungle tour changes all that! Seeing the canal from a distance is cool, but I love that this tour takes it to the next level with a boat ride on the canal itself.
You get to cruise right by all the ships that are passing through on their way to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Your destination is Gatun Lake which is a man-made lake created at the same time as the canal. You’ll pass by Monkey Island, which was easily one of my favorite stops on this tour! It’s home to monkeys like capuchins, howlers, tamarins, and lemurine owl monkeys.
After hopefully spotting a few (and hearing the loud howler monkeys!), you head up to the Agua Clara Visitors Center to see the canal lock closest to the Caribbean Sea. There are some great observation decks here to watch all the action on the canal and you’ll get a little history lesson too – talk about bringing history to life!
To end the day, you’ll see a remote rainforest in San Lorenzo National Park and have a little tour and picnic at Fort San Lorenzo. This Spanish fort is set on a cliffside and we got to hear some of the stories about pirate attacks (I won’t spoil them for you!) and how important this fortress was for international trade.
Booking ahead online is a good idea as this popular tour starts at $135 USD per person and tends to sell out. Pick-up from select hotels along with lunch and bottled water are included.
3. All-Inclusive Full-Day Taboga Island Catamaran Tour
For a little break from the city, hop on an easy island getaway from Panama City aboard this Taboga Island Catamaran tour!
Kicking off at 9 am, you’ll board the Red Cat catamaran at the Fuerte Amador Resort and Marina – about a 40-minute drive from downtown Panama City. You’ll have six hours with this crew and with the tunes blasting and an open bar, it’s a blast!
You’ll cruise by the Amador Causeway and the Panama Canal, so you can catch a glimpse of ships waiting and admire the city from a different vantage point. After an hour and a half of sailing, the first stop is on one of Taboga Island’s quiet bays with powdery white sand and glistening waters – perfect for jumping in!
After a dip, the catamaran takes you to the main dock, where you can explore the village on Taboga Island (known as the Island of Flowers!) and its historical buildings. Just let the crew know if you want a guided tour and they can set one up. Or instead, opt to hang out on the beach and soak up the sun, then head back to the boat for a delicious local lunch and more drinks!
The crew is knowledgeable and super fun, and they add to the good vibes with lots of jokes, dancing, and great music. This tour is an all-ages tour, but the open bar is only for those 18+. Your $99 USD tour includes drinks, a light breakfast, lunch, and some swimming noodles so you can float around without a care in the world! You’ll want to bring towels and cash for tips or any other extras you find in the village.
For a mini-getaway to a beautiful island, book your spot on this catamaran tour online through Viator here! You can even reserve a spot now and pay later.
Related Read: Another island getaway I loved was visiting Bocas del Toro, Panama! There are so many amazing beaches (like Starfish Beach) and cool activities like scuba diving.
4. Monkey Island and Sloth Sanctuary
This wildlife tour around Gatun Lake is an awesome intro to the wildlife surrounding the city. This is one of my top tour picks for Panama City, not only because you get to experience Gatun Lake and learn about this massive artificial lake but also because you get to see so many critters along the way!
This 5-hour tour is packed with animal sightings, starting with a boat ride to Monkey Island to check out the inhabitants, like white-face capuchins, tamarins, and howler monkeys (who can sound pretty intimidating, to be honest!). Though guides obviously can’t guarantee a sighting, they told us it’s highly likely to catch a glimpse of at least a few – or a mama and her baby, if you’re lucky like we were!
After that, you’ll head off to Gamboa Sloth Sanctuary to learn about conservation efforts and see adorable two and three-toed sloths hanging around (literally!). We also checked out the Butterfly House and saw the world’s largest butterfly, the mesmerizing Blue Morpho, and some beautiful, colorful orchids.
The tour costs around $152 USD per person for a group of two and includes a guide, ticket entries, and bottled water. If seeing some of the creatures around here ranks high on your bucket list, add this tour to your Panama City agenda!
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
5. Lake Gatun Wildlife Tour from Panama City
If you’d rather skip the Sloth Sanctuary for more time with the monkeys, then the 4-hour Gatun Lake wildlife tour is my pick!
Your guide will pick you up from your hotel in Panama City and head out to Gamboa Marina. From there, you’ll hop on the boat and head up the Chagres River to Lake Gatun, where Monkey Island awaits! This tour gives you about an hour and twenty minutes of monkey-sighting time, a bit longer than other tours on the list. Keep your eyes peeled for cute little capuchins boarding your boat, wide-eyed lemurine owl monkeys, and the mantled howler monkey.
Some people feed the animals to encourage them to get close (although we were thankful our tour guide didn’t), but we chose to keep a safe distance and enjoy watching them hang out and play. The monkeys will often board your boat to say hello!
For $71 USD per person, this tour includes the boat ride, guide, and comfy air-conditioned van to and from your hotel. The boat has a covered top which is nice for shade and the occasional rain shower that can happen on the way. If the weather really isn’t looking good, make sure you book this tour with Viator so you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance.
6. All-Inclusive Day Tour to the San Blas Islands
If you’re going down the Panama research rabbit hole, there’s a good chance you’ve come across lots of info about the San Blas Islands. It’s one of the main reasons we visited Panama in the first place!
But if you don’t have a few days to spare on your itinerary, I’d recommend squeezing in a San Blas Islands day tour! Just off Panama’s Caribbean coast, getting to this piece of paradise involves a 5 am start and a 2.5-hour drive to the port, but stay with me, it’s totally worth it!
With your friendly guide, Naidi, once you’re on the boat, the first stop is the well-known Perro Grande. There will be fruit, umbrellas, and beach chairs waiting if you want to beach-bum it or kayaks and paddleboards to get out on the water like us!
You’ll swing by the tiny Isla Pelicano for a drink at the beach bar and some perfect beach photos for Instagram with the hammocks here. Next is Perro Chico, where your guide will show you some underwater wonders, including a cool shipwreck. I loved snorkeling here – the visibility was fantastic, and there were so many fish and beautiful coral everywhere.
After working up an appetite, you can chow down on a freshly made yummy local lunch, wash it down with an ice-cold beer, and take a moment to soak in all the beauty of San Blas.
Snacks, lunch, transportation, and all the equipment for water activities, are included in this one for $155 USD per person, but you’re limited to one drink, so we recommend grabbing a little cooler to bring with you (the tour stops at a supermarket before you leave Panama City where you can grab a disposable cooler). There aren’t any ATMs in San Blas, so bring enough cash for the day, including $25 USD for entrance and port fees.
7. Legends of Casco Viejo (Old Town Panama City) Tour
Grab a pair of comfy shoes and explore the Old Town with a walking tour of Casco Viejo! Sure, you can explore Casco Viejo solo, but I think you get way more out of guided tours, including lots of cool history and local knowledge that you might miss out on otherwise.
This historical part of the city was built in 1673 after it was completely destroyed by pirates in 1671. You can still see the remnants of the walls built to protect against future attacks!
Running three times daily, you can choose a morning, afternoon, or evening tour option depending on what else you have planned. Personally, I prefer the morning tour – then you have more time to go back to some of the places you saw and we always ask our guide for restaurant recommendations!
This is one of the more budget-friendly tours in Panama City and includes a hotel pick-up (or you can opt to show up at the meeting point at the American Trade Hotel like I did!). Casco Viejo (aka Old Town or San Felipe) plays an essential role in Panamanian history, and it’s filled with beautiful architecture, churches, picture-perfect plazas, and landmarks like Arco Chato and Independence Square.
Our guide also took us through the artisan market to see handmade crafts, beautiful textiles, and cute souvenirs to take home. He gave us the inside scoop on some of the best authentic restaurants in the area, and you can bet I went back to try ’em!
Aside from being filled with good food and historical treasures, Casco Viejo is also a super trendy, colorful neighborhood that is absolutely worth taking a tour of when you visit Panama City! So make sure you reserve your spot on this walking tour online for only $39 USD or $58 USD including hotel pickup.
8. Chagres Rainforest and Embera Indigenous Village
Not far from Panama City is an incredible rainforest just waiting to be explored! We loved our time on this Chagres Rainforest tour as it was such a welcome change of pace. It feels like an adventure from beginning to end, but not rushed – more just a collection of once-in-a-lifetime experiences that had us saying “wow!”
After your drive to Chagres National Park, you have to hop in a canoe to head up the Chagres River deep into the rainforest for the start of your hike. It’s only about a 20-minute hike through the lush jungle to a beautiful waterfall where you can cool off with a dip or hang out on one of the rocks and take it all in.
One of the best parts of this tour is meeting the Embera people. They are one of the Indigenous groups that call this amazing area home and they were so kind and welcoming. We got to sit down and have lunch in the Embera community and enjoy dancing, check out their handiwork (the weaving is incredible!), and talk to one of the leaders about their life and culture. Make sure you bring some extra money with you so you can take home some of the amazing handmade artwork.
Because of the remote location of Chagres National Park, a tour really is the best way (and the only way in some cases) to explore here. This specific tour is $119 USD per person, and I recommend wearing shoes you don’t mind getting a little muddy and wet (but no flip flops!) and wearing a bathing suit under your clothes so you can swim at the waterfall. This adventure is such a memorable experience in Panama, you’ll want to make sure you book a spot here!
9. Panama Bar Crawl – Old Town Casco Viejo
If you can’t get enough of Casco Viejo during the day, you’ll love the night scene! There’s no better way to enjoy it than to join a Casco Viejo Bar Crawl, where you can sip your way through the Old Town and make some new friends while you’re at it.
For $35 USD, this tour takes your group to five of the best bars, including a drink at each one and fun, energetic guides to lead you. We found all of the stops to have lots of great music and dancing and had a blast with our group of friends.
You get about 45 minutes in each bar, and they’re all relatively close together, so there’s not too much time spent walking from place to place. There’s a little bit of a dress code for this one, so forget the flip-flops and Crocs at home, and remember to bring cash for extra drinks or some post-club snacks!
You’ll definitely have a great time dancing the night away with an awesome group of travelers, plus you get to see beautiful Casco Viejo lit up at night – win, win! For a fun night out, make sure to book the Casco Viejo Bar Crawl!
10. Panama City Bike Tour
If you’ve done a few walking tours and wanna switch it up, this bike tour is a great way to go! Another pocket-friendly option on the list, this 3-hour tour hits all the highlights for $30 USD a person and includes the bike and water to keep you hydrated.
Of course, the best part about a bike tour is that you get to cover more distance in less time, so this is a great way to get the most bang for your buck and learn a lot along the way. Starting with the more modern section of Panama City, you’ll get to check out the newer architecture and urban landscape that make the city one of Central America’s most vibrant.
Then it’s onto my fave, Casco Viejo (aka Old Town), to check out the historical landmarks, brick-paved roads, and lively plazas and snap tons of photos! The guides are exceptionally good and willing to share lots of little tips and secrets around the city. Plus they pace the bike ride so that everyone can enjoy and have fun. You can book your bike tour of Panama City online with Viator!
Where to Stay in Panama City, Panama
To take in a tour (or three!), you’ll definitely want to stay a few nights in Panama City. It’s a big city though with lots of choices for places to stay. We’ve narrowed it down to our top picks for every budget so you can put up your feet after a day of exploring in some comfy accommodations!
Bodhi Panama City – $
Located in the trendy and fun neighborhood of Marbella, Bodhi Panama City is my hostel of choice! It’s set in a beautiful building (with an outdoor pool!) and there are both private rooms and bunks. The bunks have privacy curtains and lockers underneath and the kitchen is big which is great for cooking meals.
Magnolia Inn – $$
If you’re in the medium budget range then the Magnolia Inn is the best option available within Casco Viejo. The hotel has really good reviews and the location is perfect. Not to mention, the building is a restored French-style manor that’s a great example of stunning colonial architecture!
Private rooms start under $100 USD per night or there are bunks in dorm rooms for as cheap as $19 USD. Check availability and book on Booking.com.
American Trade Hotel – $$$
American Trade Hotel is the most famous and luxurious hotel in Panama City. This hotel has housed many famous people over the years but unfortunately for me, I only saw the hotel from the outside. Rooms here start around $250 USD per night but are HUGE and very luxurious! You can feel like a VIP by booking your own stay online here.
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
Panama City is such a vibrant part of Central America and tours are a great way to experience it! Whether you’re walking, biking, or boating, there’s sure to be a tour or two calling your name. There are even a couple on this list I want to do again the next time we’re in Panama City because they were THAT good.
If this guide to the best tours in Panama City was helpful, have a look around our other blogs about Central America. We’ve taken our fair share of tours, stayed in hotels and hostels, and blogged on the go, so we have lots of tips to share no matter what your final destination is! Here are a few of my top picks to get you started: