This post of our World Landmarks series focuses on the famous landmarks in Panama. Panama is a country marked by one major landmark, the Panama Canal, which divides the country (and the Americas), but it is also its most significant source of income and one of the main reasons for its existence.
Yet, there is more to Panama than only the Canal. From the stunning beaches in San Blas to the Natural Parks and Volcanoes, Panama is blessed with extraordinary beauty and fascinating colonial history. Thus, it is no surprise that traveling to Panama is becoming increasingly popular.
Are you planning a trip to Panama? Here you’ll find everything you need to know before traveling to Panama!
Here, we will examine both the natural and human-made landmarks in Panama, and to do it we invited a few other bloggers to contribute with their favorite Panama Landmarks. If you want to learn more about Panama, look at the things Panama is famous for.
Famous Landmarks in Panama Canal
Locks of Miraflores locks
By Džangir Kolar from Dr Jam Travels
The construction of the world-famous 82 km long Panama Canal made a quick cross between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans possible. After its construction, ships just crossed the canal instead of rounding South America’s Cape Horn, reducing trips by 15.000 km.
The canal was a French project, but the USA finished it after France lost money and lives to try to build it. Since 1999, it’s Panama owed. It was the biggest construction and most complex engineering project at that time. It has three locks that make it possible to overcome height differences.
Miraflores locks are closest to the capital Panama City. It is located around 20-30 minutes by car, and a taxi or Uber will cost you 5$ to 10$. Public transport will be only 1 $. So there is also a built platform, terraces, and an observation gallery for tourists to see how locks work. A showroom displays the canal’s history, importance in international trade, and biodiversity (you can see crocodiles in nearby waters).
You will need tickets as visitors to the center. Visiting viewing platforms and accessing the museum will cost you USD 20, and a ticket to the IMAX Theater will cost you $15. But the best option would be a combined ticket for both, available for $30. You can also take a tour of the Canal and the City.
The Panama Canal Railway
Inaugurated in 1855, more than half a century before the ship canal, the Panama Canal Railroad was vital to the construction of the Canal. It was planned to be parallel to the canal and benefited hugely from its existence. The route stretches for almost 80km connecting Balboa (next to Panama City) to Colon and linking the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic.
Since its construction, it has been rebuilt, reconstructed, and changed name and ownership, but it’s essentially the same railway. In that sense, it is considered one of the oldest railways still functioning and, thus, one of the most famous Panamanian Landmarks.
This interoceanic railway is mainly used to transport goods, but there’s also a passenger service between Colon and Panama City. Despite being a relatively short but monumental rail trip, it is one of the best things to do in Panama and a mandatory attraction for train lovers. Furthermore, the views are amazing!
Bridge of the Americas
If the Canal divides the Americas and connects the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean, the Bridge of the Americas reconnects the Americas, allowing traffic to flow between northern and southern Panama.
With a total length of 1654 meters and a span of 344 meters, the Bridge of the Americas was constructed between 1959 and 1962. Until the construction of the Centennial Bridge in 2004, it was the only bridge of the Canal and thus part of the legendary Pan-American Highway.
The Bridge of the Americas is a beautiful and significant artificial landmark. The bridge has wide access ramps at each end and pedestrian walkways on each side, so it is perfectly possible to cross it on foot.
However, if you only have one day to visit Panama City, we suggest you join a full-day tour that includes this and other famous landmarks in Panama City.
When completed in 1912, Gatun Lake was the largest artificial lake globally. The lake was formed by damming the Chagres River and its affluents at Gatun. The Dam was necessary for the functionality of the Canal, and it still is a critical component of it, operating with water levels between 82 and 87 feet above sea level.
Besides forming a significant part of the Panama Canal, carrying ships through 33 km of their transit, it also has the mechanical function of supplying water to operate the locks for each ship’s passage. As it’s such a large lake, the Canal’s capacity is maximized, and two-way traffic is managed.
Lake Gatun has also become a wildlife sanctuary, with its islands and shores brimming with wildlife. One of them is Monkey Island, which is home to several species of monkeys, such as the howler monkey, the white-faced capuchin, and the Lemurian owl monkey. Some tours take you there and allow you to check the island, experience the rainforest, sail the canal, and Gatun lake. And the monkeys, obviously.
Famous Landmarks in Panama City
Panama Viejo is one of the most important historic landmarks in Panama. It was the first permanent European settlement on the Pacific coast. Originally founded in 1519, when Pedro Arias Dávila and100 other inhabitants made it their home.
After being sacked and destroyed by Henry Morgan in 1671, Panama Viejo was abandoned and, two years later, refounded a few km away. Today it is possible to visit the ruins, explore the archeological site, and see the Old Panama Cathedral and various historical ruins. It is possible to climb the Cathedral and see the beautiful views of Panama City.
Together with Casco Viejo (more about it below), Panama Viejo was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1997. This site has suffered a few modifications and renovations, making it a beautiful example of original Spanish colonial architecture.
Also known as Casco Antiguo, Casco Viejo is the historic district of Panama City. Founded in 1673, only two years after the destruction of Panama Viejo by English privateers, Casco Viejo was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage together with the Panama Viejo list in 1997.
Today, the historic Casco Viejo is a charming and vibrant neighborhood with colorful buildings, picturesque cobbled streets, and lively plazas. Naturally, it has plenty of restaurants, hotels, and other accommodations.
Casco Viejo is home to several historical monuments like the Metropolitan Cathedral of Panama City, Plaza Mayor, and the Church of San Jose, well-known for its golden altar. It also has several museums like Museo del Canal, Museo de la Mola, and the famous Arco Chato – the old remains of a Dominican church. As a whole, they form one of the most famous landmarks in Panama.
Several guided tours include a walk through this historic neighborhood. If you only have one day in the City, maybe it’s advisable to join a full-day tour that includes this and other famous landmarks in Panama City.
Seafood Market/Mercado de Mariscos in Panama City
The seafood market in Panama City is the reference place to eat and buy the best seafood and fish in Panama. The market is located near Cinta Costera and Casco Viejo, so it is one of the best places to eat lunch, as it has food stands inside the market. In addition, the food is relatively cheap.
One of the coolest things to eat in Mercado de Mariscos is ceviche; albeit not being the origin of ceviche, Panama has excellent ceviche. In the market, ceviche is served in a cup with different kinds of fish and served with a packet of crackers. It is such an interesting experience.
If you want something more formal, the top floor of the market has a restaurant that serves fresh fish from the market.
It may not seem like the most famous landmark in Panama, but eating in the market is a memorial moment, so it is well worth giving it a try.
Amador Causeway is a significant landmark in Panama. The causeway is 6 km long and unites four islands, making it an extensive road into the Pacific Ocean. The road was built with rocks extracted during the Panama Canal construction. The causeway has the purpose of being a breakwater to protect the city against tides, currents, waves, and storm surges.
The Amador Causeway also has a ludic purpose; it is the ideal place to run, go bicycling, or even hang around. On the causeway, there are several spots to sit and street vendors selling ice cream and drinks, and in the end, there is an ample parking space, a park for children to play, and several restaurants. Plus, the Biomuseo is located in the Amador Causeway.
It is a delightful place to walk and relax. Furthermore, it has fantastic views of the Panama City skyline, the perfect spot to take photos of Panama’s skyscrapers.
The Biomuseo in Panama City is an original and remarkable museum that explores Panama’s natural and cultural history. And you will especially want to visit it when you discover that its architect is the famous Frank Gehry – the author of the Guggenheim Museu in Bilbao, Spain, and the Dancing House in Prague, Czech Republic. The museum is located at the beginning of the Amador Causeway, so you can get to visit the causeway after or before.
The museum is very interactive, and a good place to come with kids. It has different galleries exploring the ecosystems of Panama. You will find animal statues that crossed the isthmus 3 million years ago, screens with representations of the natural wonders of Panama, and even an aquarium that shows the link between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Surrounding the museum is a garden you can explore with butterflies and birds.
Besides the permanent exhibition, the Biomuseo has temporary exhibitions that are frequently changed. It used to be open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 to 16h, but now (2022), the information is that it is only opened Fridays and Saturdays. It cost 18$ and the children 11$.
Metropolitan National Park
The Metropolitan National Park is a 573-acre tropical forest just 20 min north of downtown Panama City. How many capitals can brag about having a tropical forest in their metropolitan area… Only in Panama City, as it is the only tropical forest in the world that serves as a public recreation park for the country’s capital.
The Park is known as the lung of Panama City, absorbing 30% of the air pollution produced. It is home to 378 species of animals. It has seven trails of different lengths to explore several viewpoints of Panama City. One of the trails is adapted for people with disability, with signs written in Braille and sensory aids. The park also has a butterfly farm with 30 different species of butterflies. And has old relics like buildings and rusting equipment that used to belong to the US forces that guarded the Canal.
In addition, Metropolitan Park is an excellent place to run, relax and try to spot exotic birds and wild animals like sloths. It is a place to explore, full of adventure, and a tropical forest close to the commodities of the capital.
Famous Landmarks in Panama – Natural
By Catherine Xu from Nomadicated
Have you ever wanted to gaze simultaneously at the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the sun, and the moon? Summit Panama’s tallest mountain, Baru Volcano, in Parque Nacional Volcan Baru, to observe this spectacular sight.
Situated along the continental divide between the world’s great oceans, Baru Volcano is located on the north end of Panama in the town of Boquete. The volcano and its surroundings feature five distinct ecosystems, a combination of rainforest highlands and ancient volcanic eruptions.
If you plan on hiking Baru Volcano, know that this 17.6-mile out-and-back hike is not for the faint of heart. For the best experience, one should arrive at the mountaintop by sunrise, heading out from Boquete to the volcano’s base at around midnight. Plan for at least 8 hours of hiking.
As the sun peeps over the Atlantic Ocean and the sky lights up the scenery, you are awarded stunning 360 panoramas stretching from horizon to horizon. Don’t fret if the hike seems too much; Jeep tours are also available.
Tip: The temperatures drop as you climb up this 11,400 feet volcano. Make sure to dress warmly and bring enough food and water for this strenuous hike.
San Blas Islands
Located in the Caribbean Sea, the San Blas Islands is an archipelago of about 400 small islands. Out of these, only about 50 are inhabited. These are some of the most beautiful islands in the world, each one prettier than the next.
The San Blas are widely known for their pristine water and untouched ecosystem where each island has its own small beach with white sand, crystal clear water, coconut trees, a few huts… and not much more. The true appeal of the San Blas is their seclusion. You can simply relax and forget about everything else in the outside world.
The archipelago is run by the Guna Yala, the original tribe of the region. They have extended autonomy within Panama and control entry to islands.
The trip from Panama City to the San Blas is long (between 4 and 5 hours), so we recommend staying at least one night. It is quite an experience. Check our guide on how to organize the visit to one of the most beautiful natural landmarks in Panama.
Darian National Park
Located about 325 kilometers from Panama City, Darian National Park is the largest national park in Panama and has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1981.
Despite being one of the most famous landmarks in Panama, the Park is not very accessible and thus has little been visited. There are two main accesses to Darian National Park, one via Cana in the middle of the park and the other through Pirre Station. Both options aren’t easy, and as far as we know, there aren’t many tours to it; however (and maybe because of it), they have an abundance of wildlife, including birds, monkeys, and sloths.
The Darien NP is also home to the world-famous Darien Gap on the border between Panama and Colombia, the only break in the Pan-American Highway that goes from Argentina to Alaska. The missing section of this highway is only about 100km in a straight line, but the dense forest, marshland, and tropical diseases make crossing it almost impossible. And very dangerous.
Bastimentos Island is located in the Northwest of Panama and is one of the islands of the popular Bocas del Toro archipelago. Bastimentos is a paradisiac island with white sand, a luxurious tropical forest, and a turquoise sea. It faces the Caribbean Sea and has several memorable beaches like Wizard Beach, Polo Beach, Coral Cay, and Red Frog Beach. They are some of the best beaches in Panama.
Bastimentos is very close to Isla Colon, known for its surfing spots; you can catch a taxi boat. Both islands are stunning, but Bastimentos has a much more laidback vibe, with fewer parties. It is an excellent place to relax and enjoy the beach. Besides the beaches, the island belongs to the National Marine Park, protected by the National Environmental Authority of Panama. And the Red Frog Island Resort’s Nature Preserve is home to the red frogs known as Strawberry Poison-dart frogs that inhabit the forest near the Red Frog beach.
The Isla of Bastimentos is a mandatory place when visiting Panama.
Panama Landmarks – Others
Fort San Lorenzo
The Spanish built Fort San Lorenzo in 1601. Ordered by King Filipe II to protect the transatlantic trade – called the Camino Real des cruses, which connected the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. The Fort was built on a promontory overlooking the mouth of the Chagres River and is 13 km west of Colon. Nonetheless, the fort was constantly under attack by Pirates and Privateers.
Due to Its historical importance in defending the Caribbean coast, Fort San Lorenzo, along with Portobelo (a historic port 50 km from the Chagres), are classified as UNESCO world heritage sites.
Currently, you can visit the ruins of Fort San Lorenzo and try to imagine the vibrating village and fort as well the fights they endured with pirates that attacked the Fort. It is also a beautiful place surrounded by the river Chagres and the Caribbean Sea. Fort San Lorenzo is only 1h20 minutes by car from Panama City, or you can take a day tour from Panama City.
* Cover photo by dacasdo via Depositphotos
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