Important Sites

Where to visit in Panamá

Sites (Pacific)

Casco Viejo

Metropolitan Cathedral: Finished in 1796, was not renovated until 2003, stands over the Cathedral Plaza; the main plaza in Casco Viejo. Currently being renovated at a cost of $12,000,000.00 by the Panamanian Government.

French Plaza: At the tip of the southern point of Casco Viejo, this beautiful plaza pays homage to the French role in the construction of the canal. Its large stone tablets and statues are dedicated to the memory of the 22,000 workers who died trying to create the canal.

Most of the workers died from yellow fever and malaria. Among the busts is a monument to Cuban doctor Carlos J. Finlay, whose discovery of how mosquitoes transmit yellow fever led to the eradication of the disease.

National Theatre: located in the old city of Panama, next to the church of San Francisco and the Plaza Bolivar. Act 52 of 1904 ordered its construction. The National Theatre is part of a cross-shaped building.

Famed Panamanian Robert Lewis did ceiling frescos. The other part is occupied by National Palace. The theater was designed by Italian architect Genaro Ruggieri, with a style of Italian operetta theater, and opened on October 1, 1908.

Church of San Jose: Famous Golden Altar of the Church of San Jose in Casco Viejo is considered one of the greatest treasures of Panama. The church located on Avenida A near the corner of Calle 8 in the Casco Viejo of Panama City. The famous “Altar de Oro” was designed in the seventeenth century in Baroque style. Originally was located in the temple of the same name San Jose in Panama La Vieja, which pertained to religious Augustionos. In 1671 the English Privateer Henry Morgan attacked and sacked this settlement. The Order of Augustines decided to move their church to the new town and in 1675 inaugurated a new monastery and church. The altar was completely renovated in 1915 by Mr. Donderis.

Unfortunately we have to disappoint your hopes, but the altar is not really gold. This massive baroque altar is carved in mahogany and covered in gold leaf.

Commonly known in Spanish as the “Altar de Oro” (Golden Altar), it was originally in a church in “Old Panama.” When English pirate Henry Morgan attacked the city the Jesuits painted the altar black to hide the gold. The pirates left it alone, thinking it was worthless. After Morgan sacked and burned “Old Panama” the Jesuit monks of the Order of St. Augustine moved the altar to the new church and its present location.

San Francisco de Asis Church: There are larger and more ornate churches in Casco Viejo, but none can beat Iglesia San Francisco de Asis on location. Standing on the waterfront, next to the Panamanian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and across the street from the National Theater, its exterior has been carefully restored. And with most of the buildings of Casco Viejo being only a few stories high, the bell tower of Iglesia San Francisco de Asis towers high above, visible from all around.

The church was originally built in the 17th century. Like many of the other major buildings in the neighborhood, it has suffered at the hands of fire: once in in 1737 and again in 1756.

It stands on the eastern side of Plaza Simon Bolivar, a small but scenic and historically interesting square on the northeast corner of Casco Viejo.

Ancon Hill

Get some exercise and treat yourself to an astounding bird-eye's view of historic Casco Viejo, modern Panama City and the Panama Canal by climbing to the top of the hill located in the former American Canal Zone.

To top it off, the path winds through rainforest so you are sure to see some nature as well. Ancon hill is home of 15 species of mammals and 39 species of birds—sloths, monkeys and exotic birds are a common sight.

The hike is best done during early morning hours (7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.) to avoid heat and humidity and the afternoon tropical showers from May to mid December. Once at the top check the breathtaking views of Panama City, Panama Canal, Casco Viejo, and The Bridge of the Americas.

Fort Amador

(Spanish: Fuerte Amador) and Fort Grant were former United States Army bases built to protect the Pacific (southern) end of the Panama Canal at Panama Bay. Amador was the primary on-land site, lying below the Bridge of the Americas. Grant consisted of a series of islands lying just offshore, some connected to Amador via a causeway. Fort Sherman was the corresponding base on the Atlantic (northern) side. All of the forts were turned over to the Republic of Panama in 1999, and the area is now a major tourist attraction.

The offshore islands had always been considered excellent defensive grounds and were long visited by English pirates. Sir Francis Drake, Captain Cook, and Henry Morgan all used Taboga and Perico as refuges after raiding Spanish galleons. It was here that then-Captain Ulysses S. Grant ended his cross-Panama march in 1852.

During the construction of the Panama Canal, notably the Culebra Cut, waste material was dumped in a mangrove bush then known as the "Balboa dump". As the work progressed, the dump was backfilled to create a large breakwater, which was later extended to the nearest of the offshore islands, Naos. This work was completed in 1912, and the military reservations were given their official names that year. Fort Amador is named for Manuel Amador Guerrero, the first president of Panama, while Fort Grant was named to commemorate Grant's earlier crossing to that point.

The two forts initially claimed only about 70 acres (28 ha) of land, but this expanded over the years to over 344. Amador was the primary infantry and support area, and grew to include a rather prominent "tank farm" for fuel storage. Grant was used primarily for naval defense, and included a number of large batteries on the various islands. To supply them, the causeway was extended to connect from Naos to the other nearby islands, Culebra, Perico, and Flamenco, all of which had batteries of various sizes. Grant also included the nearby-unconnected islands of San Jose, Panamarca, Changarmi, Tortolita, Torola, Taboga, Cocovieceta, Cocovi, and Venado.

Miraflores Locks
(Visitors Center)

Miraflores is the name of one of the three locks that form part of the Panama Canal, and the name of the small lake that separates these locks from the Pedro Miguel Locks upstream.

In the Miraflores locks, vessels are lifted (or lowered) 54 feet (16.5 m) in two stages, allowing them to transit to or from the Pacific Ocean port of Balboa in Panama City. Ships cross below the Bridge of the Americas, which connects North and South America.

As of 2005, the following schedule was in effect for ship transit through the locks: From 06:00 to 11:00, ships travel from the Pacific toward the Atlantic. From 14:00 to 23:00, ships travel from the Atlantic toward the Pacific. At any other time, travel is permitted in both directions.

Binoculars are recommended to view the Pedro Miguel locks in the distance. Admittance for adults to the visitor’s center costs US$15 (observation terrace, including supporting exhibits and video show). Viewing a transit operation at the center can take more than 30 minutes. A souvenir shop on the ground level sells related merchandise. The center closes at 17:00.