Sometimes travel gives you a complicated situation. We decided to go to Curaçao without realizing just how hard it would be to get there from D.C. on the Star Alliance (airline loyalty is a major priority for us). Our best option was to fly Washington-Dulles (IAD)-Panama City (PTY), have a 17-hour, overnight layover, then continue on to Curaçao the next morning.
For some, that would be super irritating, right? I mean, 17 hours is not a lot of time for a trip, but it’s kind of a long time for a layover. Luckily for Steve and me, our preference is to make the most of whatever travel situation we encounter! And just as fortunately, Panama City is the perfect place to have a long layover. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your own!
Book Your Flights
Panama’s national airline is Copa Air. They offer a “Stopover” program, which is basically another way to say “long layover.” This means that when you book your flights with Copa, you can book your flights through PTY with a “layover” of up to seven days at no extra expense!
This is a great way to check off another country in your travels, see that famous Panama Canal as a bucket list item, or just have a new adventure. Our trip actually inspired us to plan a longer trip back to Panama soon, so be on the lookout for that! Find out more about the Panama Stopover Program here.
Book Your Tour
Copa offers a variety of package tours, or you can book your own. We booked a tour that included airport pick-up and hotel drop-off, saving us the cost of taxis or Ubers. We didn’t know what all there was to do besides the world-famous Panama Canal, so we booked a layover highlights tour so we could see the top sites! There are tours that take you to Monkey Island and a traditional village, canal and city tours, rainforest tours, boat tours, etc.
There are many tours and tour companies to choose from, so choose the best experience for you! But it’s so important to book directly with the company and not through a third party like Viator or Get Your Guide. We accidentally booked through Viator and grossly overpaid because of their booking fee. Then our airport pick-up was a full hour late, and we had no way to get in touch with him. It would have been much better to leave out the middleman and be able to get in touch ourselves! Live and learn from my mistake.
More here: Tips for Your Stopover Trip to Panama
What We Did on Our Panama Layover Tour
Despite the rocky, expensive start to our tour (not the fault of the tour company or our guide), we really enjoyed our tour!
Drive Through Panama City
The tour was about four hours, and we covered a lot of ground! We definitely needed a car, but we were glad we didn’t need to drive it! It was fun and easy to see the sites with a driver, who was also our tour guide. He was giving us information on the whole ride and answering every question we had about Panama!
The Panama Canal
First stop: The Panama Canal! I mean, if you go to Panama, but don’t go to the Panama Canal, did you really go to Panama? I think not! This was actually not at all like I was expecting. There’s a whole Visitor Center situation, a 45-minute movie (which was actually unexpectedly fantastic), and a viewing area. It’s $17.22 USD to visit as of early 2023. This was not included in the price of our tour, but we felt it was well worth our while.
Pro tip: This all depends on your timing, but if you can, see the movie before you go to the viewing area. You’ll appreciate it more, and you’ll understand what you’re seeing and why it’s important! Also, go all the way to the top of the viewing area. It was so crowded when we were there, I didn’t realize there were more than two levels!
(Coming soon) Keep reading: Your Guide to Visiting the Panama Canal
Our second stop was Flamenco Island. It’s the last in a series of islands connected to mainland Panama via the Amador Causeway. This is where you’ll find shops, restaurants, fishes to feed, and this colorful Panama sign!
Also helpful: How to Plan a Trip (Step-by-Step)
Calzada de Amador (Amador Causeway)
You may already know that driving is not my favorite thing–and neither is riding! But the scenic drive on the 12 km Amador Causeway was a highlight of our tour! This road into the sea was built from the rocks removed to build both the original 1913 Mira Flores Canal and the larger 2016 Coca Li Canal.
The views from either side are absolutely gorgeous, and the sidewalks on either side are perfect for runners. We saw several runners and walkers enjoying it around sunset. On one side, you have boats floating just off the shores of Panama City, on the other, you’ve got mountain views.
Casco Viejo (Old Town)
This is the moment Steve and I decided to come back to Panama for a longer trip! Casco Viejo is the old city, and it’s even more charming than the pictures can show. The architecture is both Spanish- and French-inspired, dating back to 1673. But that’s not when the town was founded. The original town was established here in 1519, but it was destroyed in 1671, then plundered by a famous pirate, Captain Morgan! Can’t wait to go back and learn more!
Want more? Check out my dedicated Panama Page!
Love this post? Pin it for later!