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Set on beautiful Panama Bay, Panama City offers an enticing glimpse into all the country’s charms. A premier gateway for exploring the many neighboring highlights, this dynamic city is Central America’s most cosmopolitan capital, where east and west converge. Founded almost five centuries ago, the city is steeped in history yet very much modern, where you’ll find traffic jams and chic clubs under a Miami-esque skyline, juxtaposed with cobbled streets and ruins in the city’s old quarter.

A regional hub of trade and immigration, the city’s privileged position on the trade routes of the world and the economic opportunities it affords has drawn immigrants and businesses from all over. Panama City is perhaps more reminiscent of the mighty trading centers of Asia than anywhere else in the region. One of the safest cities anywhere, Panama City is a first-world infrastructure; a melting pot of races, religions, and cultures; a vibrant nightlife; and the only rainforest within city limits in the world only add to its appeal.

In the city’s downtown area, the district of Balboa, with its tropical vegetation and early 20th-century American architecture, presents a markedly North American character, while the Bella Vista, El Cangrejo, and Punta Paitilla districts comprise the commercial capital of the city, which is bustling with the majority of the city’s hotels, banks, shops, and restaurants, and luxurious private residences.

The ruins of Panamá Viejo, the country’s former capital, are the remaining part of the old Panama City, found in the suburbs of the modern city’s outskirts. Founded August 15, 1519, it was the first permanent European city on the Pacific Ocean, which was destroyed by an earthquake and a fire in the 17th century. Its inhabitants relocated to Casco Viejo, Panama City’s historic district, which, together with the ruins of Panamá Viejo, forms a World Heritage Site. Some five miles away from the old city and situated on a small peninsula, this restored area is the city’s most picturesque, where you will find some of its most important buildings, and a variety of architectural styles—from Spanish colonial buildings to French and Antillean townhouses—in addition to boutique hotels, underground bars, and several museums. The modern city can be seen from here.

Panama City serves as an excellent base for day trips. Pay a visit to sandy beaches (Pacific or Caribbean); explore a lush rainforest of howler monkeys, toucans, parrots, and sloths in Parque Metropolitano; take an excursion to Isla Toboga or Isla Contadora, or a trip to the Panama Canal Railway; explore Portobelo’s colonial fortresses, beaches, and coral reefs; or just admire the huge ships navigating the canal.

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