Things to Do
If you want to sail the San Blas Islands, check out airbnb! The locals have their sail boats, and catamarans ready to go. Having a private boat with captain, and chef is a great way to splurge in paradise.
Shopping in Panama City is so cheap, it's a great way to re-up if you've been travelling for a long time. Check out La Onda, it's easy to spend the entire day there.
While at the Miraflores Locks, if you don't want to pay for the movie, or the museum, just ask for passes to the restaurant (which are free)...then skip the restaurant and go straight to the viewing platform. The viewing platform is also technically free so you're not doing anything shady, just being smart ;)
Land travel from Panama to Colombia is not recommended. There are no roads, and it is notoriously unsafe. Spring for a flight, or splurge on a sailboat trip.
1. The Panama Canal
It's number one on this list, because many people think it's not really a must do. This "skippable" attraction is actually super cool. Watching the process of the boats going through the Miraflores Locks is legit interesting, and something to see. Do check the schedule of when boats are passing through, there can be long spaces of time in between passings.
2. Bocas del Toro
This island will have you feeling like you're in Jamaica, in the best way. The Caribbean influence here makes for amazing food, colourful everything, and yes, everyone here is definitely on island time. Of course, you can't have Caribbean vibes, without the Caribbean sea, making this a great place for all things water including snorkelling, scuba diving, and surfing. Bocas is also known for its parties, which are nothing short of wild.
3. Monkey Island
Monkey Island is situated on Gatun Lake, and is where you can get up close and personal with four different races of monkey. You can also see crocks, toucans, sloths, turtles, iguanas, and an array of exotic birds. The boat tour also gives you the chance to take a dip in spring fed natural pools, and kayak in the lake. Additionally you can do a bit of fishing, and get a look at ships entering the Panama Canal. It's a fully loaded tour, sure to get you photo ops galore.
4. Panama City
This world class city has it all and is the perfect break from the backpackers life. Go shopping, try some top notch cuisine, catch a movie, and go clubbing. It's cheap, beautiful, and safe. It's also a jump off point for dozens of day tours in and around the city.
5. San Blas
Whether you stay on just one island, take a day to visit several, or decide to sail the islands with a stay on a boat or catamaran, you're in for such a treat. This Archipelago is so gorgeous, you may truly think you've found paradise. There are no big box hotel or restaurant chains, and life is perfectly simple. The locals run everything, making it easy to contribute to a community that invites you with open arms. With 378 islands to explore, you can keep as busy as you like, for as long as you like.
*Bonus - Take a sailboat from Portobelo to Cartagena Colombia. snorkelling, exploring deserted islands, and prestine water as far as the eye can see. Sure beats a flight!