For a family vacation balanced between adventure and relaxation, look no further than beautiful Panama. The country is relatively undiscovered by travelers, is easy to navigate and safe, and boasts amazing wildlife, beaches, and mountains that the whole family will love. From nature walks in the rainforest to snorkeling in the Caribbean, there are plenty […]
For a family vacation balanced between adventure and relaxation, look no further than beautiful Panama. The country is relatively undiscovered by travelers, is easy to navigate and safe, and boasts amazing wildlife, beaches, and mountains that the whole family will love. From nature walks in the rainforest to snorkeling in the Caribbean, there are plenty of things to do in Panama with kids.
Keeping children entertained all day on family vacations can be tough. However, with our recommendations on places to go and things to do, your kids will remain enthralled by the magical atmosphere of Panama.
Panama City is a great place to visit with kids because of its unique attractions. Nowhere else can you walk among towering skyscrapers, experience a rainforest, and witness the engineering spectacle of the Panama Canal, all within a few miles of one another. Read on to discover the best spots to enjoy with your kids in and near Panama City.
This thin 4-mile (6 km) stretch of land connects 4 Pacific islands in Panama Bay. It is easily accessible with a 15-20 minute taxi ride from the city center. Far from just a road, the causeway includes a biomuseum, nature center, and fantastic views of the city. In one direction, you can admire the city skyline. In the other, watch gigantic cargo ships enter the Panama Canal.
Enjoy a Walk or Bike Ride
Amador Causeway is perfect for a relaxing couple of hours walking or riding a bike. Admire wonderful views while strolling or rolling along the flat, paved path. There are several restaurants towards the end of the causeway, so you could easily rent bikes, go on a bike ride, and then enjoy lunch. We recommend the restaurants Lenos & Carbon and Alberto’s.
Right before you reach the first island is a fishing pier. Take a break by the water and teach your young one how to fish! Even if the fish are not biting, you can watch the ships in Panama Bay.
Learn at the BioMuseo
The BioMuseo is a family favorite. You won’t be able to miss it, as it is one of the largest buildings in the area, known for its unique architecture and giant multi-colored roof! The museum tells the natural history of Panama’s rich biodiversity with over-sized visuals and immersive films that are perfect for teaching children about the beautiful Earth they live on and the evolution of different species.
Experience the Punta Culebra Nature Center
Punta Culebra is a wildlife center operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Children will get the opportunity to visit sea-life exhibitions, see the most common species of frogs in Panama, and even touch and hold marine life such as sea stars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers.
To visit even more Panama City highlights with cultural and historical learning opportunities, check out this customizable private city tour.
Does your child love building blocks and construction? Then she’ll love seeing the huge, colorful shipping containers stacked high on cargo ships passing through the Panama Canal. She’ll be in awe of how big the ships are!
At the Miraflores Locks, you can watch ships as they transit through the locks of the Panama Canal. The Miraflores Locks is one of the most popular places to visit in Panama City and is located just a 10-minute taxi ride from the city center.
The visitor center is open from 9:00 am to 16:30 pm daily and includes a museum and observation deck. Kids will particularly enjoy the canal simulator in the museum. On the observation deck, they can wave at passing ships.
The visitor center also has a restaurant, just in case you or the kids need a bite to eat while visiting. The on-site restaurant can be pricey. If you’re looking for more budget eating options, try La Plaza Ciudad de Saber, which is only 1.2 miles (2 km) away and has a small playground in addition to places to eat.
If you’d like an even more hands-on canal experience, you and your family can go through two sets of lock systems on a partial canal transit tour. You’ll board a boat, enter the canal, and learn all about the history of this engineering marvel.
For more ideas on things to do in Panama City, check out our city guide.
Panama is an animal lover’s paradise and its extensive flora and fauna are must-sees when traveling the country. The country is home to 218 mammal species, 164 amphibian species, 940 avian species, and 226 reptile species. Plus, there are 125 animal species found nowhere else in the world!
While you may not have time to see them all, we have a few places to start. Fortunately, you can observe much of Panama’s biodiversity in the rainforest just outside Panama City. For a walk on the wild side, we recommend a trip into the Panamanian jungle to satisfy both your children and the inner kid in you.
Explore Soberania National Park
This huge forest-filled park is home to sloths, monkeys, hundreds of types of birds, and more. It’s only about an hour drive from Panama City and the park offers plenty of hikes as well as an educational discovery center.
For a short, easy, and fun nature walk, we recommend Charco Trail (0.5 miles long), which leads to a small pond. You can even bring a picnic lunch and eat while birdwatching.
Another main attraction of Soberania National Park is Pipeline Road and its Rainforest Discovery Center. Both are accessible via a dirt road to the west of Gamboa. In the Discovery Center, you can observe hummingbirds and enjoy 0.7 miles (1.2 km) of short, maintained rainforest trails. Entrance fees are $30 for non-resident adults and $5 for children.
Even if you decide not to visit the Rainforest Discovery Center, you can see plenty of wildlife from Pipeline Road. The road extends 10.8 miles (17.5 km) into the rainforest, so you can walk for as long as you want, then turn around when you’re ready. Or, if you’d like, take a birdwatching tour with a local naturalist guide.
To see the most wildlife, we recommend visiting Soberania National Park early in the morning. If you stay at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, which is within the park, you’ll be able to rise early and enjoy seeing more animals. You could even make a weekend trip out of it. Plus, in addition to its swimming pools and extensive buffets, the resort can organize trips to nearby lakes and safari tours so that your children can see all the nature Panama has to offer.
Learn more about Soberania National Park in our other blog post.
Navigate Gatun Lake
Nearby Soberania National Park is Gatun Lake, just 45 minutes and a short boat ride from Panama City. The lake is a wonderful spot for exploring wildlife and even gets you close up to the ships on their way to go through the Panama Canal. For the adventurous family, you can even zip line over the lake on five different canopy lines!
In the center of Gatun Lake is Monkey Island, where visitors have the chance to see and feed the Mantled Howler Monkey, Geoffroy’s Tamarin Monkey, Lemurine Owl Monkey, and the White-Faced Capuchin Monkey. You can visit the island as well as an indigenous village on this day tour.
While most people venture to Gatun Lake as a day trip, we recommend staying one night in order to experience the sunset fishing and night boat tours. The Jungle Land Floating Lodge is an all-inclusive hotel that is perfect for the whole family.
Visit an Embera Village
For an unparalleled cultural learning experience for you and your children, go to an Embera Village. Many of the indigenous Embera people continue to live as their ancestors did: in stilt-raised houses by rivers in the rainforest. In addition to their unique lifestyle, the Embera are known for their distinctive, brightly-colored clothing. Men wear long loincloths and women sometimes go topless.
Some Embera villages allow travelers to visit, sharing their traditions, food, and dances, and offering handicrafts for sale. If you decide to visit an Embera village, go with an open mind, as you will be entering a community with a culture different from your own. Also, make sure to book with a responsible tour operator that contributes to and empowers the Embera community.
For more information about visiting the Embera people and responsible travel, see our earlier blog post.
Panama is well-known for its beautiful beaches and visiting at least one must be on your traveling list! Although Panama has an extensive coastline to explore, we recommend making sure Bocas Del Toro, the San Blas Islands, or the Azuero Peninsula are on the top of your list for you and your family to see.
Relax in Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro offers a multitude of family-fun activities, from snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters to boat tours where you can see dolphins. This Caribbean archipelago in western Panama is best explored from either Isla Colon, the main island, or Isla Bastimentos, an island just southeast of Isla Colon. Playa Estrella on Isla Colon and Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos are home to swaying coconut trees and an expanse of sand perfect for building sand castles.
We recommend staying at La Loma Jungle Lodge and Chocolate Farm for children 6 and up or Al Natural Resort if you have younger children, both of which are on Isla Bastimentos. If you plan to stay an evening on Isla Colon, head to Tropical Suites Hotel.
To discover more wonderful islands without the hassle of logistics, book a tour. We recommend this day tour that includes a trip to Starfish Beach, where you and your kids can enjoy snorkeling with giant, colorful starfish.
Discover the San Blas Islands
The San Blas Islands are another collection of stunning islands that are most definitely worth a visit for their five-star beaches. Thanks to their remote location on the Caribbean coast of eastern Panama, these islands remain mostly untouched by travelers.
The San Blas Islands are controlled by the indigenous Kuna Yala people who allow travelers to visit certain islands, but only with a registered tour operator. We recommend this 5-day tour from Panama City in which you’ll enjoy a camping adventure and plenty of opportunities for water activities. Make sure to bring your passport, as you will need it to cross into the autonomous Kuna Yala region.
Another accommodations option is the Yandup Island Lodge, which has secluded oceanfront cabins, easy access to the gorgeous islands of San Blas, and a variety of day excursions to choose from.
Search for Sea Turtles in Isla Cañas
Observing nesting or just-hatched sea turtles is an experience that all children will love. Sea turtle eggs have an incubation period of about two months, so you may even be able to see sea turtle hatchlings whose eggs were laid months before.
From the months of July to December, sea turtles are nesting all over the beaches of Panama. Isla Cañas has a particularly high concentration and September and October are the best months to see nesting sea turtles. For the highest chance of spotting sea turtles, venture out onto a beach of Isla Cañas at night, at high tide.
In order to catch a glimpse of these fascinating creatures, we recommend booking a tour with a local guide who knows the best spots and times to catch baby turtles hatching and adult turtles nesting. We recommend this immersive tour in which you and your kids will learn about the turtle life cycle and have the chance to see adult turtles nesting.
Besides turtles, Isla Cañas offers pristine beaches, beautiful mangroves, and a variety of water activities. Learn more about the island in our other blog post.
Looking for a mountain retreat with your family? Panama’s interior holds gorgeous green mountains surrounded by thick rainforests. Read on to learn more about our two favorite mountain towns in Panama and the exciting activities they offer.
Observe Wildlife in El Valle de Anton
Just 2.5 hours driving from Panama City, this unique town sits in an inactive volcano’s crater. It makes for an easy day or weekend trip from Panama City.
Is your little one a budding biologist? Nature lovers of all ages will enjoy the Butterfly Haven, Serpentarium Maravillas Tropicales, the Aprovaca Orquideas Botanical Garden, and El Nispero Zoo. In the zoo, you can see the Panamanian golden frog, which is feared to have gone extinct in the wild.
To experience flora and fauna in the wild, go for a walk on one of the many hiking trails surrounding the town. We recommend visiting Chorro El Macho, a huge 115-foot (35 m) waterfall. After departing from the road, it’s only a 1.2-mile (2 km) walk to the waterfall. In addition to admiring the waterfalls and the lush rainforest, you can swim in the natural pool at the bottom. You and your kids can even go zip lining over the falls!
Enjoy Outdoor Adventures in Boquete
The mountains of western Panama in the Chiriqui region offer fantastic outdoor activities, along with breathtaking scenery. The cloud forests of this area have cooler, spring-like temperatures, hidden waterfalls, and beautiful wildlife. The mountain town of Boquete is the hub of the area and a great place to stay with kids.
First of all, take in the fantastic scenery by going on nature walks. There are a variety of trails at the base of the Baru Volcano. We recommend the Lost Waterfalls Trail (2.5-3 miles/4-5 km) for a family excursion which leads you to three waterfalls. Make sure to bring rain gear, as it can rain at any time, even during the dry season. See if you can spot the elusive, exotic quetzal bird!
Another fun option to enjoy the sights is horseback riding. In addition to the cloud forest, Boquete is home to rolling highlands. As you ascend to these high plains, you’ll be able to enjoy beautiful lookout points of the valley below.
The region around Boquete is famous for its high-quality coffee plantations and agriculture. Be sure to try some local coffee while you’re there; you’ll won’t be disappointed! You and your family can also enjoy learning about the agriculture process. On this tour of an organic farm, your kids will have a blast picking their own strawberries.
All in all, Panama is often overlooked as a family destination vacation, which is most definitely a shame! With all Panama has to offer, your children will be begging to return again soon.