Panama Family Vacation: The Best Places to Visit With Kids

Panama Family Vacation: shopping for molas in San Blas
Panama Family Vacation Buying molas in San Blas


Where to go on a Panama Family Vacation

During our 3-year posting in Panama, many people asked me for tips on where to go in Panama on a family vacation. Depending on the needs and interests of your family members and the amount of time you have, there are four main experiences to consider when planning a family trip to this Central American isthmus:

  1. City & Canal
  2. Beach: Pacific & Caribbean
  3. Rainforest
  4. Coffee plantations and highlands


Beaches, Rainforest and Hills, where to go in #Panama with kids! #LPKids #FamilyTravel Click To Tweet


1. Panama City

Panama Family Vacation: panama city
Panama City


The biggest city in Panama is the capital, Panama City, and even this metropolis is small compared with other Central American cities. It will be your main port of call when flying into Panama and deserves a couple of days to explore. Highlights include the UNESCO protected Casco Viejo, the city’s historic quarter. The colourful streets of this neighbourhood are fun to walk around and there are some lovely craft shops, cafes and restaurants to discover. The crumbling facades of Spanish and French colonial buildings are being restored at a rapid pace and this compact district is fast establishing itself as the cultural hub of the capital.

The city is also home to The Metropolitan Park (a 265-hectacre rainforest, complete with hiking trails) and to The Miraflores Visitors Centre which showcases Panama’s star attraction, The Panama Canal.



2. Beaches in Panama

Panama Family Vacation: Playa Farallon
Playa Farallon (Pacific)


With hundreds of miles of coastline bordering two oceans, Panama offers a wide variety of beaches. From tiny sandy coves and coral islands to lengthy stretches of deserted shores and surfers’ secret hideaways. Both the Atlantic (Caribbean) and Pacific coasts are equally spectacular. Given the short distance between the two oceans (48 miles at the isthmus’ narrowest point) it is one of the few places in the world where you can swim in two oceans within the same day.

The following are some of my favourite beaches in Panama to visit with children:


Best beach destinations on the Caribbean coast

The two most popular destinations on the Caribbean coast are the archipelagos of San Blas and Bocas del Toro.


The San Blas Islands

Panama Family Vacation: San Blas Islands
The San Blas Islands


Located just off the Caribbean coast of Panama, this network of coral islands stretches over 226km in the direction of Colombia and is a region of remarkable beauty. Hundreds of picture-perfect islands sprinkle the Tiffany-blue waters of the Caribbean sea. Untouched by the modern world, this slice of paradise is like stepping back in time. There are two ways to explore these islands: by yacht or by basing yourself on one of the islands. We particularly enjoyed our time at Yandup Island Lodge.




Bocas del Toro

Panama Family Vacation: Red Frog Beach, Bocas del Toro
Red Frog Beach, Bocas del Toro


The archipelago of Bocas del Toro is Panama’s other top Caribbean destination. Located towards the western end of the Caribbean coastline, near the border with Costa Rica, this is another slice of laid-back tropical paradise. Popular with backpackers and surfers, it’s made up of several large islands and numerous uninhabited islets, fringed by white sand and dazzlingly clear waters.


San Blas vs Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is the more developed of the two Caribbean archipelagoes with a good range of hotels, bars and restaurants. Bocas Town itself is known for its party atmosphere and attracts many backpackers, gringos and surfers. Many families prefer to stay on one of the more quieter islands instead.

In contrast to Bocas del Toro, San Blas feels fabulously wild and rustic and is a good option for adventurous families looking for a more castaway experience. Governed by the Kuna, San Blas also gives families the opportunity to interact with these friendly indigenous people and to learn more about their fascinating culture.


Best beach destinations on the Pacific coast

The beaches on the Pacific coast are generally easier to access from Panama City than those on the Caribbean side and are more developed, particularly those closest to Panama City.


The Panama Riviera 

Panama Family Vacation: Playa Coronado
Playa Coronado


On the Pacific side, we often head to the Panama Riviera as the beaches here are within 1-2 hours from Panama City. This long stretch of coastline runs west from the capital to the large peninsula of Azuero and generally features beaches with a mix of black and white sand.  Some of the most popular beaches on this part of the coast are Playa Bonita, Coronado, Farallon and Playa Blanca. These beaches are particularly favourited by American and Canadian retirees as well as by weekend visitors from the capital.

A wide range of accommodation options are available from vacation rentals and all-inclusives, to small B&Bs and family-friendly hostels. If you haven’t got much time, then a trip combining Panama City, El Valle and the Panama Riviera would be an easy family holiday and a gentle introduction to Panama.

Getting there: By car it is 15 minutes to 2 hours from Panama City depending on which beach you are visiting


Azuero Peninsula 

Panama Family Vacation: Isla Iguana, Pedasi
Isla Iguana, Pedasi


The Azuero Peninsula sits west of the capital and juts into the Pacific ocean. It’s a popular escape for locals, or those living in Panama City, but is often overlooked by visitors who head to San Blas or Bocas del Toro instead. The truth, is, however that Azuero boasts some of the country’s finest coastline as well as tropical forest, cascading waterfalls and green hills. Activities in this region include surfing, releasing baby turtles and zip-lining through the rainforest!

Our two favourite spots on the peninsula are Pedasi and Cambutal.


Santa Catalina

Panama Family Vacation: Learning to surf in Santa Catalina
Learning to surf in Santa Catalina


West of Azuero is the province of Veraguas, home to the best and most consistent surf in the country. But it’s not just expert surfers who head here, you can also find good beginner waves. Santa Catalina is also the jumping-off point for Isla Coiba, the largest island in Central America and a national marine park. Here, there is excellent scuba diving and snorkelling, hiking trails and wildlife viewing opportunities – including some 33 types of shark! 

Whales and dolphins can also be spotted in these waters. We have not made it to Santa Catalina yet but friends who have visited can’t say enough about the place. It’s quiet, undeveloped and very low-key, making for a great escape.

Getting there: It takes six hours to drive from Panama City to Santa Catalina. From Santa Catalina,  it takes around 1 hour to reach Isla Coiba by boat. (Note that Isla Coiba only has a handful of cabins and booking a guided tour or tour package in advance is recommended).


The Pearl Islands / Las Perlas 

Panama Family Vacation: castaways on the Pearl Islands, Las Perlas
Castaways on The Pearl Islands


Within the province of Panama (where the capital is also located) are the picture-perfect Las Perlas (the Pearl Islands). This group of more than 200 islands and islets lie some 48km (30 miles) off the Pacific coast of Panama and are easily accessed from Panama City. Many of these islands are uninhabited and their relatively remote nature means that they have been used as filming locations for the American CBS series Survivor and also for British adventurer Bear Grylls’ show, The Island. One of the most popular islands for a quick getaway is Contadora where you can snorkel, explore the beaches, scuba dive, go bird watching or, between June and September, see whales!

Getting there: It takes approximately 1 hour by ferry from Panama City. Boats depart from Balboa Yacht Club on the Amador Causeway and from the Trump Tower.


Beaches, Rainforest and Hills, where to go in #Panama with kids! #LPKids #FamilyTravel Click To Tweet



3. Rainforest in Panama

Panama Family Vacation: The rainforest at Los Quetzales, Chiriqui
The rainforest at Los Quetzales, Chiriqui


Almost half of Panama’s land mass consists of rainforests, mountain cloud forests, and mangrove wetlands. It’s considered by many as one of the most biodiverse areas in the world and is home to an incredible variety of wildlife; some 218 mammal species, 226 species of reptile, 164 types of amphibians and 125 animal species that live here and nowhere else in the world. There are also nearly 1,000 bird species here – more than in the whole of North America


Soberanía National Park

Panama Family Vacation: Soberanía National Park
Exploring the canal’s backwaters in Soberanía National Park


Near the banks of the Panama Canal, the Soberanía National Park is easy to access from Panama City and is packed full of rainforest adventures. This is a regular escape for us and we come here to enjoy jungle treks, the aerial tram and to take a boat trip up the backwaters of the canal. You can also take a visit to the Emberá indigenous village within the park where the locals live in palm thatched houses on stilts. Visitors are welcome and you may stay to learn about their culture and their traditional, daily way of life. There are plenty of creepy crawlies to identify within the park so remember to bring your bug-identifying kit!

Getting there: Access takes between 20 – 45 minutes by car (depending on where you are staying in Panama City).


El Valle de Anton

Panama Family Vacation Bouncing over rope bridges in El Valle de Anton
Bouncing over rope bridges in El Valle de Anton


In the province of Coclé, directly inland from Panama’s Riviera, is the sleepy hillside town of El Valle de Anton. This is a popular weekend escape for families living in Panama City and, if you don’t have time to visit other rainforest areas in Panama, then this is an excellent place to include on your itinerary. You can combine it with time in Panama City and time on the beach in Panama’s Riviera.

El Valle de Anton is a peaceful destination if you wish to simply escape the city or, if you feel like a more active break with some scenic walks. One of the kids’ favourite things to do in El Valle is feeding (and talking to!) the parrots at Nispero Zoo, which is also home to Panama’s famous – and elusive – Golden Frogs. Another highlight was having a cuddle with ‘Sammie the Sloth

Getting there: It takes approximately 1.5 hours by car to reach El Valle de Anton from Panama City.



4. Coffee & Highlands

Panama Family Vacation: Breathe in the cooler mountain air in Panama's western highlands
Breathe in the cooler mountain air in Panama’s western highlands


One of the the benefits of living in Panama is that you are almost always guaranteed good coffee. Not many people know, but Panama is a coffee-growing nation and delivers a very good brew. Here’s where you can go to the source.



Panama Family Vacation: Boquete and nature trails
Nature trails galore!


On the far western side of Panama, near the border with Costa Rica, the tiny town of Boquete is famous for its coffee plantations. Located in the Chiriquí Province at a height of 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) above sea level, Boquete enjoys a year-round spring-like temperatures of around 20C (70F), which helps the coffee to develop its flavours. A significant American expat community have set up home in Boquete, drawn by the pleasant climate, beautiful surrounds and low cost of living. For visitors, it’s a wonderful destination for fresh mountain air, jungle treks, rolling hills, zip-line adventures, white water rafting, and, coffee! Our favourite place to stay in Boquete is the Riverside Inn

Getting there: It’s a rather long drive (8 hours) from Panama City. Flights from Panama City to David take 1 hour and from here it’s a further 1 hour drive.


The Western Highlands

Panama Family Vacation: Challenge kids to the waterfall trek!Challenge kids to the Waterfall Trek!


Also in Chiriquí Province, to the northeast of Boquete, is Cerro Punta, a town and region often referred to as Panama’s Western Highlands. It’s more rugged and wild than Boquete but worth visiting, especially if you are in the area. I travelled here with my two kids for a few days before spending several nights in Boquete. Like Boquete, this area offers families a wide range of outdoor activities including rainforest treks, horse rides, mountain biking and bird spotting tours. This region is also famous for it’s delicious strawberries!

We stayed in, and enjoyed our time at Los Quetzales

Getting There: Like Boquete, it is roughly an 8 hour drive from Panama City or a short 1 hour flight to David, followed by an hour’s drive.


Beaches, Rainforest and Hills, where to go in #Panama with kids! #LPKids #FamilyTravel Click To Tweet


Booking a Panama Family Vacation

My partner agent for Panama is Ancon Expeditions. You can read more about them (and why I chose to partner with them) here.




Family Guide to Panama

For more information on family travel in Panama see my full guide to Panama with Kids.

Panama With Kids



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