Sandy adventures in the slithering, bicoastal isthmus of Panama often begin in its skyscraper-filled capital, Panama City. The majestic towers along the water give the impression that this metropolis is a beach city, but it actually sits along a bay, and there are no swimmable beaches within city limits. 

Just minutes away by car, however, there are countless scenic spots to splash around and lay footprints in the sand. 

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Happy friends take a selfie at the beach
Sip a cocktail with friends at LOST Urban Beach Club © DisobeyArt / Shutterstock

Sip a sundown cocktail at LOST Urban Beach Club

The beach at LOST Urban Beach Club is not a natural wonder, but it is a destination you don’t want to miss. This manmade sandy spot is situated at the sail-shaped JW Marriott Panama, the most iconic building in Panama City’s skyline. Days spent here are for sipping palette-pleasing cocktails and feasting on sushi as you take refuge from the bustle of the city in the Punta Pacifica neighborhood.

Sunbathe on Playa El Tuco, Casco Viejo

The last real beach within Panama City, Playa El Tuco is a tiny stretch tucked away in the old town of Casco Viejo. You’ll find it behind the Arco Chato ruins at the end of Calle 3a Oeste.

Veering into these waters isn’t recommended due to sanitation concerns, but it’s a great place to lay down a towel, sunbathe and enjoy some sweet solitude. There’s a high chance you’ll have this recreational zone to yourself – it’s rather underutilized, even by Panama City residents.

Top things to do in Panama City 

For a quick escape from the city, try Veracruz Beach

Veracruz Beach won’t win any beauty pageant awards, but it does the trick when you’re in urgent need of salty water. About a half-hour drive by car, Veracruz is the closest beach to Panama City. What it lacks in looks, it makes up for with beach bars and restaurants offering day-to-night fun and fantastic seafood. 

Pay a visit to Praia Fish & Drinks to take a photo on the water swings and to mingle with a cosmopolitan crowd on weekends.

Landscape view at the coastline beaches and houses in Panama near Coronado
Head to Cornado for beautiful black beaches and enjoy beach volleyball or paddleboarding © Marek Poplawski / Shutterstock

Bask in the black sand at Coronado

Palm-fringed Coronado is about an hour from Panama City depending on traffic, and it’s located in Panama’s Dry Arch (Arco Seco) which receives the lowest annual rainfall in the country. A wild beauty with black and white sand, sun-seekers will enjoy playing beach volleyball, renting paddleboards or touring the laid-back, expansive beach on horseback.

Top things to do in Casco Viejo 

Surf the waves at El Palmar

El Palmar is one of the best beaches around Panama City. Just 90 minutes from the capital in the district of San Carlos, the living is easy and the surf is great on this pleasing swathe of sand. 

Surf schools abound to help novices find their feet in the water, and experienced surfers will enjoy the waves here, too. Those that prefer to stay dry can visit the nearby town of San Carlos which is just a 10-minute walk from the beach. 

A kitesurfer hits the waves
Kitesurfing is a way to spend a day at Punta Chame ©4FR / Getty Images

Kitesurf on Punta Chame

Around 90 minutes from the capital by car, Punta Chame is a slender peninsula that pokes out into the Pacific Ocean. The strong winds and the rock- and obstacle-free waters make it hugely popular for kitesurfers. 

Head to Panama Kite Center to get suited and booted for your aquatic adventures. You can secure accommodations in Punta Chame (options include studios and glamping tents) and book excursions to nearby Isla Taborcillo, a deserted island once owned by actor John Wayne. 

How to spend the perfect weekend in Panama City 

For an easy island getaway, head to Taboga Island

If you don’t have access to a car or prefer not to drive to your tropical haven, nearby Taboga Island is your best bet. The “Island of Flowers," as Taboga is affectionately called, is a mere 30-minute ferry ride away, and it’s the quickest – and most picturesque – escape to paradise from the capital.

The journey there starts on Panama City’s charming Amador Causeway, which is home to the world’s first biodiversity museum and four manmade islands called Culebra, Perico, Naos and Flamenco. Head to the latter to board the Taboga Express fast ferry, and you’ll be sipping piña coladas beachside in no time. 

Once on Taboga, relax on Playa Restinga, the most popular beach, or hike through sweet-smelling bougainvillea and rolling hills – Cerro Vigia and Cerro de la Cruz are the highest points – to uncover sweeping views of Panama City. If possible, avoid the urban escapee crowds by visiting Taboga on a weekday.

Woman looking over idyllic island at San Blas
Clear waters and white sand make San Blas a great spot for snorkeling © Shahaira / Getty Images

Snorkel the day away at San Blas

The beaches of the San Blas Islands are otherworldly, spotless and staggering. Some of Panama’s most postcard-worthy isles are situated in this 365-strong archipelago on Panama’s Caribbean coast. 

You can traipse along ghost-white sand, peer under clear waters teeming with fluorescent tropical fish, island-hop to find snorkel-worthy sunken ships and meet the local Guna population that inhabits this protected paradise. Purchase colorful traditional Mola fabrics and dine on the catch of the day with your island hosts under a thatched roof.

San Blas is a three-hour ride to the port of Cartí from Panama City; an impossible drive without a 4x4. Many visitors hire cars for the winding journey, but package tours including transportation are recommended over self-guided visits. At Cartí, boats wait to transport travelers to the island(s) of their daydreams.

Even just a day trip to San Blas is well worth the journey, but staying overnight is certainly advisable for next-level stargazing under palm trees.

Do all the things at Bocas del Toro

If you fly from Panama City to the Archipelago de Bocas del Toro, within an hour you’ll be on incredible beaches with enchanting names like Wizard Beach, Red Frog Beach and Starfish Beach – one of the most famous and best swimming beaches in Panama.

In Bocas – as locals refer to it – there are nine islands to suit every desire and intensity of activity. You can spot pods of dolphins during day trips to the sandal-shaped Zapatilla Cays, hang loose with bats at the Nividia cave on Isla Bastimentos, take in a glorious sunset beside manta rays at a beachside bar on Isla Carenero or catch a wave at a world-renowned surf beach such as Playa Bluff on Isla Colon. 

Best of all, travelers can live a charmed existence as they're ferried between these islands on delightful water taxis called lanchas.

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