You’ve just arrived in Panama City. Stepping off of a long flight into a sudden wave of tropical heat to a cacophony of horn-honking has you feeling a little frazzled and overwhelmed. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a few hours and enjoy some peace, serenity, and an aerial view of the city to get your bearings?
Ancon Hill is my number one recommendation for first-time visitors to Panama City. Besides being a nice change of scenery from the bright lights and colorful commotion of Panama’s vibrant capital, it is a fantastic introduction to the town. Ancon Hill is a tranquil spot where you can take a moment to recharge and re-center, as well as an opportunity to become more familiar with the lay of the land, before diving into your Panama adventures. The view from the park atop Ancon Hill lets you survey Panama City’s center and the financial district, the Cinta Costera oceanfront highway, Casco Viejo, the Amador Causeway, and the Panama Canal. It’s a great first step to really appreciating all that Panama City has to offer.
I recommend dropping your bags off at the hotel, stopping by a local food stand, and packing a picnic lunch – spend your first afternoon in Panama perched high above the city on Ancon Hill, watching ships pass through the canal. Your bird’s-eye view will make the cargo carriers, cranes, and locks seem like a miniature moving diorama of industry.
Ancon Hill is also a favorite destination of bird and nature enthusiasts visiting Panama, and I can see why. My daily run often takes me up the hill, and I’m always seeing wildlife along the way – I have seen toucans, sloths, monkeys, boa constrictors, agouti, and countless other gorgeous creatures. The path up the hill is paved and well-traveled, but if you take some time to wander slowly and quietly, you will be astounded by the abundant wildlife just minutes from the center of the city. It’s my favorite way to start the day – and the perfect way to begin your travels in Panama.
Any taxi driver in the city will know how to get to Ancon Hill, and your fare should be less than $5. Sometimes the park gates don’t open until around 7 a.m., but don’t let this discourage you from entering – the fence has a convenient person-sized hole which is perfect for entry if you make it to the park before the park ranger. I’m not quite sure if this is against the rules, but after a year of hole-in-the-fence entry, I haven’t been turned away once by park officials and there are no posted hours for entry.
You can either take a taxi up to the top of the hill or walk to the top. It’s a gorgeous, nature-filled 30-minute hike, recommended for anyone in good shape who is looking for some exercise.
When to go
If you’re an early riser, Ancon Hill is a fantastic place to take in the sun rising over Panama City. Even if you’re not a morning person, it’s best to go earlier in the day to beat the heat – and as the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm. Getting up early can almost guarantee you the sighting of finches, toucans, and hawks – definitely worth skipping the snooze button.
What to bring
Binoculars, walking shoes and clothes, a camera, water, and snacks. Fantastic views and wildlife-spotting could keep you enthralled for hours. Grab a bottle of water and some snacks from a corner store or pharmacy in case you get caught in the midday sun and need some sustenance.