Panama City is a fascinating city unlike anywhere else in Central America; perhaps the first giveaway is the skyscrapers and visible downtown so unlike the usual capital sprawl. Although there are some odd contrasts, such as the chicken buses going past huge casinos and shopping malls, as a whole Panama City is a metropolis like its North American counterparts, except with Spanish language and 50% discounts on pretty much anything (much more noticeable when prices are published in USD or B./). It is also safe to walk around at night, something that is not taken for granted in Central America.
I found exploring the city by day and exploring the multiple casinos by night to be entertaining. Caseo Viejo was also worthwhile, if not to see the ancient buildings (after visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico this is not impressive) but the Panama City skyline and the Puente de la Americas instead. Finally, the canal is a must (although whether it is worthwhile is another story); visit the Miraflores Locks before 11am or you won’t be able to see the ships go through.
For getting around the city, the buses are pretty straightforward. There are only a few routes that go along the main roads, and all non-metro buses connect through the Albrook Bus Terminal to the north of the city. A ride costs $0.25, which beats a $4 taxi ride. For living, the Bella Vista area I stayed in was wonderful and quaint; the Caseo Viejo area didn’t look too nice, but La Exposition looked pretty good as well. I would recommend avoiding the Voyeur International Hostel due to its slight bait-and-switch tendencies and poor staff.
Panama City from Caseo Viejo
Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal