Jul 21, 2017

Things to do with Kids in Panama

Panama is a very family friendly destination.  You won't find many restaurants where you are uncomfortable bringing the kids to.  Panamanians love enjoying life with a big family so nearly everything caters to meeting those needs.  The only caution is expecting full service changing facilities for infants.  Those wonderful changing tables we are so used to are few and far between.  There is so much biodiversity and culture in Panama that it would be a sad for a kid to miss out on the adventure.


Note 1: These things are also awesome fun without kids!

Note 2: These activities are all either in Panama City or less than 30 minutes drive away.


Kid Friendly Activities


 Rainforest Walk at Plantation Road

As the name implies, this path is on the site of a former plantation. You can see the descendants of the original coffee plants and banana trees here and there if you look closely. This is a very exciting place to walk, with or without kids.  We have even seen scratch marks and dropping from a big cat on this one! (These were confirmed by a Smithsonian Researcher, of which there are many here in Panama). 

You can spend time paddling through the river catching fish (then releasing them, obviously!).  

On this trail I have seen Capuchin Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, Geoffroy’s Tamarin, and Spider Monkeys. And that’s just the apes! I have also been lucky enough to see an Anteater just in front of me, working its way along the branches of a tree with its tongue. Coati Mundis, Agoutis, as well as too many exotic birds to mention. Okay, I’ll mention some – Toucans, Trogons, Mot Mots.

Mot Mot at Plantation Road, Panama.jpg


 Summit Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Take a trip to Summit Zoo and Botanical Gardens to see a fabulous range of animals, all native to Panama, most of which have been rescued from illegal private collections, and sometimes even hunters. This is a great place to take kids for a picnic. There is a profusion of enormous play parks for the little tikes, with some incredible walks through an open air botanical gardens. This zoo has jaguars, one of which is very fond of my husband and comes to see him each time we visit. Recent additions are two Puma cubs, named Tango and Cash. These are large, lithe graceful beauties with an incongruous high-pitched squeak which makes them sound quite ridiculous. Tragically, they are in the zoo because they were found alone after their mother was shot dead by a hunter.

Ocelot Snoozing at Summit Zoo, Panama.jpg


 Amador Causeway

This is one of my favorite spots in Panama City. There are so many different things to do here on this thin strip of land situated between the big city and the opening to the Canal.

Hire bikes or roller skates or even mopeds (I’m not brave enough for that!), play on bouncy castles, go to the gourmet Ice Cream parlor then watch the Barracuda dart back and forth at the end of the causeway.

Instead of feeding the ducks at the local pond like we do in Britain, people here feed the fish at the causeway harbor!  Beautiful tropical fish, with blue stripes and yellow fins. The last time we did this, we even saw a very large, very old-looking Puffer Fish.

They are building a Biodiversity Museum at one end of the causeway, a landmark project, designed by Frank Gehry. Don’t hold your breath for this to open though, as they have been building it for the last ten years, and it is still nowhere near finished.

Panama doesn’t need a Biodiversity Museum – Panama IS a Biodiversity Museum!

Old Puffer Fish, Amador Causeway.jpg


 Punta Culebra

A nature reserve and aquarium situated in a dry forest (as opposed to a rainforest), this is a fabulous place to take kids, or any newcomer to Panama. You are virtually guaranteed a close-up sighting of at least one Iguana and Sloth as you walk through the trees here. 

Go to the tip of Punta Culebra – Snake Point –and watch the pelicans dive for fish in the Pacific and the giant crabs fight on the rocks.  There are lots of touch pools for children. Our kids love to play (gently) with the Starfish and Sea Cucumbers here. A giant outdoor tank has Nursemaid Sharks and Sea Turtles. There is also a nice, cool, indoor play area decorated to look like the interior of a submarine, which is a good place to go when the kids get overheated.

Sloth climbing along barbed wire fence at Punta Culebra.jpg


 Swim in an Outdoor Pool

Go for a swim in one of the many outdoor pools in the Clayton area, most of which have toddler's paddling pools. Tip – if you have long hair, you must take a swimming cap – gorra – or buy one at reception.

At a maximum of $3 per adult, this is a super cheap, super fun thing to do. One time I was at an open air pool at night and a large bat swooped down just over my head. This may or may not be a selling point for you.

During the day, the creatures swooping over the open air pools are shimmering swallows and dragonflies. After years of swimming in over-chlorinated indoor pools in Britain, the feeling of freedom that comes from swimming in the open air, in the warm open air, is astounding.

Nice big pool in Clayton.


 Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Down by Lake Gamboa there is a lovely restaurant overhanging the water, from which you can see crocodiles, caimans, turtles and lizards close-up. The food is not outstanding, being of the help yourself buffet style but the sights and wildlife more than make up for it! Daredevil children can go on the rickety and scarily high play park if they have been well-behaved during lunch. On one of our little post-prandial walks here we saw a family of Capybaras – the world’s largest rodent – a very impressive sight.  


Crocodile viewed from Lake Gamboa Restaurant.jpg



 Watch a Film in Spanish

Go to Multiplaza cinema and watch a cartoon dubbed into Spanish! We did this with Brave  – Valiente –  and Cars 2 and it was muy divertido – a lot of fun! It is amazing how much you can understand, even if you don’t catch everything that is being said.  Approximately $16 for a family of five – so, about a million times cheaper than the UK or US!  Films are often either dubbed(doblado) or subtiteled(subtitulado).  Sometimes take a break from travel with a movie is a great cap to a busy day in the hot sun.


 Monkey Island

This is a great trip to take your kids on when they are old enough to sit still in a small motor boat. 

The boat leaves from Gamboa jetty and scoots under the rickety railway bridge, still in use, built over 100 years ago for the Panama Canal. This takes you onto the canal proper – we got good and close to some impressively large ships – and past several islands, including one with a Kuna (an indigenous people of Panama) reservation, complete with palm leaf thatched roofs. 

We stopped near to several little islands including one where we saw a baby crocodile and another where we saw turtles sunbathing. I was a little disappointed in the tour we took, however, as we only had a glimpse of one Capuchin Monkey. The fault was on our side though, as we had gone on the midday tour. 

By noon the monkeys have had enough of tourists, and no longer go to see them. We later found out from a friend that during that morning’s tour the monkeys had all climbed onto her boat! So if you decide to do this, make sure and go early in the morning.


Boats moored at Lake Gamboa.jpg



 Rainforest Discovery Center

This is found at the end of an extremely bumpy road, past Gamboa, on the way to Pipeline Road. The wooden tree-house-style visitor’s center has hummingbird feeders which are always swarming with many different varieties of these busy little birds. Your children will have great fun watching them, and also examining their (dis-used) nests. A snack is included with your entrance fee – when you have eaten your chosen snack, you can go on a circular walk to the Lake Gamboa lookout point where crocodiles and even Harpy eagles can be spied, if you are lucky. You can also climb the slightly wobbly tower to get to the observation deck in the rainforest canopy where you can get a monkey’s eye view of toucans and many other exotic creatures (including monkeys!) if you can tolerate the wobbling.


 Central Fish Market

A great place on the "Cinta Costera" near Casco Viejo is the Central Fishmarket.  The "Mercado de Pescado" is a popluar working attraction.  Take the kids and show them the stacks of fish being sold in this busy market.  Since its a working market be sure to keep the kids close.  Have them try some ceviche while they name the fish that they see.  My boy couldn't stop pointing at all of the Red Sea Bass resting on ice infront of him.




Photographs and text, Jane Ellis


Jane is an expat living in Panama and a Freelance Writer.  Follow her adventures at


7. Watch a Film in Spanish
Go to Multiplaza cinema and watch a cartoon dubbed into Spanish! We did this with Brave  – Valiente –  and Cars 2 and it was muy divertido – a lot of fun! It is amazing how much you can understand, even if you don’t catch everything that is being said.  Approximately $16 for a family of five – so, about a million times cheaper than the UK

Exploring Panama with a Baby

Tips for traveling to Panama with a small Child

  • Supermarkets stock common brands of Diapers, Formula and Babyfood
  • Bring a rugged stroller or backpack carrier for hiking
  • Bring childrens insect repellent and sunscreen
  • Travel with plenty of water
  • Take your carseat.  They are not common in rental cars or taxi's
  • Pack a big hat and long sleevs to protect them from the sun
  • Be careful of street dogs.  Remind children that dogs loose on the street should not be approached


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Fish Market with Baby