Panama City, Panama City
Concierge.com's insider take:
It's impossible to avoid hot and humid Panama City; chances are you'll have to stay overnight before moving on to the beaches of Bocas del Toro or the volcanoes of Chiriquí. But the city is actually an interesting place to spend a day or two.
The Casco Viejo, or Old City, has colonial buildings that evoke a scruffier version of New Orleans's French Quarter. But unlike the dives along Bourbon Street, the bars and restaurants here are some of the city's trendiest. Among the beautiful old buildings are the 1688 Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, which is still in use today (Plaza de la Independencia), and the turn-of-the-century Teatro Nacional, with its elaborately frescoed ceiling (Calle 3; 507-262-3525; www.teatronacionaldepanama.com). Visitors interested in an even older part of the city should visit Panama Viejo, the 1519 settlement that was burned to the ground by pirates led by Captain Henry Morgan in 1671. The tower of the cathedral is still standing (you can climb it for a bird's-eye view), and there's a museum displaying treasures that the marauders didn't cart away (Via Cincuentenario; 507-226-8915; www.panamaviejo.org).
Panama City is short on green spaces, but the Parque Natural Metropolitano, a ten-minute drive from downtown, is an oasis for locals. It has lovely landscaped grounds and walking paths through a tropical forest (507-232-5516; www.panamatours.com). Within day-trip range (75 minutes from downtown Panama City, in the region of Gamboa) is the Parque Nacional Soberanía, which has 48,000 acres of rain forest for hiking, birding, and wildlife-watching (507-232-4291; www.panamatours.com).