When you think of Panama you may think of the striking skyline of Panama city and the associated tax evasion that goes with it. Or you may think of the huge container ships passing through the Panama Canal, in one of the greatest feats of human engineering in action. But Panama has a lot more to offer than just that.
The country is located in Central America and is home to vast tropical rainforests, beautiful beaches and amazing weather all year round. Averaging 81°F in January and similar in February.
Unsurprisingly, with a large number of US expats the country has a growing number of impressive golf courses to choose from. The list is still fairly limited and you will definitely not find a vast array of high-quality courses from the top course architects here. If you search around though there are some hidden gems and here is a few to get you started.
Where to play?
The Best Course: Club de Golf de Panama
The story goes that shortly after signing the armistice, a group of admirals and colonels were horseback riding when they joked an area they were passing would make an ideal golf course. Well that casual quip soon became a reality. The original 9 hole course was constructed in the 1920s with no bunkers (as they just used the features of the land) and a clubhouse made of all locally sourced materials which became something of a tourist attraction at the time. The original 9 hole course quickly had to expand to 18 holes to accommodate everyone that now wanted to play golf in Panama.
Unfortunately, the course had to move in the 1930’s as it was on rented land. The course then moved location to where it is now situated in 1977. The now much more modern complex covers a vast 124 hectare site approximately 30 minutes from Panama City.
It is a well presented and grand course that wouldn’t be out of place anywhere in the world. Dramatic elevation changes are evident throughout this course, which is dotted with picturesque water features and huge trees.
Expect dry fast fairways and greens and hot pounding heat making for a challenging round. You will truly feel like you are playing in the on the edge of the rainforest.
Green fees are around $125.
Most Memorable Course: Lucero Golf and Country Club
Earning the title of Panama’s highest golf club (at approximately 3500 feet above see level) is the Lucero Golf and Country Club.
Be warned this course is located about a 7 hour drive west of Panama City. But if you are planning a long holiday and potentially a ‘golf road trip’, then it is well worth calling in at Lucero.
Views around the course will include volcanos and the Pacific Ocean. And spectacular holes such as the infinity green on the 14th make for a memorable experience.
The course is not the most pristine and well kept in the world but it is nice enough and the greens play very well. I have included some hotel suggestions for the area below if you plan on venturing this far.
Green fees come in around $85
Bargain Round: Tucán Country Club & Resort
15 minutes outside of Panama is an area popular with ex-pats. And usually where you find American ex-pats you find a golf course, and Tucan is no exception. The course is situated so close to Panama city it is actually possible to see the canal on some of the holes.
Being down closer to sea level and not up in amongst the volcanos (like Lucero) makes for a much flatter course. But it is not without it’s challenges, with large undulating greens making for some tricky putts.
The course is a par 72 totaling 6618 yards. Midweek tee times can be as cheap as $35 making this very much a bargain round!
Where to fly to?
Tocumen airport is located just a short 20-minute drive from Panama City.
The cheapest flights from the USA are around $220 from Florida this winter. With flights available from most US cities for between $300 and $400 in January/ February.
To fly from the UK will cost around £500 from either London or Manchester with Iberia, if you are prepared for a quick stopover in Madrid.
Where to stay?
Budget: Hotel Siriri, Panama City
This hotel is located right in the heart of Panama city and is very highly rated for such a good location! You are just a 4-minute stroll from the famous Seafront Boulevard. A 10-minute walk from the bars of Uruguay Street and a 20-minute drive from Tocumen airport.
The hotel features a nice sun terrace, with the added bonus of a pool, a games room, and even a gym to help you relax after a day on the course.
Rooms aren’t spectacular but are basic and clean with air conditioning (a must in Panama!) and some nice city views.
The only downside is there are shared bathrooms but I guess you couldn’t have everything for this price.
A double room starts as low as $40 a night.Check it out!
Mid-Range: Ramada Plaza Panamá – Punta Pacífica
Another great location right in the city center, but slightly more expensive is the Ramada Plaza Panama. With it being a chain, you know what you are getting. It is very clean and well presented and rooms are air-conditioned with wi-fi, panoramic city views and all other mod-cons.
On top of that, you get an outdoor pool and spa, a gym and also a restaurant.
From here the Panama canal is about a 15-minute drive and the airport is about a 20-minute taxi away.
A double room is around $95 a nightCheck it out!
High End: Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis
At the top end, there are many glamorous hotel options, most built to house the traveling businessmen who demand nothing less! The 5 star Hard Rock Hotel has to be one of the best though.
The 66-storey high tower rises up over the Panama oceanfront and is fitted out top to bottom with the contemporary stylish decor. Rooms are spacious and clean.
The hotel has no less than 4 restaurants, 6 bars and a rooftop lounge with nightclub. So there isn’t really a reason to venture outside after your tiring day of golf. There is also a spa with sauna, steam baths and an infinity pool with panoramic city view so you can get the perfect selfie to make your friends jealous.
Rooms reflect this high-end quality starting around $170 a night.Check it out!
Where to stay for Lucero Golf Club
I would thoroughly recommend spending some time away from Panama City (as spectacular as it is!). Panama is an incredible country with spectacular scenery. Hire a car if you can and explore. Head to the west of the country towards the border with Costa Rica. Here you see the real Panama with the spectacular rainforests, cloud forest and volcanoes.
As mentioned above you can even find a great golf course in the west in the form of the Lucero Golf Club and there are many great hotel options within a short drive of the club. Here is a small selection to give you some ideas:
Budget: Hostal Casa Pedro Boquete
If you have blown all your money on golf-related activities or in the casinos of Panama City, then there are plenty of budget hotel options all over Panama.
Many of these ‘hostals’ are popular with younger travelers who opt for shared bathrooms and bunks, but many also offer rooms with double beds and private bathrooms but at a much cheaper price than many of the fancier hotels.
Located in the town of Boquete, about a 25-minute drive from Lucero Golf Club, Hostal Casa Pedro has stunning mountain views and beautifully manicured gardens. A 24-hour reception is a bonus if you are arriving at a strange hour after driving across the country.
The Baru Volcano National Park is a 10-minute drive away.
Double rooms with shared bathrooms start as low as $35.Check it out!
Mid-Range: Linda Vista Cabinas
At Linda Vista Cabinas you get your own quaint cabina located just outside the town of Boquete. Great if you, like me, like your own space to spread out all your clothes and golfing gear.
Each cabina is fitted with a small kitchen if you want to cook your own food which you can then eat on your own private terrace.
You are only a 30-minute drive from the city of David to the south, so if you want to find a more extensive selection of restaurants and bars then you can always venture there for the evening too.
Rooms start at around $70 for a double.Check it out!
High-End: Valle Escondido Resort and Golf Club
This one is a little bonus for you and for the ones of you who are here to play as much golf as possible! Yes that’s right you have the bonus of a golf course on site at the Valle Escondido Resort, so you haven’t neccesarily driven all this way just to play at Lucero.
Along with the golf course, you have a spa, heated pool and fitness center. The rooms are visually stunning with exposed rock walls, vaulted ceilings and large flat-screen satellite TVs.
The rooms come with a la carte breakfast included and there is a restaurant on site for evening meals too.
I do have to add that the golf is only a 9 hole course but it is better than nothing I guess.
Rooms are around $180 per night.Check it out!
What to do when you aren’t on the course?
You can’t go to Panama without stopping to see a site named as one of the modern wonders of the world. The Panama Canal is one of the greatest feats of human engineering ever completed. Creating a pathway between the Caribbean sea and the Pacific ocean. Prior to the building of the canal, huge ships would have to make the ridiculously long and often fatal voyage all the way around the southern tip of South America. This meant that a ship traveling from New York to San Fransisco would have had to travel around 14,000 miles, thanks to the canal it now takes just 6000. It is estimated that in total around 27,500 workers died building the canal so it’s worth a trip to see what all that fuss was about!
If you are lucky you may see a post-Panamax or super-Panamax vessel passing through. These ships are so large that they actually exceed the maximum size vessel that is supposed to use the canal. It takes around 8-10 hours for a ship to pass through the canal so don’t worry about missing it if you decide to pop to the toilet or cafe.
The canal is slightly outside of the city center but is only about a 20-minute drive or taxi away. It is also possible to take public transport but this will take about an hour involving the metro and the bus (take the metro line 1 to Estacion Albrook then take the bus from the bus station there to Miraflores).
Once you arrive entry is $15 per adult and includes access to the museum and lookout points. A little insider tip is to try and get there early (before 10am) for several reasons, firstly it will be cooler, secondly it won’t be as busy and thirdly more ships pass through earlier in the day.
Coiba Island National Park
If you are a nature lover like me then the Coiba Island National Park is a must on your trip to Panama. The island is situated to the south of Panama but is quite a distance from the capital so this is not just a day trip activity. To go by public transport it is approximately a 2.5 hour bus to Santiago then another bus to Soná then a third to Santa Catalina. Or you can drive there if that all sounds too much. Boat tours then leave from Santa Catalina each day.
That may sound like a difficult trip, but it is that difficulty that separates this park from many others across central America. It makes for a more peaceful habitat where you are much more likely to see lots of animals. Snorkelling or diving (if you are feeling more adventurous) is also highly recommended as you will be surrounded by thousands of beautiful fish, turtle and sharks.