We chose Panama as the first stop on our family gap year adventure around the world and we’re so glad we did! It’s the center of the hemisphere in many ways, serving as the (somewhat arbitrary) divider between North and South America, while the mountains that span the country’s length split the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – barely.
A Panama family vacation offers so much: a mix of city, mountains and beaches; a gentle introduction to Spanish language; a distinct culture that mixes indigenous traditions, Spanish colonial history and American (and other global influences); and overall easy travel logistics from much of the world. Kids and parents alike will love close-up wildlife encounters and witnessing the engineering feat that is the Panama Canal.
It’s no wonder that so many choose to travel, or even move, to Panama with kids every year. Read on to learn where to stay in Panama and the things to do in Panama with kids, as well as need-to-know travel tips for Panama.
Getting around in Panama
Unless you’re coming on a cruise, the primary access point to Panama for foreign visitors is via the huge Tocumen International Airport, located around 20 minutes east of Panama City. Our taxi van into the city cost around $40 after we paid all of the tips demanded by the guys who “helped” us – and that was the last taxi we took. The vans from the airport are OLD with no suspension for the bumpy road and only lap seatbelts, plus pushy drivers and porters.
Do yourself a favor and use Uber. Even Uber SUV was extremely reasonable in price and the cars and drivers are wonderful. Most rides within Panama City were just a few dollars. If you don’t speak Spanish and prefer an English-speaking driver, you can request Uber English for a slight premium over the UberX service; however, it’s not entirely necessary since your destination info is already transmitted to the driver through the app. Save $5 on each of your first two rides! If you’re traveling with young children, make sure to bring a travel car seat since riding in cars can be a bit… dicey. Find everything you need to know about traveling with a car seat in our comprehensive guide.
The traffic to get in and out of Panama City can be horrendous. If you just have a night in Panama City between flights, book yourself a room at the beautiful new Crown Plaza near the airport – check prices here. We stayed for one night on our way out of the country and it was wonderful! The hotel staff was amazingly warm and helpful, the breakfast was great and the free shuttle was extremely convenient for returning to the airport in the morning. Sadly our flight into PTY was delayed, but the outdoor pool complex looks like great fun.
While Panama is not a huge country, it is mountainous and transit times can be long so make sure to factor that into your plans. It’s also important to remember that Panama City has several different airports, so allow yourself ample time to move between if you have domestic and international flights on the same day. For instance, our Panama Air flight from Bocas del Toro (BOC) deposited us at Paitilla (PAC), but our flight to Chile early the next morning departed from Tocumen (PTY).
Should you rent a car in Panama? It depends on where you’re going. In Panama City a car is more of a liability than a help, while in a place like Boquete a car is almost a necessity. Islands like Bastimentos have no roads so you won’t need a car there, of course.
It is possible to road trip in Panama and the main roads are generally in good shape. In fact, a family we met on Bastimentos had driven from Panama City to Boquete and then on to Almirante (the mainland launch point for the Bocas del Toro Islands), where they left their rental car parked while they headed off for a few days in tropical paradise.
If you’re planning to visit an area of Panama where a car is helpful, check here for the best prices.
Panama travel itinerary for families
There are so many awesome places to visit in Panama! We obviously didn’t see them all, but we felt that two weeks in the country gave us a great flavor for what it has to offer. We spent roughly four days each in Panama City, Boquete and Bocas del Toro.
Check out these fun places to visit in Panama:
Exploring Boquete, Panama with kids (our favorite place on our Panama family vacation!)
Want to get more helpful travel tips like this? Sign up for our email list!
Use the interactive map to find vacation rentals and hotels in Panama