I’m heading down to Paraguay in a couple of weeks and after some adjustments in itinerary it seem I’ll have an 11 hour layover in Panama city. I really don’t want to hang out in the lounge for that long so I’m planning to head out of the airport to see what I can see.
Aside from seeing the canal (is there any way that’s best to do that) what should I see and do while I’m in the country / town?
I had a five hour layover on the way to Colombia a couple of years back, so went to the old city. There is a person right at the airport that will ask you where you want to go and handle putting you in a van, and you will get a fair price. On the way back, you are on your own, and I recommend trying to get a price from the taxi driver in advance if you go that route. He asked for double on the way into the airport what we paid on the way out.
It was cool to see how much difference the tide being in and out made to the landscape. We drove into the city with tide out, and drove out with tide in. It was dramatic.
You can pay for everything with American dollars, which is convenient. Getting through customs was a breeze.
Check out this website, which I used to decide on going to the old city:
The airport doesn’t have any bookshops or anything in it (lots of duty free shops, though). Bring all the entertainment you need to tide you over while you wait.
As mentioned in Mithril’s link, the best way to see the Panama Canal is at the Miraflores Visitor Center. There is a museum and a viewing stand where you can watch the ships being locked through. Depending on time of day, it can be worthwhile to eat at the restaurant overlooking the locks, which avoids paying for entry (although of course you will have to pay for a meal).
The Casco Viejo offers a great walking tour with newly renovated buildings side by side with those that are still ruins or tenements. (Don’t confuse this with Panama Viejo, the ruins of the old city that was burned during the attack by Morgan the pirate in 1671. You pass the site on the way into town from the airport, but it would take a little more time to visit.
I’ll also recommend the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo, an innovative museum about Panama’s natural history, geology, archaeology and history. I was Curator of Exhibitions for the museum and helped design the exhibits.
As the article mentions, it would be easy to visit Metropolitan Park to see wildlife but this might take a bit of time.
Note that depending on when you arrive traffic can be horrendous during rush hour on weekdays. In general, I would recommend using Uber if you have it rather than the local taxis, which often rip off tourists.