I promised myself I would write this blog because when I was researching Panama (and I am referring to Panama City, Panama – not the US city), there was so little information and virtually no blog posts out there about things to do and see for a weekend getaway to the city. It took a ton of work to put the trip together so I hope this helps others who decide to head to Panama City, Panama. My prediction is that this destination becomes a very HOT trip in the next year or two! I always love being a guinea pig.
So this trip was conceived because this year my mom is turning 70 and my sister is turning 40, and I wanted to surprise them with a super exciting trip to celebrate their milestones. My sister does not like to fly so she gave me a 5 hour direct flight maximum requirement. I researched my DC airport direct flights and randomly came upon Panama City, Panama.
I knew NOTHING about Panama nor anyone who had really gone there for a leisure trip. I went into my hyper-focused research mode and became OBSESSED with the idea of this trip very quickly. It looked ridiculously AMAZING and perfect for my sister and mom for loads of reasons including:
1) The weather is consistently WARM! In March, it is hard to find a place you know will be warm and sunny. We ended up having gorgeous, perfect weather there every single day. Highs in the low 90s and lows in the low 70s. Not a spec of rain in any 5-day forecast.
2) I am a deal lover and the prices blew my mind. I was able to go all out with this trip between the hotel, activities and restaurants due to the great values.
3) Monkeys!!! This instantly sealed the deal for me on this trip. My sister is a huge monkey lover and wait until you see the experience we had!
4) Shopping – My mom is a huge shopper and Panama City has more shopping then you could believe. They have gigantic malls that have all sorts of options from discount boutiques to Jimmy Choo. They are known for their shopping!
5) Walking – Panama City is a wonderful place to walk and explore and my mom and sister love to walk. They have a great path you can bike, walk or run right on the water.
6) Easy – I read about how easy it was to get around. I was a bit worried about this but let me tell you it was fantastic. Many people do not speak English (they speak Spanish) but we got along fine. They use American currency which makes that part easy. We used Uber to get around everywhere. We never waited anywhere more than 3 minutes and most of our Uber rides costed $3 (seriously!)!
7) Food – The food wasn’t expected to be a big highlight from my research but boy were these expectations exceeded. I am a major foodie and have been to a lot of places, and Panama was such a delicious experience! If you are foodie, you must add this city to your bucket list.
Despite all of these exciting points, going into the trip, I was still reticent as I had no one to bounce any of my plans off and was rolling the dice on how it would pan out. Thank goodness I can now tell you that it felt safe, the people were amazing, and there was nothing to worry about!
THE NIGHT BEFORE
So let’s begin with the big surprise. My mom and sister came to my house the night before our flight and I presented them with a scratch off to see where we were headed. When they found out, I think they were a bit confused and uneasy but once I revealed some of the activities, they seemed to get excited.
The flight was about 4.5 hours long. When we arrived, we got an Uber to our hotel. As we drove into the city, you are surprised by how many super tall buildings and how built up the city is. I had booked us at The Waldorf Astoria Hotel. I highly recommend this hotel as it was super nice, great service, very clean, and had a great pool and delish breakfast.
We were ready to move our legs after the long flight so we took a walk from the hotel on the water to the Old Town. It was fun to see the locals playing soccer and dancing in their parks and seeing vendors lining the water selling ice treats.
We ended our walk in the Old City and had an amazing dinner at Lo Que Hoy. You must get the tuna! I could not stop saying yum, yum, yum, yum….it was so yummy!
Dinner followed with dessert. They have a bunch of these throughout the city will lots of unique flavors. This one is a Crunch Bar.
After a delish breakfast, we were picked up at our hotel by AC Tours (found on Tripadvisor with good reviews) and our guide Si? and headed to Monkey Island. We had no idea what to expect but it was like nothing I imagined. Basically we had a private boat with our guide and a driver. The boat sped super fast and we headed out for about 25 minutes. We then pulled over to many different small islands with trees in the water where we would sit and wait for different types of monkeys to come out. We were given chunks of bananas and then the monkeys would jump into our boat and we could feed them. They were so cute and my sister loved every second of it!
We came back to our car and our guide then took us on a hike. On the hike we were able to spot more monkeys and enjoy being out in nature.
That afternoon I was excited that my favorite coffee shop The Coffee Bean (which I only get in CA) happened to be near our hotel. I got my usual favorite ice blended drink.
We spent time relaxing by the pool and then got dressed up for the special birthday dinner. We had dinner at the #1 restaurant in Panama City called Donde Jose. This is a tasting menu experience through the story of Panama. It was UNBELIEVABLE. The restaurant only has 12 tables and the whole experience is truly exceptional. This would be comparable to going somewhere like Pineapples & Pearls (but at only $65 a person where that can be over $265 a person!).
At the end we celebrated my mom and sister’s birthdays.
I gave the girls their Mother Daughter Birthday Trip shirts. It was fun to wear them and they got birthday wishes everywhere we went.
We headed out in the morning by Uber to the Panama Canal. This only took about a 20 minute ride. We probably should have done some more reading on the Panama Canal before we got there as we were somewhat clueless but we were able to learn a bit and it was cool getting to see one of the wonders of the world!
After the Panama Canal, we spent the rest of the day shopping! We hit Albrook Mall and Multiplaza Mall. I would recommend Multiplaza Mall if you are deciding. We had fun picking out some clothes for the surprise photo shoot I had planned for the next morning.
We had another AMAZING dinner that evening at Azahar which was located near The Waldorf. This place was ultra chic. You had to go through this posh building through a gorgeous flower store and then through a refrigerator door. The decor is lavish and reminded me of something I would have experienced in NYC or Hong Kong (not Panama City!). The food was a mix of Asian and Latin. Everything we ate blew our minds. The other 2 restaurants were more authentic, but if you have time this was a must! Side note…..the apple mule with gummy bears made for a fun drink I had never seen before!
I had seen all these incredible Instagram type pictures from Old City Panama and knew it made for such an incredible backdrop for photos. For such a special birthday I wanted a way to truly remember the experience. I found this photographer Ilyana who actually does photo sessions for tourists. She even set us up with her hair stylist who came and did our hair at the hotel (only $15 each!).
Ilyana was fantastic and spoke English and knew all the perfect spots to take pictures. We had a really fun time doing the photo shoot (including a cafe and ice cream shop treat scene!) and will cherish the pictures forever.
Here are some of our favorites:
That afternoon we headed back to the hotel and spent our remaining hours relaxing at the pool. We then headed to the hotel by Uber.
I really think this trip should ideally be paired with a trip to the Panama Beaches which I learned about while researching and heard about as we traveled. They are farther to get to and you would want to go for a few days which made it impossible to do on this trip. I think the perfect trip would be 2 nights in the city and then 5 nights at the beach. One day I would love to do this trip with my entire family as I think it could be the perfect combination of adventure, city, relaxation and fun! However, this trip makes for a great weekend trip as well and, as I noted at the beginning, I have a feeling it will soon be a HOT spot in years to come.