This 10-day trip to Panama’s Pacific Coast is the perfect mix of exploration and relaxation. Begin in Panama City, where you’ll tour the iconic Panama Canal, Casco Viejo, and take a day trip to visit the indigenous Emberá. Then, rent a car and drive to the beach—you’ll stay in Playa Reina for two nights, where you can observe turtles nesting and hatching. Next, enjoy some surfing and downtime in Santa Catalina, followed by a whale-watching excursion, before you return to Panama City.

Highlights

  • Visit the village of the Emberá, an indigenous community
  • See baby turtles hatch on Mata Oscura Beach
  • Go whale watching in Coiba National Park
  • Take a surfing lesson and catch waves in Santa Catalina
  • Tour Casco Viejo and the Panama Canal in Panama City

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Panama Panama City
Day 2 Indigenous Culture Day Trip With the Emberá Panama City
Day 3 Panama City - Free Day Panama City
Day 4 Drive to Playa Reina and Nocturnal Turtle Viewing Playa Reina
Day 5 Playa Reina - Turtle Release and Free Day Playa Reina
Day 6 Drive to Santa Catalina Santa Catalina
Day 7 Day Trip to Coiba Island and Whale Watching Santa Catalina
Day 8 Santa Catalina - Free Day Santa Catalina
Day 9 Drive to Panama City Panama City
Day 10 Panama City - Half-Day Tour and Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Panama

Skyline
Panama City Skyline

Welcome to Panama! When you land at the International Airport of Tocumen, your guide will meet you and escort you to your hotel.

You'll have the rest of the day to explore Panama City, which is rich with beautiful landscapes, pristine islands, scenic rainforests, and indigenous communities. Depending on your time of arrival and your preferences, you can do the following:

  • Walk around Punta Paitilla, where you will have a view of the skyscrapers along the waterfront
  • Explore Punta Pacifica, a modern area where you’ll find luxury condos along the edge of the Pacific Ocean
  • Stroll through Costa del Este, a high-end area with plenty of shops and restaurants

After you’ve done some exploration, enjoy a nice welcome dinner—Costa del Este will have some suitable options for you.

Day 2: Indigenous culture day trip with the Emberá

Embera in canoe
A Member of the Emberá

Today, prepare for a 6-hour cultural tour with the indigenous Emberá community. You'll embark on a short canoe ride toward the Chagres River, followed by a nature walk through the jungle. Around the middle of your trek, you'll swim in a waterfall before continuing on to the center of the village.

When you arrive at the village, you will meet with a chief, who will educate you on the local lifestyle and traditions. You’ll learn about basket making, colorful garb, body painting, and dancing. Then, enjoy a typical lunch with fish and plantains.  

Following the tour, you’ll return to Panama City to enjoy the rest of the day and evening at your leisure.

Day 3: Panama City - Free day

Panamanian Chocolate Tasting
Panamanian chocolate tasting

Today, you’ll have the day free to explore Panama on your own time.

You can start the day with a Segway tour of Casco Viejo, followed by a raspao (snow cone) tasting and chocolate tasting there. If you prefer the local fish, try some ceviche at a nearby fish market, or if you’d like a more well-rounded experience, you can embark on a gastronomic tour of the area. While in Casco Viejo, you can explore the Old Quarter and the Interoceanic Panama Canal Museum. (Note that you will do more exploration of this area on the last leg of your trip.)

For adventurers, you can go hiking in Cerro Ancón and biking in Cinta Costera. If you would rather embark on a full-day excursion, consider a trip to San Blas, where you can enjoy the Guna Yala Archipelago Tour or a trip to tour the Pearl Islands.

The evening is at your leisure to dine, dance, and enjoy the Panama City nightlife.

Day 4: Drive to Playa Reina and nocturnal turtle viewing

Coiba
The beach with views of Coiba Island

Today, embark on a day trip to Veraguas, the largest province in Panama—known for hosting the biggest island of the American Pacific, Coiba. This island, which is considered the “Galapagos of Central America,” offers outstanding biodiversity and beautiful pristine beaches; Coiba and Galapagos form part of the Meso-American Biological Corridor.

Then, you will return to the city and will have access to a private transfer from your hotel to a rental car agency, where you will rent a car and drive to Mariato for 4 hours and 40 minutes. Upon arrival, check into your hotel in Playa Reina near the beach.

In the evening—between the months of June-March—drive to the beach of Mata Oscura for a 3-hour nocturnal turtle observation session with the volunteers of the Agua and Tierra Foundation. Keep in mind that sea turtle viewing is a nighttime tour, and is only available during the turtle season. If you are able to embark on this tour, it is important to follow the rules of your guides.

Day 5: Playa Reina - Turtle release and free day

Release of Sea Turtles
Watch the releasing of the sea turtles

Following the lead of last night’s nocturnal turtle viewing, early in the morning, take your rental car and drive 38 minutes to Playa Mata Oscura. Once onsite at the Interoceanic Panama Canal Museum, which protects 2.5 miles of the surrounding beach, you will see the nesting of four different endangered species of turtles. If you are lucky, you will get to witness the baby turtle hatchlings.

Then, you will have the rest of the day free to enjoy at your leisure. You can embark on one of several tours, depending on your mood. You can arrange a local tour to do any of the following activities:

  • Visit small waterfalls
  • Go for a scenic walk in the woods
  • Enjoy surfing on the beach
  • Kayak in the mangroves
  • Go on a horseback riding excursion
  • Visit the local shops

Day 6: Drive to Santa Catalina

Sunset in Santa Catalina
Sunset in Santa Catalina

Today, take the drive of 3 hours and 30 minutes from Mariato to Santa Catalina. Once you arrive, you can check in to your hotel in the District of Soná. You’ll have the rest of the day free to enjoy the beach. Although this is not a town particularly geared toward tourists, if you surf, you will enjoy the iconic breaks here. If not, you can swim, snorkel, and book different types of beach tours to get the most out of your afternoon. Or, just simply relax by the water and take in the view.

Day 7: Day trip to Coiba Island and whale watching

Whale in the Pacific
Enjoy whale watching off Coiba Island

In the morning, you’ll leave by boat with a local guide to do some exploration along Coiba National Park. Depending on the route and weather conditions, you can visit the islands of the park—Granito de Oro, Rancheria, and of course, Coiba.

Isla Coiba covers an area of nearly 770,000 acres. Due to its geographical location and size, this island was used as a penitentiary center between 1919 and 2004 and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005.

Keep an eye out for the humpback whales that migrate from cold waters to the Pacific Coast of Panama, with warmer temperatures, to give birth to their calves. Enjoy a pre-packed picnic lunch as part of your boat tour.

Note: Whale watching tours operate only from June to October, and sightings are never fully guaranteed.

After the 8-hour tour, the evening is yours to enjoy along the beach, or back at your hotel.

Day 8: Santa Catalina - Free day

Surfing in Santa Catalina
Go surfing in Santa Catalina

Today, you’ll have a free day to enjoy Santa Catalina and the surrounding area. If you’d like to explore some of the nearby islands, consider Gobernadora Island, Cébaco Island, and Tintorera Island.

If you’d like to take a surfing lesson, this is the perfect day to do so. Or, if you are an expert already, feel free to take to the waves to enjoy some riding. You can also take advantage of the beach by snorkeling, diving, or simply going for a swim.

For a different type of adventure, you can embark on a birdwatching excursion. There are different birding tours you can join, depending on how long you want to go, and the environment you’d like to explore.

Enjoy your final evening on the beach before heading back to the city tomorrow.

Day 9: Drive to Panama City

Panama la Vieja
Panama la Vieja

Today, you’ll drive from Santa Catalina back to Panama City with your rental car for approximately 5 hours and 30 minutes. Once you are back in the city, return the rental car, and then take a private transfer from the rental car agency to the hotel.

The rest of the day will be at your leisure to continue exploring Panama City. Some additional areas and sites to discover include the below:

  • Panama la Vieja: The ruins and museum honor the first Spanish settlement
  • The Causeway: Rent a bike and peddle along this area that connects four islands made of rocks excavated from the Panama Canal
  • Plaza Mayor: This is the main square of Old Panama City
  • Mercado Nacional de Artesanías: Go shopping for Panamanian souvenirs and handicrafts
  • El Tornillo: Visit the iconic skyscraper that is 774 feet high
  • Iglesia del Carmen: See the standout gothic building built in the 20th century and reminiscent of the Middle Ages
  • Einstein’s Head: Visit the statue, which was created by sculptor Carlos Arboleda

Day 10: Panama City - Half-day tour and departure

Casco Viejo without Coastal Beltway
Views of Casco Viejo 

On your last day in Panama, you’ll embark on a 4-hour tour with an English-speaking guide. A driver will pick you up at your hotel, and then, you’ll explore more of the colonial area, the Casco Viejo. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980, you will walk through the streets of Casco Viejo and visit different historical monuments, including France Square, where you’ll have access to a beautiful view of the modern city and Bolivar Square

Then, continue to Miraflores, where you can follow the technical operations of the Panama Canal locks from a platform. The Miraflores locks are one of the three sets of locks of the Panama Canal and reside on the Pacific side.

Following your tour, a driver will take you from your hotel to Tocumen International Airport, where you will prepare for your departure flight home.