The best day trips from Panama City, Panama

Gamboa

Serving as the transportation hub and economic centre of the entire country, most people visiting Panama spend at least some time in the capital, Panama City. While there are plenty of things worth seeing in town such as the historic quarter Casco Viejo and the colourful BioMuseo, those with extra time on their hands will want to head outside the city to get a true taste of what Panama has to offer. Here are some of the best day trips from Panama City.

The Panama Canal

As the most iconic landmark in the entire country, no trip is complete without seeing the Panama Canal. Stretching 80 kilometres through the centre of the country, the shipping thoroughfare operates around the clock and sees about one million transits per year.

There are a few ways visitors can experience it: by passing through the locks on a vessel such as a cruise ship, taking a boat ride along the Chagres River, or heading to the Miraflores Visitors Centre for a birds-eye view of the ingenious locks system which are essentially water elevators. Those who head to the visitors centre can learn more about this engineering marvel by watching a 10-minute video about the Panama Canal which plays hourly, then head into the museum which has exhibitions about its construction and operation.

READ MORE: The best things to do in Panama City, Panama in just one day

Panama Canal

Gamboa

Tucked into the Soberania National Park, Gamboa is adjacent to the canal, which makes it a popular spot for those wanting to experience the canal by water. Starting from the beautiful Gamboa Rainforest Resort, visitors on the Gatun Lake Expedition hop on a motorboat that navigates the Chagres River towards Gatun Lake, which is one of the world’s largest manmade lakes. Surrounded by lush jungle that’s home to critters like capuchin, howler and tamarind monkeys as well as crocodiles and iguanas, there’s no shortage of sights and sounds to take in.

Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Another popular tour from Gamboa is the Rainforest Aerial Tram, which ascends 600 metres from the shadowy rainforest floor through dense, tropical vegetation. Interestingly enough, staff have to head out first thing every morning to clear away sloths and snakes to ensure they’re not caught in the cables once the tram gets up and running.

From the top of the tram line it’s a quick walk to the 30-metre high observation tower which offers an unobstructed view of the Chagres River, sun-drenched rainforest canopy, and the Gaillard Cut which is an artificial valley that forms part of the Panama Canal. There’s plenty of wildlife spotting to be had, including tiny spotted frogs which look adorable but are actually poisonous—don’t worry, your guide will point them out to ensure you avoid harm.

These frogs look cute, but they’re poisonous!

The last stop on the tour is the gorgeous orchid garden which overflows with blooms, a frog farm, and the butterfly sanctuary where visitors can get an up-close look at the shy, colourful creatures.

A butterfly at Gamboa Rainforest Resort

A butterfly at Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Embera Quera

Just down the road from Gamboa is Embera Quera, an indigenous tribe that lives completely off the grid in the heart of the Panamanian jungle. The group owns 11 hectares of land, nine of which are which are used for conservation, and they earn a living by selling handicrafts and touring visitors around their community.

Embera Quera

Embera QueraTo get to the community, guests enjoy a boat ride down the Gatun River where they can spot the likes of turtles and spider monkeys—and those who bring a banana along might even get to enjoy a close-up! The entire tribe is waiting at the dock to greet their visitors, all clad in their traditional clothing which consists of loin cloths, brightly coloured skirts and jagua body paint…and yes, it’s what they wear all the time.


Embera Quera

Tours include a walk around the community to see their huts, a nature walk and a delicious lunch of tilapia wrapped in a plantain leaf, before being waved off with a traditional song and dance.

READ MORE: Monkeying around at the Embera Quera village in Panama

San Blas Islands

Thanks to its perch between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, there is no shortage of sparkling, white-sand beaches. A handful of them are just a short drive from Panama City, but the real treasures are found about three-hours away in San Blas. Made up of more than 300 postcard-perfect islands, they have been likened to a Robinson Crusoe hideaway. Inhabited by the Kuna people and accessed by speedboat or water taxi, visitors to the islands can fill their day by snorkeling in the clear, warm water, surfing, or simply relaxing under a swaying palm tree.

San Blas. Courtesy of Maarten van den Heuvel

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From the iconic Panama Canal to spotting monkeys in the rainforest and relaxing on sun-soaked beaches, here are the best day trips from Panama City. 

#Panama | #Travel | #PanamaCanal | #Beach

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18 Responses

  1. Julie says:

    A visit to the rainforests and the opportunity to experience visiting the communities who live around the Panama Canal would be amazing. The engineering of the canal itself has always facinated me.

  2. Linda says:

    We were so surprised by how modern Panama City was after we did a trip along the Panama Canal. It is definitely on our plans to return so it was great to see these day trips. The aerial tram in Gamboa sounds like something we would like to do. But a trip to San Blas Islands will be a must do trip. The white sand beaches look great.

  3. Ami Bhat says:

    This is one of the few posts that I have read about Panama. Rightly said that you cannot leave without seeing the canal but I am enamoured by the whole wildlife scene there. Such pretty flora and fauna there and very unusual too. I would love to interact with the tribals there too. Well done with the post.

  4. Indrani says:

    First blog on Panama and I am so impressed. The wildlife is indeed fascinating, What a sight it must be to see entire tribe waiting at the dock to greet visitors, all clad in their traditional clothing. I am ken about the white sandy beaches too.

  5. Jen Joslin says:

    I have always wanted to ride in a ship through the locks of the Panama Canal! The Gamboa Rainforest sounds beautiful, and it’s so cool to see wild animals in their natural habitat. I would definitely want to try out the Rainforest Ariel Tram. The beaches at the San Blas islands also look stunning. Will definitely keep these trips in mind when we visit Panama!

  6. Suruchi says:

    First time I am reading about Panama city, Awesome! Panama Canal will surely top my list. The Rainforest Aerial Tram tour looks cool. Those neon frogs are unique but they are poisonous – like really! The bloomed orchid garden surely will look gorgeous. Visiting Embera Quera, seeing tribals dressed and learning about them will be quite a unique experience. The San Blas Islands look so picturesque.

  7. Cathy says:

    That cute little baby with some coal on his face? Looks very cute and such an innocent angel. I am so fascinated with islands and beaches and looks like Panama has it! The white sand and light blue-green waters make me wanna jump on it, San Blas is stunning! I have never read so many posts too about Panama and it does really look enticing to me! This should be on our bucket lists! Indeed!

  8. Holly says:

    Defiantly would like to see Panama. I had San Blas Islands on the list for whenever I made it there. Embrea Quera is also on my list. I would love to immerse into the culture. The rainforest resort looks so pretty.

  9. Jessica says:

    Panama has been on my list for a while thanks to the nonstop flights from DC. I’ve heard great things about San Blas, would love to add that to my itinerary. This post is bookmarked for when I make that trip!

  10. Medha Verma says:

    I love the clothes those indigenous tribes at Embera Quera are wearing, so colourful, I’d love to have stuff like that myself! So much beauty and wildlife in your pictures, its amazing. Also the San Blas islands look like they’re out of this world!

  11. Megan Jerrard says:

    Thanks for this post! Brought back some amazing memories – we love love loved our time in Panama City, and as wildlife enthusiasts we were surprised that it was more rich in fauna than neighboring Costa Rica which is much more well known for wildlife experiences. We didn’t make it to San Blas so I guess we have an excuse to get back! But we did really love a day trip out to Soberania National Park, so I was glad to see Gamboa on your list 🙂

  1. January 23, 2018

    […] more than one day in Panama City? There are plenty of great day trip options including watching ships go through the locks at the Panama Canal, relaxing on sun-soaked beaches […]

  2. January 23, 2018

    […] The best day trips from Panama City, Panama […]

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