If you’re traveling to Central or South America, it’s likely that you may have a stop in Panama City on the way to your destination.
If you’re stuck with a layover that’s a bit on the long side, use it to take advantage of seeing some of the sights in the city.
I recently had an 8 hour layover in Panama City and used that entire time to jump around and explore. Honestly, who’s trying to sit in an airport for 8 hours? Exactly!
With 8 hours until our departure, I really had about 5 hours to work with. Once you factor in going through customs to get out of the airport (45 minutes to an hour), and going through security to get back in the airport and to our gate (2 hours), 5 hours, give or take, is what I was left with.
PRO TIP: Before leaving the airport, hit an ATM and take out some cash (if you don’t already have some USD on hand). You can use UBER to get around, but having the option for a cab (especially in the event that you don’t have time to wait when heading back to the airport OR cell service that includes international data) is smart.
I split that time into 2.5 increments and hit two spots. Here’s what I did.
Casco Viejo & Lunch
For a healthy mix of old and new Panama, make a visit to Casco Viejo. Established after a seige on Panama Viejo (see below), the city that has several names (Casco Antiguo, San Felipe or El Casco, depending upon who you ask) has seen a revitalization within the last 20 years, after being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It can get touristy here, so your best bet is to avoid the calls from those looking to get your attention and focus your efforts on enjoying the beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets. There’s plenty of restaurants to catch a quick and traditional Panamanian meal and a mojito, so drop into one of them during your walk around this area. I suggest hitting one of the spots that surround Plaza Bolivar.
To get a piece of Panama’s history, take a visit to the first city founded by the Spanish on the Pacific coast of the American continent. During its 152 years of existence, the town was affected by slave rebellion, fire and an earthquake, but was destroyed in the wake of a devastating pirate attack in 1671. Due to its historical significance, the ruins have been labeled an UNESCO World Heritage Site (Casco Viejo has also received this recognition).
I skipped the museum and headed straight into the monument complex because I felt my time would be better spent here.
PRO TIP: This place is full of scenery for Instagram worthy shots. Bring your good camera along! Also, if you have a layover around 4 or 5 hours, this is a great place to visit. It’s about 20 minutes away from the airport, and a quick excursion.
These two sites gave an unrushed peak into Panama’s culture and history, making a layover an opportunity for local food and fun instead of expensive airport fare and uncomfortable seats for hours.