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Ask Getaway: Plan Your Trip to Panama City, Florida
Florida is easily one of the most popular tourist spots in the United States, especially thanks to big-name destinations like Orlando, Miami, West Palm Beach and Fort Myers . We’ve already mentioned that Pine Island is a must-try getaway , but Panama City is another spot to add to that growing list.
While Panama City, Florida is a prime location for spring breakers, the city still offers a lot for other types of vacationers, too. Located right on the water, this Sunshine State must-see is known for its lazy beach days, great shopping spots, fun nightlife and delicious food scene. So, whether you’re looking for a refreshing long weekend getaway or an extended family vacation, Panama City has something for everyone.
Where Is Panama City and How Do You Get There?
Located in northwest Florida, Panama City is on the state’s “Panhandle”, approximately 100 miles west of Tallahassee, Florida’s capital. Since it’s a beach resort-filled area, Panama City is most popular during spring break and throughout the summer months. Each year, it welcomes about 4.5 million visitors , making tourism a huge component of the city’s economy.
If you’re flying into Panama City, the closest airport is the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. Depending on how far away you live from the Sunshine State, you can also take a road trip — and it might be worth the gas prices. At some point, you’ll turn onto Highway 98, which is known as Panama City Beach Parkway, and runs right along the city’s famous shoreline.
With tons of beachfront properties — and even some all-inclusive resorts — to choose from, you really can’t go wrong when it comes to lodging. Some of the most popular hotels in the area include the Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort, Carillon Beach Resort Inn and Calypso Resort & Towers.
Beach Days and Water Activities Are King
Home of the popular Panama City Beach, this Florida hotspot boasts 27 miles of white-sand beaches. As you might imagine, millions of vacationers travel to the waterfront each year to swim in the water and bask in the sun. But that’s not all that’s on offer. From competitive beach volleyball games to kids building sand castles to springtime college parties, there’s always something going on.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are plenty of exciting water activities to enjoy. This prime beach destination is also known for its diving and snorkeling experiences, but there are also opportunities to jet ski, paddle board and parasail. You can even book an excursion to the nearby Gulf of Mexico to swim with dolphins or collect sand dollars. Plus, seasoned fishermen can enjoy fishing on the various piers or off of rental boats.
The Nightlife Is Another Highlight
Panama City has a pretty infamous nightlife scene, making it attractive to college students and other young adults who venture to Florida for spring break. If you’re looking to dance and enjoy some good drinks, there are plenty of places to try. Some highlights include Patches Pub and Grill, Schooners Last Local Beach Club, Runaway Island Beach Bar and Grill, and, finally, Dat Cajun Place Cafe. Another fun fact? The city even has bars on the beach, which are perfect for getting late-night drinks and snacks.
You’ll also find some incredible music venues that feature predominantly local bands. Feeling brave? Some clubs and bars offer karaoke nights; both Ms. Newby’s and Newby’s Too are great places for a taste of Panama City’s karaoke and live music scenes. Of course, there are also clubs with DJs, so, if you’re stepping out for a night or two, be sure to wear your dancing shoes.
Does Panama City Have a Boardwalk?
Looking for a boardwalk area in Panama City? A walk around Pier Park is a must. It’s also the premier shopping and entertainment spot for those looking to spend some cash and come home with some fun souvenirs. This outdoor shopping district is located within walking distance of Panama City Beach and houses over 120 stores, including Target, JCPenney and Dillard’s.
Pier Park also offers excellent dining and entertainment options, including its Grand IMAX theater and Dave & Buster’s. You’ll also find all the tourist town usuals, like a Margaritaville, Longhorn Steakhouse, Starbucks, Auntie Anne’s and the Osaka Japanese Hibachi Steakhouse and Sushi Bar. The shopping district is so popular, in fact, that it’s been expanded to two other locations — the nearby Pier Park North and Pier Park West.
Is Panama City Better than Destin, Florida?
Destin, Florida, is a little over an hour away from Panama City. Famous for its white-sand beaches, Destin attracts flocks of tourists, too. Because Panama City and Destin are so close to one another, folks often compare them. So, which is the better vacation spot? It all boils down to what you’re looking for in a trip to the Sunshine State.
Both areas offer nice beaches, but tourists say that Destin is more upscale with better shopping and restaurants . Not to mention, Destin might be a better spot for an adults-only vacation as Panama City has more to offer kids, teens and college-age travelers.
On the other hand, there’s just more to do in Panama City. With amusement parks and water activities galore, it’s a better fit for both families and the more adventurous vacationer who doesn’t want to spend all their time on the beach. It might also be a bit easier on your wallet. Still, the cities are so close together that experiencing the best of both worlds on a single trip is a definite possibility.
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Shopping cart items, an inspiring handoff in hokkaido to announce panama will host atws 2024.
The next Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) will be held in Panama City, Panama, 7-10 October 2024. Gabi Stowell, Vice President of Regional Development for ATTA, made the official announcement after the closing plenary at this year’s Summit in Hokkaido, Japan.
In front of a packed audience, representatives from Japan and Panama joined together onstage for the ceremonial handoff from one country to another. Despite early murmurings from delegates – which included both correct and incorrect speculation about the next host destination – the formal announcement at the end of each year’s event has become a beloved Summit tradition, marked by an exchange of gifts between countries.
This year, the gifts chosen by each delegation felt particularly meaningful and symbolic as a sign that the values and priorities of the adventure travel community are continuing in the right direction. Both gifts were handcrafted by Indigenous artisans from each country – a nod to cultural heritage that has survived.
Representatives from Japan gave a hand-carved owl made by an Ainu craftsman which was accepted by Denise Guillén Zúñiga, Panama’s Minister of Tourism . Summit emcee Kensuke Takada shared context with the audience, “This hand-carved wooden owl is the highest ranked god, and is the protector of the village,” he said. “This is a gift for Panama, to harmonize from Lake Akan to Panama.”
In exchange, representatives from Panama offered a gift of handwoven baskets made by Emberá artisans in addition to the country’s famous Geisha coffee. Known for its prize-winning status and delicate flavor, Geisha coffee is also notorious for being extremely difficult to grow. Farming, carving, and weaving by hand – all three are all labors of love. There’s something to be said for intentionally doing things the hard way, and the gifts were a reminder of this.
At a time when homogenization and mass-production threaten just about everything, celebrating and protecting a country’s cultural heritage and natural resources requires effort, humility, and commitment. Panama has been a stellar example of what a destination can do right when this ethos is applied to tourism.
In recent years, Panama’s tourism industry has put notable effort into developing a strategy that focuses on sustainable adventure travel, with key initiatives aimed at partnering with local communities. The model was created to protect the country’s natural beauty, diverse cultures, and rural communities. A few examples from recent years stand out.
Led by the Panamanian Tourism Authority (ATP), the project "Mil Kilómetros de Senderos" (One Thousand Kilometers of Trails) aims to develop and improve more than 1,000 kilometers of land and water trails across Panama by the year 2030. The goal of this initiative is to connect travelers with the country's extraordinary biodiversity and cultural heritage while partnering with local communities to host unique experiences. The first phase, Ruta de la Caldera , was inaugurated earlier this year.
The country also has a vision for supporting small companies and projects that are challenging the status quo of mass tourism and innovating for a more sustainable future. In May 2023, ATTA CEO Shannon Stowell served as a judge for the Innovative Community Tourism Experiences Contest . The event was organized in partnership with the Panama Tourism Authority, Panama por Naturaleza, and the UN World Tourism Organization. The top five winners received support and funding for their projects from the Panamanian government, UNWTO, and the ATTA.
To create a broad support network and infrastructure for community tourism startups, the government of Panama partnered with the Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism (APTSO), Fundación Natura, and Planeterra to establish the Panama Alliance for Community Tourism ( PACT ). One result of this initiative is SOSTUR , a website for travelers to directly book experiences with participating communities. The platform and project were recently included in Conde Nast Traveler’s roundup of “ Bright Ideas in Travel 2023 .”
While Panama’s efforts and initiatives have been recognized on a global scale, the country’s partnership with the ATTA has been growing and flourishing as well. With about 50 members at the time of this writing, ATTA's relationship with Panama has included an AdventureEDU research partnership, an AdventureWeek in 2018, and AdventureNEXT Latin America, which took place in Panama City in 2022. Having the next Adventure Travel World Summit in Panama is the culmination of years of working together and collaborating on a shared vision with the community on the ground.
“Since 2017, ATTA has been working with partners in Panama to increase community-based travel in the country,” explained Gabi Stowell, ATTA’s Vice President of Regional Development. “Along the way I learned so much about this amazing destination and discovered that Panama is truly a gem, filled with diverse culture and biodiversity, and endless adventure. In 2024, the ATTA community will gather for the first time in Central America, and I can’t wait for the world to see and experience all the things that made me fall in love with Panama.”
Denise Guillén Zúñiga, Panama’s Minister of Tourism, shared Stowell’s enthusiasm. “ Since we have been honored to be chosen as the host country for the next Adventure Travel World Summit, we are delighted to extend a special invitation, especially to our esteemed friends from Asia,” Zúñiga said. “Panama has so much to explore, with hidden treasures waiting to be discovered and enjoyed! We have been curating this event to welcome intrepid travelers from over 60 countries across the globe, and we eagerly anticipate your arrival in 2024!”
The biggest event of the year for the adventure travel industry, the Adventure Travel World Summit brings together hundreds of industry professionals from around the world for four days of educational programming and workshops, a marketplace, lauded keynote speakers, ample time for one-on-one networking, and of course, opportunities to experience the many adventures the host destination has to offer.
To register and receive updates about the Adventure Travel World Summit 2024 Panama, visit the event homepage .
Ivan is an entrepreneur with experience in the development of projects focusing on Panamanian culture and sustainability. He is also the creator and manager of enterprises that seek to awaken young people interested in Panamanian customs. Ivan specifically focuses on teamwork, inspiring leadership and strengthening community support. Before the age of thirty, Ivan founded and managed the Cubitá Project; a hotel, residential and commercial real estate complex. Its design was inspired by the architecture and traditions of the Azuero region which portrays rich Panamanian history. It is the most important project in the area and has its own private museum. Ivan is the founder and leader of several organizations, chambers and associations of private companies. An avid volunteer, he engages in regional organizations with a focus on sustainable development, community projects and the dedicated practice of practical philosophy and history. Summa Cum Laude, Bentley College, Massachusetts, Bachelor of Finance.
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H.e. iván eskildsen, minister of tourism, panama.
H.E. Iván Eskildsen, Minister of Tourism for Panama tells Tanya Beckett how his country is building back better and has sustainability and the environment at its core. But what role are local communities playing in the drive for sustainability in the tourism industry?
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Denise Guillén Zúñiga, new General Administrator of the Panama Tourism Authority
Laurentino cortizo cohen, president of the republic of panama, has appointed denise guillén zúñiga as the new general administrator of the panama tourism authority ( atp ), succeeding ivan eskildsen..
Denise Guillén Zúñiga (Credit: ATP)
A specialist in tourism planning, Denise Guillén Zúñiga is a legal and financial professional. She played a key role in the development of Panama’s Master Plan for Coastal Tourism Development and helped update the Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism 2020-2025, which we discussed in our exclusive interview with Ivan Eskildsen in 2022 .
Prior to her appointment, she served as Deputy Administrator General of ATP since 2019 and as Director of Investments at ATP from 1994 to 1999. She was also a member of the Presidential Commission for Capture and Incentives for Cruise Lines.
Magda Durán, who has a post-doctorate in Government and Tourism, has been appointed Deputy Administrator of ATP. Previously, she held the position of General Secretary within the entity.
Sara Sánchez Sáez, who has a degree in Law and Political Science, has been appointed General Secretary of ATP. She previously held a number of positions at the Panamanian Institute of Tourism (IPAT).
These appointments signal a new phase in the development of tourism in Panama , which has recorded the highest figures in its history since the beginning of the year.
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Iván X. Eskildsen
Minister Iván X. Eskildsen is a Panamanian entrepreneur with experience in the development of projects that focus on Panamanian traditions, customs, and sustainability. Along with these projects, he has created and managed ventures that seek to interest today’s youth in Panama’s customs, especially those that strengthen community support, teamwork and create conscious change. Before the age of 30, he founded and managed the Cubitá Project, a hotel, residential and commercial real estate complex, inspired by the architecture and traditions of the Azuero region. The complex is one of the most important developments in the area and features cultural elements along with its own private museum. An avid volunteer engaged in regional organizations focused on sustainable development and community projects, Minister Iván has dedicated numerous years to the study of practical philosophy and history, and holds a Summa Cum Laude from Bentley College, Boston, with a bachelor’s in finance. Minister Iván is also a member and leader in different agencies, chambers, and associations of private enterprise.