Melissa looking away at the camera, wearing a black top and on top of a blue and green kayak. She is rowing and kayaking in Bocas del Toro, Panama, on a cloudy day. The waters are calm and blue.
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15 Adventurous Things to Do in Panama

As an adventurer, you’re going to fall in love with Panama because of the beautiful waterfalls, remote islands, bustling cities, and jungle villages.

Panama is my favourite Central American country for adventure. Every time I go, I have a unique experience that makes me want to go back again.

From jeep tours up Volcan Baru to scuba diving in Bocas del Toro, Panama is perfect if you want to step out of your comfort zone and try new experiences.

Let’s get right into the best adventurous things to do in Panama.

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15 Adventurous Things to Do in Panama

Melissa smiling at the camera wearing a teal cardigan, black top, black pants, and brown sandals. She is on top of a rock on Volcan Baru in Panama during the sunrise. Beyond the distance, there are clouds, mountains, with the sun peeking through on the right side of the photo. Visiting Volcan Baru is one of the most adventurous things to do in Panama, as it's the highest peak in the country at 3,474 metres

1. See the Sunrise at Volcan Baru

Going on a sunrise jeep tour at Volcan Baru has been my favourite adventure in Panama so far. 

It’s an active volcano in the Chiriqui Highlands in northern Panama. Despite being active, there has been very little activity in over 400 years.

As the highest peak in Panama, it’s no surprise it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country for a memorable sunrise over two oceans.

The only spot in Central America where you can see the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans at the same time. 

The ride to the top is bumpy, but the breathtaking view while watching the sun peak over the clouds is worth it.

You can opt to hike to this viewpoint, but it takes 5-8 hours in each direction and gets challenging at the end. I saw people who did it but you need to start hiking around midnight to make the sunrise!

I thought the sunrise Jeep tour was the perfect amount of adventure. You have to hike a little at the end but it’s better than climbing the whole volcano! It even included a light breakfast and a warm drink.

Melissa and another woman scuba diving underwater in Bocas del Toro, Panama. They are next to a shipwrecked boat called the Mystic Wind.

2. Scuba Dive in Bocas del Toro

Scuba diving is one of the most adventurous and fun things to do in Bocas del Toro.

If you’re an experienced scuba diver like me, you’ll enjoy the array of dive sites, including abandoned shipwrecks, lively coral reefs, and great tropical marine life. 

It’s also a good place for first-time divers, with dive shops offering Discovery Dives and certification for beginners.

While diving in Bocas del Toro, I thought about how this is one of the best water adventures Panama could offer.

The waters are warm, and I saw some fun fish and marine life, including stingrays, different sponges, swarming schools of fish, colourful coral, and more!

Melissa wearing a black top and black pants, standing on top of Cerro Cara Iguana trail in El Valle de Anton, Panama, which has a narrow path, lush green and brown grass, and is overlooking Downtown El Valle.

3. Hike an Extinct Volcano in El Valle

El Valle de Anton is located inside a volcanic crater, making it one of the most adventurous things to do in Panama.

The hike up Cerro Cara Iguana is a moderate, out-and-back hike that takes about 1.5 hours each way, though the time may vary depending on your pace and how long you spend at the top. 

You won’t want to miss the views at the peak either. Hiking Cerro Iguana to the crater, and was certainly a highlight of my Panama travels. 

There are other trails to the top of the crater at different spots including La India Dormida and Cerro Gaital, but this route was my favourite.

It’s the perfect activity for nature lovers who want to get their bodies moving while enjoying the natural beauty of this beautiful country.

An up-close photo of a grey whale shark underwater in Panama, with two other whale sharks at a distance. The water is teal blue with the surface peeking through at the top. Snorkelling with whale sharks is one of the bravest and most adventurous things to do in Panama
Unsplash photo by Jeremy Bishop

4. Snorkel with Whale Sharks in Coiba National Park

Coiba National Park is the best place in Panama to snorkel with whale sharks

Coiba is on the southwest corner of Panama and has some of the most beautiful and desolate islands in Latin America.

From January to April, these gentle giants spend time in Panama. If you are in the area during these months, you should consider snorkelling with whale sharks, for a bucket list adventure. 

They grow up to 20 meters long (65 feet) and weigh over 20 tonnes and to slowly swim beside them is an unforgettable experience.

A silhouette of a monkey on top of some trumpet trees in Panama during sunset, with light orange clouds and a powdery blue sky at a distance.

5. Lookout for Wildlife Everywhere

One of my all-time favourite things about Panama is the diversity and abundance of wildlife in almost every corner of the country.

Panama is home to sloths, frogs, monkeys, toucans, foxes, bush dogs, and unique small creatures. You can find them in the rainforest or Metropolitan Natural Park in Panama City. 

No matter what you do, whether exploring the hiking trails in the rainforest or strolling through the park, make sure you keep an eye out for all the fantastic wildlife of Panama. 

If you’re with a travel guide, they can also help you find hidden creatures and scurrying animals.

I saw baby monkeys playing in the trees while hiking Ancon Hill in Panama City. And red frogs, dolphins, and a bat cave in Bocas del Toro.

Beach in San Blas Islands in Panama, with light blue water on an overcast day. On the foreground, there is part of a palm tree, with its shadow showing on the light brown sand. On the sand there are two tree trumps. Behind the palm tree, there is a white and black boat. At a distance, there are a group of palm trees, indicating that it could be another island
Unsplash photo by Yulia Z

6. Island Hop the San Blas Islands

A day trip to the San Blas Islands is one of the best things to do near Panama City.

The set of 365+ islands is well-known for its relatively untouched, turquoise blue waters, great snorkelling, and generally an accurate depiction of island paradise. 

San Blas Islands are the perfect embodiment of paradise and the best place in Panama to relax on white sand beaches and enjoy rustic travels.

Most boats to the island leave from the Carti area, about 3-4 hours from Panama City. But you can also take a guided tour from Panama City if you decide not to rent a car in Panama or don’t want to deal with the hassle on your own.

Melissa on top of a rock with soaked black swimsuit and brown water shoes, looking at the San Ramon Waterfall in Boquete, Panama. Next to the waterfall are cracked dark gray rock formations with a little bit of green moss peeking through

7. Chase Waterfalls

Panama’s beautiful landscape and climate make certain regions a breeding ground for breathtaking waterfalls. So, there’s no question you should set aside some time in your Panama travels to admire, swim in, and explore some waterfalls around Panama.

Valle de Anton, Boquete, and Santa Fe are the three best regions in Panama for chasing waterfalls.

The Lost Waterfalls Trails in Boquette is a short hike leading you to three beautiful waterfalls with fantastic nature and wildlife. I swam in San Ramon Waterfall near Lost Waterfalls Trail.

Las Golondrinas Waterfalls near Santa Fe is a powerful force that involves only a 20-minute hike from the trailhead. 

And Pozo Azul Waterfall Canyon is a must-see Panama activity near Valle de Anton.

But you can find waterfalls of all shapes, sizes, and strengths in all regions of Panama’s tropical jungles.

A river in Boquete, Panama with turquoise water, large, green trees, and two yellow rafting boats on the right side of the photo. White water rafting is one of the best adventures in Panama for thrill seekers
Unsplash photo by Dane Deaner

8. White Water Rafting in Chiriqui

If you’re ready for the more intense and adventurous activities in Panama, white water rafting in Boquete should be at the top of the list.

This is more for thrill-seekers, but the best part of river rafting in Boquete is that it’s perfect for all levels. There are rivers around Chiriqui Province, with varying levels of expertise for white water rafting ranging from Class II to IV.

The river rafting tour will choose the best route for the beginner group, involving Class III rapids, and will ensure everyone is adequately prepared and ready for all the fun.

No matter what, you should consider this thrilling ride if you’re in Chiriqui Province, as it’s one of the best excursions in Boquete.

Melissa looking out at ships going through the Panama Canal at the Miraflores Locks in Panama City. There are some roadways directly below and a lock of the canal in the distance. Crossing the Panama Canal is one of the best and classic adventure activities to do in Panama

9. Cruise Along the Panama Canal

When you think of Panama, you likely think of the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel that sees over 15,000 ships pass through between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans each year.

The canal uses a unique locking mechanism to allow boats to pass between the two oceans. Overall, it’s frequently praised due to its practicality and complexities.

There are many great canal tours from Panama City, including full-day Panama adventures, combination tours that include other great stops, and half-day tours.

If you’re looking for more excitement, the Ocean to Ocean Panama Canal and Jungle Tour is one of the best options. You’ll ride a boat on the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, visit Lake Gatun, and enjoy other great attractions. It’s the perfect jungle adventure.

Beach in Santa Catalina, Panama, taken at sunset right at golden hour. The sand is golden, and the water at shore is a light blue with a golden overlay. At a distance, there is silhouette of a surfer holding his surfboard. A few yards away from him, there are silhouettes of a few people on the sand. This photo was taken at dusk with golden light on top of the large trees and mountains at a distance. The sky has white, puffy clouds and looks like a painting with light orange, light blue, and yellow.
Unsplash photo by Mario Scheibl

10. Surf in Santa Catalina

What better way to step out of your comfort zone and try some of the most adventurous things in Panama than to catch a wave and try surfing? And Santa Catalina is the hottest place in the country for just that.

The Pacific Ocean has some of the most reliable waves and surf towns. Santa Catalina on the Pacific Coast of Veraguas is a good surf spot with great surf schools that are perfect for beginners.

Playa El Estero is the best beach in Santa Catalina for beginners. This surf break usually has small to medium size swells.

Surfing in Panama has recently started to get international attention. Neighboring Costa Rica has long overshadowed it. But Panama has great swells and plenty of beaches and waves, perfect for beginners.

I went surfing in Nicaragua, and it was one of the most memorable moments of my trip, so I’d recommend giving it a go in Panama for something unique and fast-paced.

Tale of a humpback whale over the Pacific Ocean in Panama, on a foggy day. The ocean and sky have a greyish blue tint from the fog, with a silhouette of an island at a distance. Whale watching in Panama is an easy adventure
Unsplash photo by Karl-Heinz Muller

11. Whale Watching in Pearl Islands

Panama is one of the few places in the world that sees whales from the Northern and Southern hemispheres, meaning you have a good chance of spotting a humpback whale any time of the year.

Between July and October, you have whales migrating from the south. And from November and June, you have humpback whales from the north.

Pearl Islands is one of the best places for whale watching in Panama. It’s only 52 km (32 miles) from Panama City, so it’s easily accessible.

Coiba National Park and Taboga Island are becoming more popular for whale watching if you want to try something a little different.

Aerial view of skyscrapers, terracotta-roofed buildings, and highways with cars of Panama City from a helicopter. The buildings are overlooking the beautiful turquoise beach on a sunny day.
Unsplash photo by Gustavo Ibarra

12. Helicopter Tour in Panama City

One of the most adventurous things to do in Panama is a helicopter tour in Panama City! Panama is a very safe and relatively affordable spot for this fast-paced adventure.

Canal of Panama by Helicopter is one of the most unique ways to see the Panama Canal and the city’s beauty.

You get a birds-eye-view of everything down below and see the region’s landscape from one of the best perspectives available, up in the sky!

Melissa in a one-piece navy bathing suit walking down the steps of a rooftop pool at a hotel in Panama City. The flooring next to the pool is wooden. The pool is overlooking Panama City's skyscrapers on a sunny day

13. Swim in a Rooftop Pool

Panama City arguably has some of the best rooftop pools in Central America, complete with incredible ocean views and beautiful sunsets.

While it may not be super adrenaline-pumping, spending a day exploring the many rooftop pools around Panama still makes the list of cool adventures to do in Panama.

I visited several rooftop pools while in the city, and I think it’s the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon or watch the sunset. 

I always try to book a hotel with a nice rooftop pool to have the perfect place to return to with good views. AC Hotel by Marriott is my favourite.

14. Take a Salsa Class in Panama City

If you’re looking for something rhythmic for your Panama adventures, try to loosen up with a salsa class in Panama City.

Panama City is a particularly good place for dancing lessons and even small restaurants and bars with live music for dancing because it has such a lively nightlife.

Some of us might feel uncomfortable and silly while dancing, but remember, you’re on vacation and likely won’t see any of these people again.

So, embrace the anonymity, let loose, and dive into Panama’s culture and diversity by learning some salsa moves to bring back home with you.

A black and yellow toucan with a rainbow-coloured beak on top of a palm tree at Cerro Ancon in Panama, on a sunny day. There are other palm trees and bushes surround the tree the toucan is on.

15. Birdwatching

In addition to the great wildlife, Panama is also an excellent place for birdwatching. The country is a stop-over for over 1,000 migratory birds and houses several rare and exotic birds deep within the rainforests.

You can see a lot of great bird species in Panama City’s Metropolitan Natural Park, including toucans, blue-crowned motmots, wrens, flycatchers, woodpeckers, and more. I saw toucans in Ancon Hill.

Darien National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Panama’s largest national park is another excellent spot for birdwatching as you have a chance of finding more exotic birds.

Casa Acuario, a boutique 4-star hotel in Bocas del Toro, Panama. The hotel is over the water on the Caribbean sea, with a wooden platform holding some chairs and tables, and a small ladder to the water. The building is light blue with wooden French windows. The balcony on the 2nd floor has white fencing. This photo was taken on a partially cloudy day. At a distance, there is another white hotel or vacation rental.

Where to Stay in Panama

Panama City

Panama City is often the starting and ending point for many people travelling to Panama.

Fortunately, there’s also so much to do here, between exploring the engineering masterpiece of the Panama Canal and going on a wildlife tour in one of the city’s large nature parks.

I’ve stayed at AC Hotel by Marriott, Global Hotel, and Selina Casco Viejo in Panama City and would recommend all three to other travellers.

Boquete

Boquete is a small mountain town in the western Chiriquí Province.

It’s known for its proximity to Barú Volcano National Park, world-famous coffee tours, and other adventurous things to do in Panama.

When deciding where to stay in Boquete, you have many options. I recommend Bambuda Castle and Hotel Finca Lerida. I also stayed at Selina Boquete and loved it.

Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is made up of islands on the Caribbean side of Panama.

It’s known for its beautiful beaches, great diving opportunities, jungles, and hotels right on the water.

If you’re wondering where to stay in Bocas del Toro, La Selva, and Casa Acuario are two of my favourite spots.

David

David is the capital of Chiriquí Province.

It’s the gateway to Boquete, Barú Volcano National Park, coffee plantations, and more. It’s also a great cultural stopping point as there are a lot of museums filled with Panama’s history and important artifacts.

Hotel Ciudad de David and Aranjuez Hotel & Suites are places to stay in David, Panama.

Bus in David, Panama, the capital of the Chiriquí Province. The bus has its headlights on since it's at night time and it's stopped to pick up some passengers under an overhang. The front of the bus says in large white words "DAVID PANAMA".  To the left of the bus, there is a green banner with a photo of the beach, and says in text "Comarca Guna Yala", which is an indigenous area in San Blas Islands

Getting Around in Panama

Panama is not a massive country, but it’s also not small. Many of the starting points for most Panama adventures might seem chaotically scattered around the country.

It might initially seem overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to find the easiest and best route to Bocas del Toro or another remote island. However, Panama has advanced public transportation that’s comfortable and reliable.

You can take public buses, shuttle buses, flights, and boats to almost anywhere you want to go. However, there isn’t an abundance of information available online, so you should have patience and be prepared to use your translator.

Getting around Panama is a little daunting at first, but you’ll learn the ropes quickly!

Final Thoughts on Adventures in Panama

Most people don’t come to Panama only to lounge on the beach or poolside. They come for a little more active travel. That’s because there are so many adventurous things to do in Panama.

You can take a boat tour along the Panama Canal, ride a jeep up an active volcano to catch the sunrise, hike through the rainforest to spot some wildlife, get your heart racing while white water rafting and so much more.

Now that you know all the best activities for active travellers, you can add some of these adventures in Panama to your itinerary.

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