Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Best Panama Shore Excursions

Gatun Locks
Gatún Locks. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

Panama attractions are plentiful and easily accessible for anyone visiting by cruise from the Caribbean Sea or the Pacific Ocean.

The country is narrow, well-developed and simple to visit as a result.

1) Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is the most famous attraction in the country. It also has spawned other attractions such as Gatún Lake.

Visitors at either end of the canal can go to visitor centers to see the locks in action and learn about how they work. We went with our three children. It wasn’t as fun as ziplining or a banana boat ride, but all of us found it interesting and educational.

Anyone taking a Caribbean cruise will have a chance to see the Gatún Locks, which lead into Lake Gatún. Visitors taking a Pacific cruise will see the Miraflores Locks, which are located near Panama City.

When we went to the Gatún Locks, we took a brief excursion to view them that left plenty of time for other activities.

Many tour operators take visitors to the locks. We booked ours on the cruise ship, but budget-minded visitors may save money by booking their tours directly with the operators.

2) Gatún Lake

Because the Gatún Locks lead into the man-made Gatún Lake, it is easy for visitors to add an excursion to the lake itself.

Tour options include kayaking (we enjoyed it), backpacking, Monkey Island, sport fishing (especially bass) and more.

Anyone taking a Panama Canal cruise will traverse the length of the canal and the 21-mile-long lake.

3) Monkey Island

Panama night monkeys
Monkeys are a common site on Monkey Island and at Soberania National Park, although night monkeys like these are harder to see. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

This island taken over by four species of monkeys is a popular attraction by itself.

Boats go to the island throughout the day where visitors can photograph the monkeys and other creatures as well such as sloths, caimans and toucans.

Visitors used to be able to feed the monkeys, but regulations now forbid it.

4) Soberania National Park

The park, which lies along the east coast of Gatún Lake, covers 55,000 acres and is popular as an eco-tour because of its large number and variety of birds and mammals.

The park is the home of more than 1,300 plants and 100 animals including sloths, monkeys, tamarins and anteaters. It is 20 minutes from Panama City and 40 minutes from Colon.

5) Panama City

Panama City is more likely an excursion for Pacific or Panama Canal cruises. It can be reached as a day trip for anyone taking a western Caribbean cruise that includes a stop at the Colon cruise terminal.

Popular attractions in Panama City include the ruins of Old Panama, which were destroyed by the pirate Sir Henry Morgan in 1671. Other attractions are Paseo Esteban Huertas, Metropolitan Cathedral, National Theater and Simon Bolivar Plaza.

Casco Viejo is an especially popular tour. It is Panama City’s oldest surviving neighborhood consisting of colonial buildings at the tip of a heavily fortified peninsula. The ramparts protected the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific Coast. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

6) Amador Causeway

Amador Causeway has famous views of Panama City skyscrapers, the yachts on Panama Bay and the Bridge of the Americas at the entrance of the canal.

The causeway is two miles long and connects Panama City to three small islands.

It also offers local vendors, shopping centers, restaurants and nightlife.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
February 17, 2020