It may be the fantastic engineering of the Panama Canal or the bustling atmosphere of Panama City that attracts tourists from all over the world to discover Panama.
Still, there is a wide range of famous landmarks to add to this list. Panama is located north of Colombia and south of Costa Rica, linking Central and South America; however, the notorious and impassable ‘Darien Gap’ prevents easy passage between both continents.
Panama is a world-famous shipping route linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, so this is a significant country in terms of cargo and transport. When it comes to traveling, Panama attracts many tourists and overlanders undertaking the Pan American highway, which starts in Alaska and ends in Ushuaia.
Panama is a fantastic destination for tourists who want to explore tropical islands, vibrant city life, architectural marvels, and rich culture and heritage, so it is an ideal country for everybody.
Panama is one of the top destinations in Central America since it offers stunning beaches, plenty of exciting adventure activities, and diverse nature and wildlife.
The country is well known as the bridge to the Americas, which makes it easily accessible to North American travelers, as well as having direct flight connections to European cities like Amsterdam and Paris. Panama is not where you will be bored, so sit back and note these most famous landmarks in Panama so you don’t miss a beat.
The 12 Famous Landmarks In Panama
1. Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is, without a doubt, the most famous landmark in Panama and is undoubtedly the first thing that comes to mind when considering the best places to visit. Panama is important in the Americas since it links North and South America, so the Panama Canal is a vital trading route between regions. Not only is it so important for trading and economic reasons, but it has become a top tourist attraction because it is such an engineering marvel and a popular route for cruise ship passengers seeking an unforgettable journey.
The canal dates to the 16th Century, when Spanish explorers recognized its potential, yet it wasn’t constructed until the 19th Century and was not without its struggles. The canal, which cuts across the narrowest part of the isthmus of Panama connecting the Pacific and the Atlantic, represents an incredible feat of engineering, and today, it remains a vital gateway for global trade. You cannot visit Panama without setting your sights on this remarkable landmark, which is a memorable experience.
2. Panama City and Casco Viejo
Panama City is one of the most famous landmarks in Panama and is the central hub for tourists embarking on their adventure, wherever that may be. Panama City is well connected to North America, Europe, and beyond, allowing international travelers to visit the country easily. In all honesty, this is a fantastic place to begin any trip. The city is well known for its skyscrapers and historic quarter, ‘Casco Viejo,’ which combines modernity with historical charm.
One of the great things about Panama City is that you can do plenty of day trips from the city, which makes it a great place to base yourself, but one thing is for sure: feasting your eyes on Casco Viejo is a must for any traveler. This is, without a doubt, the city’s cultural heart and is where you will find beautifully preserved buildings and a rich blend of architectural styles, so it’s no wonder it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. San Blas Islands
The tropical San Blas Islands are one of the top places to see when exploring Panama, especially if you dream of turquoise waters and white sand beaches. There are 365 islands – one for every day of the year, and the archipelago is home to the Guna indigenous people of the region, who have maintained a traditional way of life. Not only is this an exciting place to visit from a visual standpoint, but to immerse yourself in the traditional culture and heritage of the country, this is an excellent place to visit.
Widely regarded as the leading vacation in Panama, the San Blas Islands attract many international tourists with their vibrant coral reefs and warm, clear waters, which make it an excellent diving and snorkeling region. Here, there are plenty of opportunities to observe a wide range of fascinating creatures like nurse sharks, colorful fish, and sting rays; plus, this is a fantastic place to relax on the many white sandy beaches and soak up the sun. Getting to the islands is easy from Panama City, and many tour operators offer this exciting trip, which is a must-do in Panama.
4. Taboga Island
This stunning island in the Gulf of Panama is a must if you seek tropical beaches, natural beauty, and tranquility, but that’s not to say you can’t be active. There are many activities to get involved in, like snorkeling, diving, swimming, bird watching, dolphin watching, sailing, fishing, and kayaking. Regular ferries run between Panama City and Taboga Island, making it an excellent landmark to tick off your list if you have extra time in Panama City and seek relaxation or beach fun.
Suppose that wasn’t enough to convince you. In that case, the island has historical attractions, hiking, nature trails, and panoramic viewpoints to discover, so it’s no wonder it is called ‘The Island of Flowers’. The island has an abundance of stunning flora like orchids, bougainvillea, and hibiscus, and combined with the many gorgeous beaches like Playa Honda; it makes for a very picturesque destination. For those who want to explore Taboga Island as part of a day tour, many options are leaving from Panama City so that you can see it all.
5. Lake Gatun and Monkey Island
Lake Gatun is a beautiful natural landscape to observe and is home to some fascinating inhabitants. One of the most popular attractions in Panama is Monkey Island, located within Lake Gatun and provides visitors with a unique experience, getting up close and personal with four species of monkey. Visitors can explore this natural attraction and meet species like the grey-bellied night monkey, white-faced capuchin monkey, mantled howler monkey, and Tamarin monkey.
Located in the Gamboa Rainforest, just 40 minutes from Panama City, Monkey Island is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating day trips tourists can do, and it is undoubtedly a unique experience for many. As well as spotting a variety of monkeys, wildlife enthusiasts will be enthralled by the opportunity to witness crocodiles, toucans, sloths, and iguanas, to name but a few other exciting inhabitants of the area.
6. Metropolitan Natural Park
One of the most famous and easily accessible landmarks in Panama is the Metropolitan Natural Park, right in the heart of Panama City. The park, which expands for 573 acres (about twice the total floor space of the Pentagon), is a fantastic escape into nature, so much so that it’s hard to believe you are in the center of a busy capital city.
This stunning sanctuary is an excellent place to stroll, relax in the tropical rainforest, or enjoy recreational activities as the locals do. Every metropolis needs a natural place to escape, and Metropolitan Natural Park is a fantastic place to recharge and enjoy tranquility.
If that doesn’t already sound enticing, the park is home to abundant wildlife, so it’s like going on your safari within Panama City, which many tourists find mind-blowing, making it a top attraction to see for yourself. You can witness 227 bird species, 45 mammals, 14 kinds of amphibians, 36 types of snakes, and various stunning plants and trees. This is a great place to add to your bucket list when visiting Panama City since it is easily accessible and can be explored at leisure.
7. Volcan Baru National Park
Baru Volcano is not just an active volcano on the border of Costa Rica and Panama; it is the tallest peak in Panama, making it a popular place for tourists to explore. Reaching 3,475m (11,401ft), this incredible volcano boasts stunning panoramic views from the top and makes for an excellent adventurous activity for hiking enthusiasts. The volcano is the twelfth tallest in Central America, and one of the unique features of this volcano is that it is possible but still rare to see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea from the top. Still, for the lucky few who witness it, it is unforgettable.
Located near the popular town of Boquete, in the western province of Chiriqui, Baru Volcano is often a landmark that many put at the top of their Panamanian bucket list. Because of its location, it is a popular destination for those visiting from Costa Rica or exploring Panama with a tour or their own vehicle. The hike to the summit is not for the faint-hearted, but the views along the way and at the top make the journey worth every effort if you are well-prepared. However, exploring the other trails within Volcan Baru National Park is an excellent plan for families and those wanting to enjoy a casual hike through the cloud forest.
8. Panama Canal Railway
The Panama Canal Railway is regarded as one of the best train rides in the world, and it is one of the most famous landmarks in Panama, especially for those seeking a truly memorable journey. Following the glorious and picturesque path across the isthmus of Panama, this train ride boasts spectacular views of the famous Panama Canal locks and Gatun Lake. Passengers will be captivated as the train enters the historic Gaillard Cut, artificially created to allow ships to pass over the continental divide.
The route links one of the world’s less traveled tourist corridors between Panama City on the Pacific and Colon on the Atlantic Coast, making this a truly remarkable journey to undertake. Passenger service between the two cities began in June 2001, and the daily service caters to business executives commuting to work between the two towns and general tourists. The Panama Canal Railway stretches for 76.6km (47.6 mi) and, to this day, is seen as an international feat of engineering, just like the Panama Canal, so it’s no wonder visitors to the country want to see it for themselves.
Portobelo’s idyllic colonial town is one of Panama’s most picturesque towns, hugging the Caribbean coastline, and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, along with San Lorenzo Fort. As the largest colonial port in Central America, Portobelo had a significant impact on the development of Panama, and today, it is one of the most visited attractions in the country. As legend would have it, the town got its name when explorer Christopher Colombus arrived and deemed it ‘Porto Bello’ or beautiful port, and if you visit, you will understand why.
The town has a Caribbean vibe, fishing boats, lush vegetation, the glorious sea as a soothing backdrop, and abundant historical relics and colonial buildings. This is an excellent place for history buffs who want to dive deeper into the rich colonial heritage of the country, and within Portobelo, visitors can see numerous forts, complete with cannons and watchtowers, while food lovers will be in their element with the variety of local Afro Caribbean cuisine. Foodies can indulge in delicious dishes, which include curry, coconuts, fresh seafood, and local vegetables, to get an authentic taste of Panama.
10. Panama’s Coffee Region
Coffee lovers visiting Panama will be excited to know that Panama boasts some of the best coffee in the world. The coffee region of Panama is somewhat of a hidden gem, but those who visit there do not miss out on a visit to a local coffee farm once they taste the local blend. European migrants brought coffee to Panama in the 19th Century, and one of the first areas where coffee was planted was in the region of Chiriqui, which is still the primary region.
The three regions to explore when planning to visit coffee farms and learn about the coffee history of Panama are Boquete, Volcan, and Renacimiento, all located within the Chiriqui province. Panama’s coffee-growing regions are purposefully situated around the country’s volcanoes, famous for their rich soil, cool breezes, and fantastic microclimates, resulting in a mouthwatering brew.
Due to the difficult access to Renacimiento, the area is less known and can offer a genuinely authentic experience; however, Boquete and Volcan are also excellent options to taste some of the best coffee in the world.
11. Darien National Park
The famous Darien Gap National Park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1981, and to this day, it is one of the most intriguing destinations for many. Separating Colombia from Panama, the Darien Gap is an impassable area filled with dense jungle, mangroves, swamps, and sandy beaches and is home to two indigenous tribes. Due to the nature of the environment and the expense, a road has never been built between Panama and Colombia, which means that the longest road in the world – The Pan American Highway, is interrupted for 106 km (66 mi).
The Darian National Park is Panama’s largest national park and protected area in the Caribbean and Central America regions. Due to its untamed nature, indigenous people, and endless jungle features, this is a region many travelers are eager to see for themselves as part of a tour.
The Darian Province is home to tribes such as the Guna people and Embera-Wounaan, and the only way to get around this area is on foot via dangerous hiking trails or by boat. Despite the dangers, this has been a challenge for adventure travelers who have either attempted the crossing on foot or with a vehicle, which is certainly not advised.
12. Bocas del Toro Archipelago
Located in the northwest of the country and has so much to offer, you could easily spend longer than first planned. From the UNESCO La Amistad International Park on its continental side to the glorious coral reefs and white sand beaches on its Caribbean side, this incredible region of Panama is one of the top destinations for locals and visitors seeking a tropical or nature-filled getaway. Bocas del Toro is divided in two and features must-see areas on land and as part of its archipelago, making it appealing to those of all interests.
The archipelago has a few stunning islands to explore, including Isla Colón, Isla Carenero, and Isla Bastimentos, all commonly visited alternately. If diving, snorkeling, surfing, or relaxing on the beach is for you, visiting this archipelago is a must and can easily be reached with a 45-minute flight from Panama City. Each island offers a different vibe, with Isla Colon being the largest and most developed, while the remaining two are ideal for wildlife spotting and surfing; either way, visiting all three is most definitely advisable.