I can’t be everywhere to discover new things to do with my kids, no matter how much I wish I could. I’ve asked a few friends to jump in with what they love to do in their cities. Tara from PintSizePilot.com is sharing her favorite spots and things to do in Panama City with kids in the Republic of Panama.
“Can we go back Mom?” my son inquired, glancing at some photos of the trip we took to Panama City, Panama (not to be confused with the Spring Break mecca of same name in Florida) earlier this year. Although I gave him my standard response “When you get a good job.”, I must admit that I, too, felt a longing to return. Despite having four full days in this fascinating Latin American hub, I still left feeling like there was more to see and experience. If a family trip to Panama City is in your future, here are 5 great places and things to do in Panama City for kids.
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The Museum of Biodiversity (Biomuseo), Panama
It took 15 years of red tape and delays for this museum to finally open its doors (Longer than it took to build the Panama Canal!) In fact, while planning our own family trip to Panama, I watched the opening get bumped three times and had my private site visit cancelled due to a labor strike. My disappointment aside, phase one, which consists of four galleries, is now open and receiving rave reviews.
The brightly hued museum complex is a first in Latin America for world renowned architect Frank Gehry (he is married to a Panamanian). The exhibits tell the story of how the isthmus of Panama rose from the sea, uniting two continents, separating a vast ocean in two, and changing the planet’s biodiversity forever. Once the museum is fully open, its 4,000 square meters will contain eight permanent exhibition galleries.
I was lucky enough to get the inside scoop from fellow family travel writer Victoria Westmacott of globetotting.com who lives in Panama City. Having visited the Biomuseo, she shared with me that the most popular gallery is the ‘The Panamarama’, with its 10 interactive screens lining the walls, ceiling and floor, showcasing Panama’s various ecosystems.
For more information, see the Museum of Biodiversity / Biomuseo Panama website.
The Amador Causeway
Built in 1913 from the rocks and earth excavated from the Panama Canal, the Amador Causeway is a long road linking four islands just off Panama City. It is hugely popular with Panamanians and tourists alike as a nice place to take a weekend stroll or bike ride. You can even take the whole gang out for a spin on a family bike, rented by the hour from “Bikes n’ More”. Although these jalopies are great fun, we found they were difficult to handle. One hour is about all you need.
The Amador Causeway is located at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal so you may have the opportunity to see some interesting ships passing by. Pack a picnic lunch or grab a bite at one of the many patio restaurants in the area. If you have some extra time, you may also want to stroll the grounds of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, where you will see turtles, tropical fish and may even spot one of the sleepy resident sloths in the trees.
Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997 in order to protect the beautiful Spanish architecture, this historical area of Panama City is populated by chic boutique hotels, hot restaurants and quaint little stores selling high quality indigenous arts and crafts. My children enjoyed picking out colorful molas and hand carved tagua nuts at the market just off Plaza Catedral and along Paseo Esteban Huertas. It should definitely be at the tip of your list of things to do in Panama City when you plan your visit.
No family visit to Casco Viejo would be complete without stopping by Granclement Gourmet Ice Creams and Sorbets. Their divinely crafted dessert is so amazing that we actually visited five times in four days.
*important note: Casco Viejo is undergoing rapid gentrification. There are a few dodgy areas, so be sure to stay alert and keep any valuables hidden or back in the your room (don’t be flashing your freshly minted iPhone around).
The Miraflores Locks and Visitors Center at the Panama Canal
This museum and visitors center allows you to have a close up encounter with the vessels passing through the locks system of the Panama Canal, and let’s face it. This is one of the top things to do in Panama City for visitors coming to the area. The facility has multiple floors of exhibits, several viewing platforms and even a restaurant from which you can watch the ships go by. Very popular with children is the interactive third floor gallery with a locks navigation simulator and time lapse video of ships passing through the canal.
Visitors should plan accordingly, as ships tend to pass through the locks in the morning and later in the afternoon, with the canal traffic changing direction mid-day. Lucky viewers may even get to see a giant Panamax ship. These are currently the largest that can pass through the canal, until the expansion project is completed in 2016.
For rates and hours of operation, see the Miraflores Visitors’ Center website.
The Metropolitan Natural Park
Often referred to as the “Lung of Panama City,” this urban oasis, encompassing 232 hectares of protected wildlife refuge, is home to hundreds of species of trees, mammals, birds and reptiles, and one of the easiest things to do in Panama City with your kids who love creature encounters. A popular day trip, you may want to start early in the morning for best wildlife viewing. Be sure to bring good walking shoes, a water bottle and bug spray (after all, it’s a jungle out there). For those who are a little challenged when it comes to spotting wildlife, ask someone working in the park. These people usually have a good idea of where the creatures like to hide.