Panama City is a very multicultural place, with large populations from many different parts of the world. Spanish is spoken by most, and many speak some form of English. Customer service is slowly improving, and surprisingly dismal in hotels. However, on the streets Panamanians are for the most part extremely friendly and helpful and would love to give you some advice.
There's great shopping, from high-end stores in the malls around Paitilla and in the banking district around Via Espana, to veritable bargains around La Central (Central Avenue, now turned into a pedestrian walkway) and the Los Pueblos outdoor mall.
You can find many ethnic stores (mostly Chinese and Indian), in certain parts of the City.
Tocumen International Airport (IATA: PTY) is just outside Panama City (it's part of the San Miguelito district, which has been incorporated as a separate city but essentially exists as part of Panama City). The airport is a hub for Copa Airlines (nonstop service from Chicago), and is also served by American Airlines (Dallas/Ft.Worth, Miami), Delta Airlines (Atlanta, Georgia), United Airlines (Houston, Newark), Avianca (Bogotá, Colombia) and TACA (San José, Costa Rica and San Salvador, El Salvador). Most major Central American airlines, and several South American airlines and European Airlines also serve the city. There are at least six daily flights to and from Miami, two from Orlando and Atlanta, and three daily flights from Houston, 1 from Los Angeles LAX, two from Newark, and 1 from New York's JFK. There are daily flights to Mexico City; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Caracas, Venezuela; Santiago, Chile; Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Havana, Cuba; Kingston, Jamaica, at least 7 Colombian cities (Medellín, Cali, Pereira and Bogotá included) and several international destinations. There's also service to Madrid, Spain, and service to Amsterdam with KLM.
Getting to the city center from Tocumen is unfortunately not easy. Taxis cost $30, which can be reduced to $10 if you can find two other people to share with. Depending on traffic, the trip can take well over an hour.
If you don't want to pay for a taxi, there are modern, air-conditioned buses which cost $1.25 to get to the city center from the airport, but as of February, 2012, the buses only accept fare cards, not cash, and in September, 2012, there was still no place to buy fare cards in the airport. However, the bus is always full of people going to and from the airport, so you can probably find someone willing to pay your fare with their card; you can pay them back in cash. Take the bus going to Albrook, from the bus stop that is across the street, farther from the airport, by the billboards. You can find the stop by following cars, airport employees, or a worn dirt footpath out of the parking lot, but the general direction is to the right after you exit the terminal. It's no more than a 5-minute walk. Ride the bus all the way to Albrook, which seems to take about 2 hours regardless of the time of day, and you can buy a fare card at the Albrook transit center once you get there. There is a $2 fee for the card.
At the same bus stop as those of the modern, air-conditioned buses, you can also grab an old chiva bus to the city center. These do not require a fare card and the cost is $0.25. Most chiva buses passing by will go to the city center. Ask the driver though if he is passing by close to where you need to go. If you have a lot of luggage with you, these buses are probably not your best bet.
Also, forget anything you may have heard about the red devil buses--they no longer serve the airport, although they are still common in the city.
Domestic flights leave out of Gelabert/Albrook Airport (IATA: PAC) ICAO/MPMG, a former US military airfield (Albrook Air Force Base). Domestic airlines are safe, and many fly very modern small jet aircraft. There's daily flights to every major town and city in the country. The major carriers here are AirPanama  and Aeroperlas .
There's only train service between Panama City and Colón. It's mostly a freight train, but it has a very nice passenger car. The train ride offers excellent views of the Panama Canal and the tropical rainforest.
Panama City has one of the most modern Bus Terminals of whole Latin America. It s the main Hub and well organized. The terminal is next to the Albrook airport (the domestic terminal) and it is very easy to find a bus here. All of the international buses ("tica buses" too) starts and ends in this terminal. Arrivals are usually on the top floor and you can transfer to city busses on the lower level.
The mall of which the terminal is a part of the complex, offers practically all that a traveler may want: showers, cinemas and plenty of shopping, etc.
One of the easiest ways to get around town is by taxi. Taxis do not have a meter. Fares are set by the authorities, and are determined based on what section of the city you are starting at and what section of the city you are going to, with a surcharge for every additional person. The cab driver should have a table (which may include a map) that will show the costs for the fare, and they are required to show it to you if you ask. Fares are around $1.25 for travel within one zone, and the longest fares within the City at about $5. Keep in mind that the former Canal Zone is in a different section, and it will be at least a $5 fare. The surcharge for additional passengers should be $.50/additional passenger, and there's also a $.40 surcharge if you call a cab (at least these were the prices a few years ago). A taxi to or from the international airport typically costs $25 plus tolls if you take the Corredor Sur highway. A taxi to the Amador Causeway costs between $5 - $10. Cab drivers do not expect tips, and they may pick up additional passengers along the way. The rule is that unless there's little to no deviation from the first person's route, the first person picked up is the first person dropped off, otherwise they will ask if it's ok to pick up the other fare. Cabs can also be rented for the day, and the fares again are set (probably around $20-$25). In this case, they will expect a little extra (tip and/or lunch).
Getting around by bus is also cheap and convenient. Fares are $0.25 and the destination of the bus is written across the front windshield in large letters. Buses are privately owned and drivers usually compete with each other for passengers. For this reason, buses have colorful decorations to attract customers. During rush hour some buses can get crowded, and it is not unusual to see 3 people seated on a 2-person bench and lots of people standing along the aisle. It is not advised to use buses during these hours.
The city has begun replacing the flamboyant "red devils" with modern, air-conditioned city buses ("MetroBus," look for the orange sign to find stops), but the red devils are still around. The MetroBus buses do not accept cash, so make sure to buy a fare card at one of the city's many malls before using them.
Panama Canal, . An absolute must if you're in Panama City. The easiest and cheapest way is to go to the Miraflores locks, watch the huge boats go by and visit its very modern and informative visitor's center with a museum, a movie theater and a fancy restaurant (USD25 for the lunch buffet). A one way cab to Miraflores locks should cost around 6 USD. You can also take a luxury train along the canal to Colón, or obviously take a boat!Prices Miraflores locks and museum: adults $8, students $5 / locks only : adults $5, students $3.
Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo is the historic part of town, where you will find many colonial style government buildings, cathedrals and museums including a Canal Museum. It is currently under massive renovation, with crumbling shacks next to beautifully restored colonial buildings. There are a number of accommodation options in Casco ranging from hostel pricing up to very expensive colonial suites. The area hosts a large number of eclectic events ranging from operas and musicals at the national theatre to block parties and fashion catwalks in the open plazas. Casco Viejo also offers some of the finest dining options in Panama City.
Panama Viejo. The site of the ruins of the original city of Panama that was sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan in the 1600s. The city was later moved to Casco Viejo. Today Panama Viejo is home to one of Panama's national parks with the buildings left in unrestored states. It is well worth the visit but read the safety warnings and ask park employees about where it is safe to visit as the park is surrounded outside by one of the city's dangerous areas.
Amador Causeway. The Amador Causeway connects the three islands to the mainland. From the causeway, there is a lovely view of Panama City, and the Puente de las Americas. Many Panamanians like to spend their weekends jogging, riding a bicycle or roller-blading down the causeway, or having a meal or drinks in one of the many restaurants and bars on the islands. Bikes are available to rent in many different varieties including recumbents and multi-person bicycles, starting at about $3.50 per hour. From the causeway you can also arrange day trips by ferry to one of the surrounding islands with boats leaving early in the morning.
Mi Pueblitos. The pretty deserted museum (entrance free) on the slopes of Cerro Ancon showcases the different ethnicities of Panama. There are several artisans producing curios. The outdoor museum is close in proximity to El Chorrillo so be very careful about straying outside of boundaries or into unsupervised areas. Upon last visit it was not recommended to climb Cerro Ancon.
Casco Antiguo Spanish School, Avenida A and Calle 4, ☎ 507 838 5592, . 8A.M to 8 P.m.. Casco Antiguo Spanish School's 1 on 1 and small group Spanish classes provide real world language skills, allowing you to put down the textbook and experience Panama first-hand. Our professional and friendly teachers have a passion for education and make learning Spanish fun. Let Casco Antiguo Spanish School be your guide to Panama, and live the experience of a lifetime! www.cascospanish.com or firstname.lastname@example.org We offer a "Survival Spanish" Course for Expats, Crash Course for Travels, private lessons, Intensive Courses, and business Spanish. Whether you're visiting, working, or retiring in Panama, Casco Antiguo Spanish School can help you learn Spanish.$195/week.
Spanish Panama Spanish language school, Via Argentina, Ed. Americana #1A, El Cangrejo, Panama City (Ed Americana, #1A), ☎ (#507) 213-3121, . 8:30am-8:30pm. Learn Spanish in Panama City’s central and expat friendly neighborhood at Spanish Panama. Spanish language immersion programs include airport pickup, tours and ecotourism, cultural activities, Spanish classes, and salsa dance classes. Business Spanish for Panama is also offered. Spanish Panama Spanish school, Via Argentina, Ed. Americana #1A, ☎ (#507) 213-3121, email@example.com . min $300/week.
Caledonia area has plenty of street markets.
Albrook Shopping Mall has good value and high quality clothes and more as well as a cinema, arcade, and bowling alley. Right next to the Albrook bus terminal
MultiPlaza Mall upmarket mall, higher prices, better quality products. It has an adjacent Marriott Courtyard hotel.
MultiCentro Mall upmarket mall, not as popular as MultiPlaza and Albrook
Metro Mall a large indoor mall that was the most recent build in Panama City. It has an adjacent Marriott Courtyard hotel.
Avenida Central very local, very cheap shopping street. Full of budget department stores and shops. Lots of locals.
Los Pueblos Mall the first mall built in the city. very local, very cheap, and outdoor. It's across the main street from Metro Mall but is inaccessible on foot.
Panamanian crafts High end crafts can also be purchased from shops in the Centro de Artesanias in Balboa neighborhood or in the shops of Mi Pueblitos.
Indian stores on every major shopping distric (El Dorado mall and surroundings, Los Pueblos, and along Via Espana) also sell many Panamanian souvenirs. Gran Morrison is also a place to find many handicrafts.
There's several cafes along Via Argentina. The Spanish sandwich shops offer excellent sandwiches, coffee, and churros. Try Manolo's Churreria (don't miss the churros rellenos, pastries filled with dulce de leche and rolled in sugar) or Del Prado. Sandwiches should cost from $3-$5.
Also on Via Argentina is El Trapiche, serving traditional Panamanian food for under $12/person. They serve excellent breakfast food.
Niko's Cafe has several locations around the City. Owned by Greeks, they are all open 24 hours and the have a good selection of sandwiches and hot food served all day long.
Don Lee is a panamanian chain serve Chinese fast food, and definitely worth a try.
There's an abundance of Chinese restaurants, and some can be very affordable. Try some around El Dorado, they should be pretty authentic.
Doraditos Asados in Chanis. An extremely popular panamanian restaurant that's always full and can take an infuriating amount of time to order. That said it's likely always filled by locals because the prices are cheap and the food is extremely good. In particular the rotisserie chicken (a full one costs about $5) is a local favorite with two types of chimichurri to choose from.
Fish market outside of Casco Viejo. Entering Casco Viejo there's the main fish market for the city exists and has recently undergone some refurbishing. There are some restaurants upstairs where the fish is obviously very fresh and the prices are cheap.
Restaurante Poly (Corner of 26th and Avenida Sur) A very crowded, noisy and not very hygienic restaurant, it's however a truly gastronomic experience. Do not miss the delicious fish soups and the bistec picado, both for under 2 USD each.
Lung Fung on Transistmica Avenue serves some of the best Chinese food in the City. It will be a different experience. Try dim sum any day of the week (expect long lines on weekends), although it has lost some of its charm now that the wait staff speaks such good Spanish instead of only Cantonese or Haka.
Marbella is a very old school Panamanian restaurant on Balboa Avenue. It's a Spanish place specializing in seafood. Excellent paella and overall good seafood. Prices are stuck in 1984, so a hearty plate of paella will set you back $13, and there's only one item with a higher price on the menu.
Van Gogh - This nice little Italian restaurant is right near the Via Venteo Casino. It has great food, great service, and a great atmosphere. It is one of the best Italian restaurants in Panama City.
Manolo Caracol is an excellent restaurant in the Casco Viejo that serves tapas. Each day the chef invents a new fixed menu with seasonal ingredients. Meals are $30 without drinks.
Puerta De Tierra is another excellent restaurant in the Casco Viejo. The restaurant is primarily a steak house but has some very appealing appetizers also.
Ten Bistro Calle 50 and in Multiplaza Mall is another excellent choice serving contemporary cuisine.
Casa Del Marisco Seafood restaurant located in the banking area walking distance away from the Marriott. The food here is quite good but also pricey.
Sake located on the ground floor of Torres de las Americas office tower by Punta Pacifica hospital, is Panama City's hottest sushi restaurant. Probably the best sushi in the city but the city is not known for its sushi. If you're only here for a short while and not desperate for a sushi fix, there are better options for the price.
Miraflores Restaurant is situated at the top of Miraflores Visitor Center. The terrace section overlooks the Panama Canal and tables are most likely reserved in advance. Buffet is around $30 without drinks. It is open from 10 AM to 10:30 PM (much after the visitor center is closed), so if you need to see the canal late night (and can afford to spend extra for dinner), Miraflores restaurant is the place to be. (The Miraflores Lock opens both way in the night, so you are definitely going to see a couple of ships pass by)
Calle Uruguay is a neighborhood filled with bars and discos for wealthy Panamanians and foreigners.
La Casona de las Brujas, Casco Viejo. An interesting bar on an inner courtyard of a building, attached to an art gallery in Casco Viejo. Lives bands play a variety of music styles.
Taberna 21 is a local hangout serving great cheap beer and Spanish tapas.
Buy and try some Panamanian and Cuban coffee while you're here. It will be some of the best you've ever had.
This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
$50 to $150
Luna's Castle Hostel, Calle 9na Este, ☎ (507)262-1540, . Set in a Spanish colonial mansion built upon the water´s edge in Casco Viejo, Luna´s Castle Hostel attracts those who seek the ideal Panama City backpacking experience. Amenities include a modern communal kitchen, free breakfast, free coffee, the legendary movie theatre, a spacious outdoor courtyard, free internet, and sweeping views of the Bay of Panama and the modern city skyline and a great social atmosphere. Information is also available for sailing boat departures between Panamá and Cartagena in Colombia. Keep in mind, these rooms above the bar are LOUD! They don't take reservations for privates and it's a popular place, so be prepared to find an alternative.Dorm bed: $13.
Voyager Hostel, . The air conditioning doesn't work well because of missing window panes. The employees hog the TV and watch Mexican soap operas during the day and soccer games at night.Dorm : $9.90.
Hospedaje Casco Viejo url="http://www.hospedajecascoviejo.com" $10/18/single/double, This hostel is in the heart of the old quarter in a beautifully restored historic building. Most of the rooms have their own bathroom and balcony and very comfortable beds. Friendly and knowledgable staff, kitchen, free wifi and coffee! Definitely the best deal in Panama. They also take reservations online. 8a con Avenida A. Casa 8-31, San Felipe phone(507) 211-2027 .
La Casa de Carmen, . $30-45/double, This hostel is in a cute house located on a busy street. Try to get a room further in the back to get away from the traffic noise. Breakfast is included, which involves toast, cereal, coffee and orange juice. Two computers with internet access are also free for guests. Accommodations are clean and spacious. Calle 1a de Carmen 32
Hostel Mamallena, Casa 7-62 Calle Primera, Perejil, ☎ (507) 6676 6163 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Information is also available for sailing boat departures between Panamá and Cartagena in Colombia.Dorm: $12, double: $29.50.
Hostal Miami, Avenida Central 18-18, . New hostel opened in 2010. Some floors are still under refurbishment. Shared kitchen, internet and wi-fi. Friendly employees.Dorm: US$13, private rooms: US$30-$50.
Zuly's Backpackers. Now operating under new management as "Casa Rica"; They do not honor anything on the Zuly's website, which appears to be obsolete.
Las Vegas Hotel. Suites are clean, safe, centrally located and relatively affordable. There's also a nice little Italian restaurant and a wine bar attached to the hotel.
Casa Las Americas. $60-$105. There are six rooms in this very nice Bed & Breakfast in Betania. You cannot beat the location for peace and quiet in a lush setting. There is a large pool and lovely terrace with a city view. Centrally located and easy access by inexpensive taxi to shopping, restaurants, and proximity to the sights of the city. Also a big plus -- the pool is large and lovely, very quiet and private and surrounded by lush greenery.
Magnolia Inn - Casco Vieo, 818 Calle Boquete (Calle Boquete and Calle 8va in Casco Viejo, behind Plaza Catedral), ☎ +507 202-0872, . checkin: 1PM; checkout: 11AM. Magnolia Inn offers comfortable and spacious deluxe private rooms as well as luxury hostel rooms. The restored French colonial mansion is full of historic character, as well as modern conveniences such as A/C, orthopedic beds, free Wi-Fi Internet and safe deposit boxes. The Inn has a stylish social areas to relax and meet fellow guests. A fully equipped kitchen and sunbathed dinning room is available for guest use.$80.00 - $135.00.
Tribe Panama. $120-$160. Located in historic Casco Antiquo(Viejo) on Plaza Simon Bolivar; there are 4 suites with each having two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and wonderful views of the sea and Plaza Simon Bolivar. There are over 20 restaurants and Bars within walking distance. Free internet and satellite TV. The building sits across the street from the Presidential Palace grounds which provides for the best security and neighbor that Panama has to offer.
The Bristol Hotel, . Tel: 507-264-0000. $200/double. Luxurious modern hotel in the heart of Panama City. Outstanding bar and restaurant on site. First-class service.
The Canal House, Calle 5 and Avenida A in Casco Viejo, ☎ +507 228 1907, . An intimate hotel located in a Colonial mansion in the heart of Panama City's historic district. The Canal House was selected by the New York Times as its Editor's Pick for Panama City hotels and is the country's first Green Globe Certified Hotel. The Canal House has three rooms and a staff of six, including two English speaking managers. It is located just to the side of the Canal Museum, walking distance from some of the city's best bars, restaurants and cafes. From $180. (8.951807,-79.534591)
Las Clementinas Chambers, Café & Bar, , Calle 11 and Avenida B in Casco Viejo, Tel: +507-228-7613/17 (Panama) or 1-888-593-5023 (US & Canada). A small boutique hotel located in Panama's exciting historic district, Casco Viejo. Las Clementinas has just six rooms, each of which is a full apartment with kitchen, 12-foot ceilings and wrap around balconies, some with plaza views, some with ocean views. Above the rooms is a rooftop terrace with stunning views of Panama City, the Pacific Ocean, the entrance to the Canal and the rooftops of the historic district. Below the rooms is the Cafe & Bar. Las Clementinas is managed by The Canal House and leisure and business travelers can expect the same excellent and personalized service that defines The Canal House.
InterContinental Miramar, , Av. Balboa, Tel: 507-206-8888. Luxury high-rise hotel overlooking Panama Bay. Facilities include upscale dining, large swimming pool, tennis courts, full-service marina, helicopter landing pad.
Panama Marriott Hotel, Calle 52 y Ricardo Arias, Area Bancaria Panama City, Panama. Phone: 507 2 109100 Fax: 507 2 109110 As cosmopolitan as the city surrounding it, the Marriott Panama City Hotel offers the elegance, outstanding service and amenities that you'd expect from a luxury Panama City hotel. Soaring 20 stories above the financial district, and considered among the best Panama City hotels, it offers an ideal location for business or leisure travelers near shopping, entertainment and vibrant night life.
Courtyard by Marriott Panama Real Hotel, Vía Israel, Punta Pacífica Mall, ☎ +507 301 0101 (fax: +507 301 0102), . The Courtyard by Marriott Panama Real Hotel offers guests 120 rooms with high speed internet, restaurant, bar, gym, pool, four banquet halls and a meeting room, as well as laundry service, laundry and shop.Prices range between $ 100 - $ 250.
Be careful in both Casco Viejo and the Panama la Vieja ruins area. There are tourist police aplenty in both neighborhoods but do not wander too far in these areas alone (even in the day) and certainly not in the evening.
Stay out of El Chorillo, Santa Ana, Curundu and San Miguel. It is very dangerous right now due to infighting between drug gangs. Tourists have been kidnapped right off the street. El Chorillo borders San Filipe so it is very easy to unknowingly walk into it. When driving, car doors should be locked.
Look both ways before crossing the street! Panamanian drivers are notoriously aggressive when the traffic allows and will not slow down for you even if you're lucky enough to find a crosswalk. There's only one way to cross the road here. Wait for a break in the traffic and walk. Once you start, keep going. Drivers will stop(99% of the time......). Otherwise you'll be stuck for hours waiting.
The central neighborhoods of Marbella, El Cangrejo, Obarrio, San Francisco, and the Banking Area are generally the most safe. In any case, be careful of your belongings, even if sitting in a restaurant, as people have had things snatched without noticing it. It is never a good idea to drink heavily and walk back to your hotel.
A dumb tourist mistake is bragging aloud about how cheap things are when local wages are also much lower compared to the United States, Canada, and western Europe.
It's always a good idea (in any country really) to spend a few minutes to find out exact taxi fares before taking a taxi and always have exact change for the correct fare. This avoids over-charging and problems with some drivers. Having to ask a taxi driver how much the fare is is the equivalent to saying "charge me anything you want" as you're telling him you don't know what to pay. From El Dorado to Via Argentina, some have been told the fare is $5, or $10, or $20. The real fare for one person is much closer to $1.75.
Outside of Multiplaza, Albrook and Multicentro are some very good looking taxis. The drivers wear nice shirts and the taxis have proper signs on the roof. The drivers will most likely ask you if you are interested. NEVER take these taxis. All they do is wait for foreigners and then charge four times the price.
Some taxis at the main bus station prey on visitors as well. Never put your belongings in the trunk. Sit in the back seat along with your belongings and have your luggage firmly grasped while entering and exiting the vehicle. The reason? They can drive away with your things while you are still trying to get in. Lock the doors once inside. Avoid and ignore anyone who approaches you to "get a taxi for you"; go to the curb to get one yourself. At best they will want money for this "service" amounting to half the taxi fare; at worst, they are setting you up to be robbed with certain drivers with whom they work. Lastly, the cabs are marked on the door with a unique registration number -- memorize it or write it down and secretly tuck it safely away on your person before entering any cab.
Never lose your temper with taxi drivers or police (or anyone else really) no matter how bad you may find a situation or service in some places. Exert your rights politely but firmly.
Canada, Torres de las Americas, Tower A, Piso 11, Punta Pacifica, ☎ +507 294-2500 (After hours emergencies 613 996-8885, 613 944-1310 TTY, email@example.com, fax: +507 294-2514). M-F 8:30AM-1PM, visas M-Th 1PM-3PM.
Greece, Antiguo Edificio NCR, 3er piso, Calle Manuel Espinosa Batista y Entrada de la Via Argentina, El Dorado 6, 1918 Panama, ☎ +507 263-0411 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +507 263-5511).
Go to the Miraflores locks to watch the boats go through the locks.
Take a boat trip out to the islands off the coast of Panama City (Isla Taboga).
Check out the birds and Chagres River in Gamboa.
Take a tour of the San Blas Islands
Visit the the forts of Portobelo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Continue onwards to Isla Grande for some nice R&R - buses goes from the main street in Portobelo to La Guira and from there it is a 5 minutes boatride ($2)
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!