12 Easy Day Trips From Panama City
The great thing about visiting or living in Panama City is the diversity of eco getaways within a few hours away. You can relax on a secluded island, walk through the dense jungle, or jump off canyons into the river below. So when you’re ready for a break from the city, these are the 12 easiest day trips from Panama City.
Toboga Island is just a 30-minute ferry ride from Panama City, making it one of the easiest beach getaways. I highly recommend going on a weekday if possible because it becomes overcrowded with people on the weekend and everyone pulls up their yacht making the water murky. The beach isn’t amazing but the water can be clear if you go during the week. Besides relaxing at the beach be sure to walk through the quaint local town, hike to the top of El Cruce for an amazing view, and have lunch at the gorgeous La Vista restaurant. To easiest way to arrive to Taboga is via the Taboga Express which leaves from the Amador Causeway and costs $20 round-trip. You can also take a catamaran there with Panama Sailing Tours for $89 which includes an open bar, snacks, and lunch.
Cajones de Chame
The Cajones de Chame is one of those places that everyone is Instagramming right now. It’s a natural canyon formed by the Chame River that you can jump off of and take some cool photos to make your friends back home jealous. Selina organizes a tour here for $50 that includes a hike at the Altos de Campana National Park and visiting the canyons where you can jump and rappel off the cliffs into the cool water.
I’m going to be honest. The beach at Veracruz isn’t great but it does make a nice day when you want the beach ambience, beers, and a place to paddle board. My favorite spots to hangout at are SUP Republic & Paddle Paradise where you can rent paddle boards by the hour as well as Praia. To arrive to Veracruz only costs around $7 using Uber (use promo code UBERPTYLIFE for $10 off). I do have trouble getting an Uber back sometimes so if this happens then walk to the main road and get on any bus heading towards the city for $1 and then call Uber from there.
Laguna de San Carlos
Explore the magical Laguna de San Carlos for the day. You can arrive by car in about two hours by putting “Laguna de San Carlos” into Waze. Wander Panther also offers a tour for justs $35 that includes transport from the city, a hike up Cero Picacho, and entrance to the lagoon. While at the lagoon you can kayak or swim in the freshwater.
The Pearl Islands
The Pearl Islands are one of Panama’s most beautiful hidden gems that no one really talks about. Just a 1.5 hour ferry ride from Panama City is a beautiful archipelago of islands with white sand and clear, turquoise water. It’s quintessential paradise. The main islands you can go to as a tourist are Contadora, Saboga, and Viveros. All of the islands are beautiful but the Balu Beach Club on Isla Viveros is pretty baller. The Pearl Islands are a bit pricey to get to and will run you between $90 – $100. You can arrive by ferry using Sea Las Perlas or Ferry Las Perlas or fly using Air Panama. Panama Sailing Tours also goes there using their catamaran for $149 which includes an open bar and lunch. Also, subscribe to Oferta Simple because they constantly have deals for half off ferry service.
San Blas is an archipelago of over 300 islands on Panama’s Caribbean side and home to Panama’s indigenous Guna people. The islands are pristine, undeveloped and one of those once in a lifetime places you have to experience. There are several tour companies that do day trips to the islands and most are similarly priced. If you are looking for a more cultural experience where you can visit the actual communities and learn about their customs the day tour that Guna Yala Explorer offers is a great option. If you are looking to just relax at the beach, Selina Tours has a day trip package for $110. San Blas is an intense day trip that involves leaving the city around 5 am, driving two hours, taking a boat to the islands, and arriving back in the city around 7 pm, but it’s worth it!
If surf is what you’re after, the beach at El Palmar is one of the closest spots to the city to ride some waves. It takes approximately 1.5 hours to reach by car and a little longer if you are arriving by bus. To arrive at El Palmar via bus, purchase a San Carlos ticket at the Albrook bus terminal for $3.25. Tell the driver you are getting off at El Palmar and from here it’s a 1.5 km walk or $1.50 taxi ride.
Portobelo & Playa Blanca
Ancient forts and pristine beaches await on Panama’s Caribbean side. The town of Portobelo is reachable in under two hours and here you can walk through the ruins of one Panama’s oldest forts and then take a boat to the beach to relax. If you have a car, Portobelo is easily accessible. I don’t recommend using public transportation for this trip because once you arrive to Colón the bus to Portobelo tends to be unreliable during the week. Selina organizes a day trip for $80 that includes transportation from Panama City, visiting the town of Portobelo, a boat ride to Playa Blanca, and lunch.
Just a little past Portobelo is the beautiful Isla Mamey. In my opinion, it’s the closest island you can get to that almost feels like San Blas and is a lot cheaper to visit. However, it can get crowded on the weekend so be sure to visit on a weekday if you can. If you have a car keep an eye out for the Isla Mamey boat transfer sign about 15 minutes after you pass Portobelo. Once you arrive here it’s approximately a $3 boat ride to the island. This island does not have restaurants so it’s recommended to bring your own food and drinks. Panama Road Trips organizes a day tour here for $65 that includes a stop at Portobelo and then a day of relaxing on Isla Mamey.
El Valle de Anton is a small town located in a luscious green valley of an inactive volcano crater – it’s the largest inhabited crater in the world! But the volcano has sat dormant for thousands of years and now is a favorite getaway for Panamanians and visitors looking to hike and explore waterfalls. The proximity of El Valle from Panama City is one of its biggest perks, and you don’t even need a car to get there! You can take a bus from the Albrook Terminal for just $4.25 and be directly in the center of town in 2.5 hours, making it a great option for even just the day. Check out my other article A Quick Guide To El Valle, for tips on everything to do and see.
Lake Bayano Caves
The Bayano Caves are another hidden gem that’s not often talked about in Panama. If you have a car and speak Spanish you can visit the caves on your own and hire a guide once you get there (instructions here), but this is one of those places that’s probably better to do an official tour.
Gatun & Parque Soberania
In just 45 minutes you can transport yourself from the concrete jungle to the actual jungle. Walk through the luscious green fauna and you’re pretty much guaranteed to spots tons of howler monkeys. To arrive here by car put Camino de Plantación into Waze and it will get you to the main entrance. Selina also does a Gatun & Parque Soberania day tour for just $50.
Where is your favorite day trip from Panama City? Leave a comment below.