Large City, Large Nature Areas
Despite a metro area of 1.4 million people, there are places where you can escape the noise and go hiking in Panama City. These spots are friendly for the budget traveler with excellent views of the surrounding area.
This patch of jungle in the heart of Panama City contains the highest point in the metro area at 199 meters (654 feet) and provides a variety of excellent viewpoints. The best time to go is in the morning as early as you can in order to see more wildlife and avoid the heat and humidity later in the day. Depending on the day, you could anything from toucans, monkeys, tapirs, or vultures when hiking to the top. The cost to enter to Ancon Hill is FREE. It is accessible every day from 6am-6pm.
Option 1: Taxi/Uber to Reserva Cerro Ancon
The quickest way to get there is to hail a Taxi or Uber for a reasonable rate. It will cost around $3 from Casco Viejo or around $4 from Marbella & Obarrio. They can drop you off by the sets of stairs and from there it’s a 20-25 minute hike to the top. There’s a chance the driver will wait for you or even walk to the top with you.
Option 2: Metro to Cinco de Mayo + Taxi/Uber
Depending on where you are located, a more budget friendly option is to take a subway, bus or minivan to Cinco de Mayo Station. Public transportation is super cheap in Panama City so this will only set you back 25 cents (35 cents if you take the underground metro). From there you can easily hail a taxi or uber to the stairs entrance for around $1.
Option 3: Metro to Cinco de Mayo + Walk
For those with a tight budget, follow the same instructions as Option 2. However, instead of taking a taxi/uber, you can walk 30-35 minutes from Cinco de Mayo Station up to the entrance.
SMOOTH HIKE TO THE TOP
Ancon Hill isn’t as difficult of a hike as it may appear from the distance. The road to the top is well-maintained though of course only government vehicles are allowed to drive on it. You might see one or two vehicles coming up or down and they will be sure to let you know they’re coming! There should also be a guard ready to greet you as you approach the top of the hill.
It’s important to always keep your eyes peeled for wildlife to avoid missing something in the bushes or the trees. Considering the location, I was surprised at how much wildlife I saw walking up and down Ancon Hill. The highlights were spotting vultures and a couple of tapirs although I had talked to people at the hostel who managed to spot toucans lounging in the trees. The top of Ancon Hill (199 meters/653 feet) is very rewarding and provides a variety of interesting viewpoints. Around the peak, you can watch planes land at Albrook Airport, observe the ships passing through the Panama Canal and gaze at the myriad of skyscrapers standing tall in the downtown area.
METROPOLITAN NATURAL PARK
Finding a protected jungle in the heart of a big city is very rare, which is why Metropolitan Natural Park is worth a visit if you have some extra time in Panama City. As with Ancon Hill, it is best to arrive there early in the morning to give yourself a better opportunity to see wildlife and avoid the scorching hot Panama City weather. There is a $4 entrance fee to the natural park in which every visitor receives a green wristband. The park visitors center is open every day from 8am-6pm.
Option 1: Taxi/Uber to Centro de Visitantes del Parque Natural Metropolitano
Hailing a ride to the park should cost $2-$4 depending on where you are in Panama City. Make sure the driver drops you off in front of the Metropolitan Natural Park Visitor Center.
Option 2: Metro to Albrook + Walk
The cheapest option to get there is taking the bus/subway to Albrook (25/35 cents) and follow the directions below:
1. Make your way to the north end of Albrook closed to El Trapiche restaurant.
2. Begin walking east towards the University of Panama.
3. Once you read the end of the road, turn and walk north for a few minutes until you get to the PUMA gas station.
4. Cross the road in front of the gas station and follow the road merging right (Avenida Juan Pablo II) and the visitors center will be on your left.
RAINFOREST OASIS IN PANAMA CITY
Escaping the constant traffic noise in Panama City is a hard thing to do but you will encounter some of the city’s quietest spots when exploring the trails of Metropolitan National Park. The rangers at the visitors center were helpful in pointing out where to go. There is an option to pay a guide but I decided not to do this and hiked the trails on my own.
Imagine standing still for a moment just hearing the sounds of birds, geckos and other critters scattered throughout the rainforest. There were some parts of the trails where it was hard to completely drown out the noise, but as you make your way north, the buzz of traffic disappears. Despite this area being much quieter than Ancon Hill, you won’t have as much luck in seeing wildlife. Although the turtles swimming in the small pond near the visitors center is a highlight worth checking out.
The highest point in the park, Cerro Cedro (Cedar’s Hill) at 150 meters (492 feet), is easy to reach and provides different viewpoints than what you will see at Ancon Hill, including a nice view of the US Embassy. However, the top of Cedar’s Hill is surrounded by a thicker rainforest ecosystem. Therefore many visitors to Panama City prefer the view from Ancon Hill over Cedar’s Hill.
SHOULD YOU HIKE BOTH?
If you have more than two days in Panama City, the answer is yes. Both hikes in Panama City are family-friendly and relatively easy to access. However, if you are spending two days or less in Panama City, Ancon Hill is your best bet if you are on limited time and looking for the best view of Panama City. Check out my YouTube channel for more information and to get a better idea of what to expect on the hikes.
**BONUS** If you love wildlife, another great day trip from Panama City is a boat trip to Monkey Island! Melissa from The Family Voyage has an excellent blog post about this adventure into this section of the Panamanian jungle!
If you would like to read more, check out the links below.