Known for many years as the financial hub of Latin America, Panama City has more to offer than tall buildings – it's become a top destination for adventurous families seeking to explore one of the world’s greatest examples of urban biodiversity. With lots of city parks and warm temperatures all year round, spotting sloths up lush green trees and cycling on the seaside is just the everyday normal.
Here are some of the best activities in Panama City that can be enjoyed with kids of all ages.
Children climb the playground at Cinta Costera on Avenida Balboa © Francis Tsang / Getty Images
Rollerblade on the Amador Islands
Connected to the city by a thin strip of land, the Amador Islands are the number one leisure destination in the area for locals and tourists alike. With over six kilometers of bike lanes, ice-cream parlors and a new playground with splash pads for kids, the whole area has been converted to provide some of the best outdoor activities in town. Whether on rollerblades, by bicycle, or aboard the flashy DiabloCyclo (all of which can be easily rented on the spot), a stroll on the Amador Islands offers some of the best panoramic views across the Panama Bay.
Get up close and personal with nature at Panama City's Metropolitan Park © Martina Gili / Lonely Planet
Hike amongst butterflies in the Metropolitan Park
Panama City is a city of contrasts. Bursting with traffic jams in the center, it is also home to natural wonders such as Metropolitan Park, the only wildlife refuge in the city. With numerous trails of different intensity, a butterfly farm and a lake, the park offers a dreamy experience for both adults and kids. Crocodiles, titi monkeys, sloths and tropical birds are only a few of the rare animals that can be spotted when wandering in what is considered "the lung" of Panama City due to its extensive greenery.
Zig-zag between the ships in the Canal
No child is ever too young to stand in awe of the majestic container ships crossing the Panamanian isthmus. Historically known as an engineering marvel, the recently expanded canal can be admired from the Miraflores Visitors Center, but more excitingly so by sailing directly on the Chagres River. Gamboa Rainforest Resort and Panama Canal Tours organize boat tours of the Canal, either partial or all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.
Learn all about Panama's sweet treats at Chocolate Tropical Cafe © Martina Gili / Lonely Planet
Try out all tropical variations of local chocolate
For once, eating chocolate should be considered homework. At Chocolate Tropical Cafe, a chocolate shop located in a colonial mansion in historic Casco Viejo, children can embark on a journey to explore Panama’s most typical flavors. Sinking in the red velvety chairs amid brightly-painted jungle murals, they can choose from a variety of decorated bonbons that combine local cocoa with ingredients such as coriander, passion fruit and pineapple. Special events for families with kids are held on Sundays, including reading stories that revolve around the history of chocolate.
Run and play at Kiwanis Sports City
There’s nowhere like Kiwanis Park for children to run free in Panama City. Located at the heart of the City of Knowledge in between old American military settlements, the park's Sports City is a safe and family-friendly area of 24 acres that includes an olympic-size swimming pool, volleyball and soccer fields, tennis courts, bike lanes and a big playground. Kids can sprint through the fields on sunny days and seek refuge from the torrential rains under century-old trees during the wet season, when they are not queuing for an ice cream at the nearby shopping plaza.
Explore a miniature city at Albrook Mall
Divercity is the miniature city of Albrook Mall where children get to drive a car, work as firemen and handle their own money. The playground is made up of small offices, streets and businesses that simulate real-life situations to encourage children to gain independence. Divercity is so much fun that children typically spend 2 to 4 hours playing – parents, be prepared to wait while your kids become conscious little citizens! Entrance fee is $14.75+VAT for children ages 3 to 13 and $7.25+VAT for parents.
Kids will love paddling around in the waters of El Charco © Martina Gili / Lonely Planet
Take a dip in a natural swimming hole
For families who love to wander off the beaten track, El Charco (literally “the pond”) is a great jungle adventure. Located in Soberanía National Park on the outskirts of Panama City, the lake is small enough for children to jump, climb and swim under the waterfall under parents’ supervision. Reachable after a short and easy hike, it is a perfect introduction to Panama’s wild nature for all little explorers.
Discover Panama’s natural wonders at the Biomuseo
Children will love to immerse themselves into Panama City’s most exciting and family-friendly museum, the BioMuseo. As they walk through eight beautiful pavilions that illustrate the fascinating history of Panama’s unique flora and fauna, they will learn about its unrivaled impact on the planet’s biodiversity. The beautiful building, designed by famous architect Frank Gehry, has an outdoor space where children can continue exploring Panama’s vegetation.