Published on March 3rd, 2015 | by Mark Chesnut


Enjoy the Ride: 5 Great Rental Car Road Trips in Panama

Panama City is an exciting, dynamic Central American metropolis, with enough to see and do to keep any vacationer (or business traveler) busy for several days. But it’s also a perfect gateway to the natural and cultural wonders that await in Panama’s interior. And thanks to the abundant availability of rental cars in the capital city, it’s easy to rent a car (either at the airport or in the city) and head out to explore the rest of the nation.

From quick day trips to multi-day excursions, there are lots of options for touring Panama by car, whether you’re a nature lover, a history enthusiast or just looking for a peaceful place to relax on the beach. Here are a few of the best rental car road trips in Panama, using Panama City as a departure point.

1. The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is one of the world’s best-known feats of modern engineering, and it’s also the most legendary attraction in Panama. Visiting the Panama Canal from Panama City is quite easy, since the Canal’s Pacific entrance is right at the edge of the city. Rental cars offer the greatest amount of flexibility for day trips to the Panama Canal. Among the options: a drive across the Americas bridge, which soars across the Pacific entrance. You can stop on the far side of the Canal for good photo opportunities. Also don’t miss a trip to the Miraflores Locks, where the visitor center has exhibits about the construction of the canal, and the observation area provides an up-close look at the massive ships as they transit the locks. You might also want to cross the Centennial Bridge, which is an eye-catching piece of modern architecture, built in 2004, that spans the Panama Canal.

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2. Colón and Portobelo
Trace the route of the Panama canal toward the Caribbean coast and you’ll arrive at the city of Colón, which is home to the largest duty-free zone in the Americas (although it’s primarily a wholesale facility). But for a more beautiful drive, continue on to Portobelo and Fort Lorenzo, and plan for a stop at the Gatún Locks and Gatún Dam, both of which are important components in the Panama Canal network. Portobelo is a lovely seafront village, where 18th-century structures once guarded and housed treasures brought by the Spanish from other parts of Latin America.

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3. National Parks in Panama
If you have several days to spare, consider a multi-day road trip to some of Panama’s most beautiful national parks. Among the top choices: Barú National Park, which is graced with an extinct volcano in the Chiriquí Highlands, and La Amistad National Park, which extends across the border between Panama and Costa Rica. If you don’t have time to leave Panama City for that long, not to worry: Soberania National Park, which is about half an hour from Panama City, is a 48,000-acre paradise with 105 species of mammals and more than 500 species of birds.

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4. Playa Blanca and Coronado
Where do Panama City residents go when they need a convenient beach getaway for the weekend? The answer is often the Pacific coast area around Playa Blanca and Coronado. Within less than two hours, you can arrive at this peaceful yet well-developed beachfront area, where towering condos and large all-inclusive resort hotels offer a variety of accommodation options. Rental cars are the most convenient way to get around this region, since restaurants, shopping and attractions tend to be spread out.

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5. El Valle de Antón
An ideal side trip from Playa Blanca and Coronado is El Valle de Antón, a picturesque small town set inside an inactive volcano. The town’s cool temperature makes it a pleasant contrast to the hotter coast, and the region is home to a variety of lovely natural attractions, including the Chorro El Macho waterfall, and a group of small thermal pools with mineralized water. This region is one of the few places that is home to the endangered Panamanian golden frog.

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About the Author

The founder and editor of, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He’s worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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