By Jessica Russo
Panama City is a marvelous metropolis boasting unpretentious charm, colorful buildings, and authentic cuisine. While this vibrant capital city is packed with treasures to discover, its surrounding islands, valleys, and rainforests also deserve attention. Let's be real: did you even go to Panama if you didn't see a sloth? Escape to these nearby natural wonders and explore the true beauty of Panama.
Also known as the "Island of Flowers," this volcanic island in the Gulf of Panama is just a 30-minute ferry ride from Panama City! While Taboga offers breathtaking views and stunning beaches, it's also packed with history! After some fun in the sun, stroll through narrow streets lined with old buildings and family-run restaurants.
El Valle de Anton
With gorgeous hiking trails and a cool micro-climate, the area surrounding El Valle de Anton is one of Panama's most treasured natural beauties. El Valle's mountain town is filled with local spots to eat, drink, and relax. Nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano, El Valle offers ocean views, rushing waterfalls, and incredible wildlife. If you have a rental car, take a scenic two-hour drive from Panama City. No car? No worries! El Valle is one of the easiest places to access outside of Panama City without a car. Simply make your way to Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City, and hop on one of the express buses to El Valle de Anton (they leave once at least every hour - with the first bus departing at 6:30 AM and the last bus departing at 7:00 PM). This two hour bus ride allows for lots of gawking out the window!
Gatun Lake & San Lorenzo Fort
Just a 45-minute drive from one another, these two sites make one perfect Panama City day trip. First, check out Gatun Lake, a bright blue artificial lake just south of Colón. This giant lake forms a major part of the Panama Canal, and carried ships for over 20 miles of their journey across the Isthmus of Panama! Get a taste for even more scenic beauty as you continue on to San Lorenzo Fort, a fascinating piece of history that overlooks the sparkling sea. There are a few options in terms of transportation, if you don't have a rental car. You can take the train from Panama to Colon and then take a taxi, or you can splurge on a tour of the sites from Panama City.
Soberania National Park
Escape the bustle of the city in this tropical rainforest, just 15 miles from Panama City. Smell lush leaves and hear complete silence, except for the rushing of waterfalls, singing of birds, and calling of adorable monkeys. With the Chagres River running through the park, you'll never be more than a few feet from a photo-op. Hike through trails in Gamboa Rainforest and be on the lookout for amazing wildlife, like toucans and sloths. Because the drive is only about 30 minutes, a rental car, Uber, or taxi would probably be your best bet - and most comfortable. Another option is to take a bus to Gamboa!
You've probably heard of the San Blas Islands - the pristine paradise islands rich with indigenous Caribbean cultures. While these islands are undoubtedly stunning, a day trip to the San Blas is quite costly and very long. If you're looking for a quick getaway to beach bliss, consider a trip to the Pearl Islands instead. With plenty of ferry rides and tours available from Panama City, a day trip to Pearl Islands is the way to go. In one to two hours, you'll feel a world away from the bustle of the buzzing city. Idyllic seascapes, swaying palms, and crystal-clear waters - here you come!
Chagres National Park
Just over a one-hour drive from Panama City, this spectacular national park will satisfy your rainforest dreams. Massive in size, Chagres National Park is 320,000 acres of dense forests, breathtaking waterfalls, and postcard-worthy wildlife. In terms of transportation, we recommend a rental car, a cab, or a tour from Panama City.