Panama and Guatemala are two beautiful countries that are some of the top visited travel destinations in Central America, and for good reason. 

They each have breathtaking landscapes, delicious local cuisine, friendly locals, and an abundance of tourist activities. 

But there are key differences that set them apart. 

I have put together this guide to help you decide which place is worth it to travel to next. 

I’m going to cover the key differences in tourist activities, beaches, cuisine, cost, safety, and more to help plan your next trip.

By the end of this guide, you’ll feel confident on which place is better suited for you. 

Panama vs Guatemala

Ready to discover what Panama and Guatemala has to offer? Let’s dive in! 

Panama vs Guatemala

Panama At A Glance

Located in Central America, Panama is a country known for the iconic Panama canal, beautiful islands, cute cafes, and breathtaking landscape. The landscape includes everything from lush rainforests to tropical white sand beaches. 

panama canal
Panama Canal
(Image by: Alex Pagliuca)

While in Panama, you won’t want to miss visiting the Panama Canal, a narrow 82 km waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. 

In Panama City, there are museums, national parks, zoos, amusement parks, and the old historic district known as Casco Viejo, making it a great city to spend a few days in. 

Panama has a Caribbean coastline, so it has many impressive beaches.

Isla Grande, Panama
Isla Grande, Panama
(Image by: Karol Chomka)

Some of the most notable beaches are found at the Tabogas and San Blas Islands. These white sand beaches have turquoise blue, crystal clear waters, and are perfect for snorkeling.

Panama has many beautiful coastal towns with cute cafes, boutiques, and chic shops. With over 1000 islands, there’s no shortage of natural beauty to explore while in Panama.

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands
(Image by: Angel Silva)

The San Blas islands have some of the nicest beaches in Panama, and you can swim, snorkel, or even book a tour on a private yacht, to fully experience the island’s beauty. 

For those who love nature, the Metropolitan National Park in Panama city is worth a visit. At Metropolitan National Park, you can expect see beautiful toucan birds, sloths, monkeys. 

The Coiba National Park is another impressive park located on Panama’s pacific coast. It’s considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it consists of 38 islands, and over 1,042 square miles of coral reefs, beaches, and rainforests!

Coiba Islands, Panama
Coiba Islands, Panama
(Image by: Franz Schafer)

However, it’s a 7 hour drive from Panama City and you will need to obtain a permit with the help of a touring company. That said, it’s well worth a visit if snorkeling is high on your priority list.

The cuisine in Panama is flavorful and influenced by Spanish, Afro-Caribbean, and indigenous traditions. Some of their most popular dishes are sancocho (hearty chicken soup), arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), empanadas, and tamales. 

Enjoy traditional Panamanian cuisine in Casco Viejo, or get fine-dining seafood in one of Panama’s coastal towns. 

Casco Viejo in Panama City
(Image by: Kaja Reichardt)

Panama has a lively nightlife and there’s no shortage of trendy bars and nightclubs in Panama City. Casco Viejo has everything from rooftop bars to disco clubs, where you can enjoy the night out.  

Things To Do In Panama

From strolling through charming old cities to exploring lush rainforests, there’s no shortage of fun things to do in Panama.

The most popular areas to stay at in Panama are Panama City, Boquete, Bocas Del Toro, and the San Blas Islands.

Casco Viejo is the old spanish section of Panama, and it’s one of the best neighborhoods to stay while in Panama City. It has vibrant streets filled with old colonial buildings, art galleries, restaurants, cute cafes, and museums.

Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo, Panama
(Image by: Kaori Hirakata)

Casco Viejo is also a hotspot for nightlife, having some of the most popular bars and clubs in the city. 

Boquete, Panama is known for it’s volcano, excellent hiking trails, and outdoor adventures.

Panama is home to several national parks, including the Parque Nacional Soberania, Coiba National Park, Metropolitan National Park, and Parque Nacional Santa Fe. The dense rainforests in Panama’s national parks are home to sloths, snakes, monkeys, frogs, and diverse bird species. 

Known as the “Island of Flowers” The Taboga Islands are a must-visit destination if you want to spend time relaxing at the beach.

It’s just a 30-minute ferry from Panama City, and the islands are full of pristine white sand beaches. You can rent out water sports equipment, or book a boat tour to fully explore the islands. 

Playa Coronado is another excellent beach town that’s just an hour away from Panama city. It has surfing schools, handcraft markets, zoos, botanical gardens, and the Coronado Dry Forest where you can go hiking. 

Panama has many beautiful coastal beach towns, including Bocas del Toro and Portobelo.

Bocas Del Toro, Changuinola Panama
Bocas Del Toro, Panama
(Image by: Pablo García Saldaña)

Bocas del Toro is a a 2 hour drive from Panama City, and has beautiful beaches, chocolate farms, national parks, bat caves, and more. 

It’s home to the iconic Starfish Beach, a white sand beach inhabited by hundreds of starfish.

You can take a 40 minute bus ride from the center of Bocas town that costs $2.50 each way. It’s important to note that you can’t touch or try to move the starfish because it can harm them. 

Portobelo, on the other hand, is a 2 hour drive from Panama City. It’s home to historical forts, ancient ruins, national parks, and beaches perfect for snorkeling.

To visit Portobelo, can take a bus from Panama City to Portobelo for $4, or a taxi for $29 to $40. 

Another notable site in Panama is the San Blas Islands, which are a 4-hour drive from Panama City.

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands, Panama
(Image by: Alessa Ciraulo)

To get to the San Blas Islands, you can take a 4×4 jeep from Panama City to San Blas for $25 to $35 for one way.

The islands have the most beautiful beaches in Panama, and offer opportunities for snorkeling, swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, and more outdoor adventures.

The islands are the homeland of the Kuna Indians, one of the largest indigenous tribes in South America. You can grab a picnic table and relax on Isla Perro beach, snorkel, swim, and enjoy fresh seafood. 

If you prefer staying in Panama city, there are plenty of museums, shopping malls, national parks, and historical landmarks to explore in the capital city alone.

Here are some of the top attractions in Panama. 

  • Panama Canal
  • Casco Viejo (Historic District)
  • Metropolitan National Park
  • Parque Nacional Soberanía
  • Gatun Lake
  • Bocas del Toro
  • San Blas Islands
  • Gamboa rainforest
  • El Valle de Anton


Also located in Central America, Guatemala is a popular tourist destination due to its rich culture and striking landscapes.

The landscape consists of lush rainforests, magnificent volcanoes, and ancient Mayan ruins.

Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua, Guatemala
Image by: Alex Person

Whether you’re looking to hike through volcanoes or explore the charming city of San Marcos, Guatemala has something for you.

Although Guatemala doesn’t have as long of a Caribbean coastline as Panama, it has a variety of stunning black sand beaches. The locals in Guatemala are incredibly friendly and welcoming.

In San Juan, there is a lively atmosphere, and markets where you can pick up local produce or colorful handcrafted goods.

Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua, Guatemala
(Image by: Arturo Rivera)

There are also parks, cafes, art galleries, and great restaurants making it a great place to stay for a day. If you enjoy exploring nature, Guatemala’s the place for you.

Head to Lake Atitlan to see the deepest lake in Central America, that was formed as a result of a volcano eruption! You can hike through one of the many volcanoes in the surrounding areas, and get a scenic view of the lake. 

Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
(Image by: John Cameron)

If you plan on visiting Guatemala, Antigua is a must-visit city. Antigua is situated in the hills of southern Guatemala, and it’s home to the Tikal Ancient Mayan ruins, Pacaya volcano, the Santa Catalina Arch, and more.

Check out the best things to do in Antigua for a full list of activities.

It’s one of the most popular cities visited by tourists because of it’s impressive ruins, scenic volcanic views, and food-tasting tours. 

In addition to volcanoes, Guatemala is home to breathtaking lakes that are surrounded by lush rainforests.

Lake Peten Itza and Lake Izabal are the largest lakes in Guatemala that are definitely worth a visit. Regardless of where you choose to travel in Guatemala, you’ll be impressed by its natural beauty.

The cuisine in Guatemala is Mayan cuisine with Spanish influences. Staple ingredients are corn, beans, rice, tortillas, and popular dishes include soups and stews.

Pepian de pollo (chicken stew), tamales, pupusas, tostadas, and chiles rellenos are must-try dishes if you plan on visiting. 

Similar to Panama, Guatemala has a lively nightlife. Antigua and Guatemala city have everything from laid-back bars to energetic nightclubs where people go to salsa dance. 

Things To Do In Guatemala

From hiking active volcanoes, to shopping handcrafted goods at a lively colorful market, Guatemala has something to offer for everyone

In Guatemala city, there are cafes, museums, parks, zoos, lively markets, and plenty of delicious restaurants. 

Lake Atitlan is around 3 hours away from Guatemala city and it’s often considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It’s surrounded by volcanoes, and artsy towns like San Juan and San Marcos.

Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan
(Image by: Irene De Leon)

Take a boat tour to get scenic views of the mountains and explore Mayan villages to get a glimpse into the culture. You can rent out paddle boards, kayaks, or swim in the lake as well.

A place you won’t want to miss while in Guatemala is the city of Antigua. It’s a 2 hour drive away from Guatemala City, and Ubers, buses, and taxis are widely available.

Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua, Guatemala
(Image by: Rodrigo Escalante)

Litegua has a bus service daily that leaves at 2:30PM, and is $18 USD per person. The city has cobblestone streets, cafes, ancient ruins, museums, and historical landmarks so it’s the perfect place to explore for the day.

Antigua, Guatemala
Streets of Antigua, Guatemala
(Image by: Emil Diallo)

You can book a food-tasting tour, hike through the Pacaya volcano or visit the las Capuchinas ruins. 

Several volcano hiking tours are available in Antigua, including overnight tours. The overnight tour of the Acatenango volcano is a popular option, and it costs $89 per person.

This tour involves hiking the Acatenango volcano at sunset and getting the chance to overlook another active volcano when the suns down! 

Another popular tourist attraction is the Tikal National park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s home to magnificent Mayan ruins. The park has some of the most impressive ancient Mayan ruins so it’s well worth a visit.

Tikal Ruins
Tikal Ruins
(Image by: Reisetopia)

You can stay in the nearby city of Flores and get to the Tikal ruins in an hour drive. The park is open from 6AM to 5PM, and the admission is around $20 USD. 

From Flores, you can take an early 6am shuttle to cross the border into Belize City as part of a Guatemala and Belize itinerary. In Belize, you can visit the beautiful island of Caye Caulker by ferry to snorkel and relax for the day.

Top 7 Tourist Attractions in Guatemala:

  • Tikal National Park
  • Chichicastenango Market
  • Lake Peten Itza
  • Lake Atitlán
  • Antigua Guatemala
  • Volcán Pacaya
  • Chichicastenango Market
  • Quetzaltenango (Xela)
  • Semuc Champey
  • Monterrico
Panama vs Guatemala

Which destination is better?

Panama and Guatemala are two exceptional travel destinations that have breathtaking landscapes, rich cultures, and delectable cuisine. 

Panama is the best destination for you if you’re looking to visit the iconic Panama canal, stroll the historical district of Casco Viejo, explore beautiful islands, and snorkel in the beaches of Bocas del Toro. 

Guatemala is the best destination for you if you’d like to visit ancient Mayan ruins, hike active volcanoes, explore beautiful lakes, and shop handcrafted goods at colorful street markets.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Keep reading to learn the differences between Panama and Guatemala to help decide which is better to visit! 

Panama vs Guatemala


Guatemala is most known for its lakes, but it has plenty of good beaches. Monterrico is a beautiful black sand beach that has resorts, cafes, and restaurants along the beach.

Monterrico Beach, Guatemala
Monterrico Beach, Guatemala
(Image by: Gerardo De La Cruz)

It’s a 2 to 3 hour drive from either Guatemala City or Antigua.   

Here are some of the top beaches in Guatemala. 

  • Monterrico
  • Champerico
  • El Paredón
  • Sipacate
  • Puerto San José

With a Caribbean coastline, there’s no shortage of amazing beaches in Panama. You can enjoy serene white sand beaches at the San Blas and the Tabogas islands.

The beaches are ideal for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and other outdoor activities.

If you’re staying in Panama city, there are plenty of great beaches on the Pacific side as well. 

Playa Coronado is a popular serene black sand beach that’s only a 1 hour drive from Panama City. It has cafes, delicious restaurants, museums, national parks, and hotels so it’s a good place to stay for a day. 

These are where you’ll find the best beaches in Panama.

  • Tabogas Islands
  • San Blas Islands
  • Bocas Del Toro
  • Playa Coronado
  • Santa Catalina
  • Portobelo
  • Coiba Island
Playa Buff
Playa Buff, Bocas Del Toro
(Image by: Chema Photo)


The average temperature in Panama ranges from 76 F to 90 F, and the average temperature in Guatemala ranges from 70 F to 90 F.

The wet season in Panama runs from May to January, whereas the wet season in Guatemala runs from May to October. 


The official currency in Panama is the balboa, while the official currency in Guatemala is the Guatemalan quetzal.

However, the American dollar is widely accepted throughout Panama because the bilbao is fixed to the US dollar at a 1:1 ratio.

On the other hand, you should convert your dollars to Guatemala’s currency for the vast majority of purchases. The conversion rate of the USD to quetzal is: 1 USD = 7.87 Guatemalan Quetzal. 


The official language in both Panama and Guatemala is Spanish. However, 43% of Guatemalans speak English, while only 14% of the population in Panama speaks English.

There are also several indigenous languages spoken in both countries, with Guatemala having 22 different Mayan languages. 

Panama vs Guatemala


You won’t struggle finding delicious traditional food in Panama or Guatemala. 

Panamanian cuisine is flavorful and is influenced by African, Spanish, and Native American origins. 

Here are some of the most popular dishes in Panama.

  • Arroz con pollo: Chicken with rice
  • Guacho: Hearty meat and rice stew
  • Hojaldra: Fried bread
  • Platanos: Fried plantains
  • Almojábanas: Fried “S” shaped dough made of corn and cheese
  • Carimañola: Deep-fried yuca stuffed with meat.
  • Ropa Vieja: Shredded spiced beef 

Guatemalan cuisine is also flavorful and is influenced by Mayan, Spanish, and Caribbean origins. 

These are some of Guatemala’s most popular dishes. 

  • Tamales: Corn based dough filled with meat
  • Chiles Rellenos: Stuffed bell peppers.
  • Pupusas: Thick flatbreads stuffed with beans, cheese, or meat
  • Pepián: Thick and spicy meat stew.
  • Atol: Sweet corn drink
  • Kaq Ik: Spicy turkey stew
  • Hilachas: Shredded beef and potato stew
Panama vs Guatemala

Cost to Travel

Guatemala is generally cheaper to travel to than Panama. The average daily cost in Guatemala is $48 per person, while Panama is around $78 per person.

That said, the prices will vary depending on where you stay and the types of activities you choose. 

Panama vs Guatemala


Panama and Guatemala have lively nightlife scenes with plenty of bars and clubs to enjoy a night out.

Panama City has disco clubs, rooftop bars, wine restaurants, jazz cafes, karaoke bars, and more. The Panama Barcrawl in the historic city of Casco Viejo is one of the hottest spots for partying in Panama City.

Guatemala has many incredible spots for partying as well. Zona Viva in Guatemala City has some of the most popular bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.

Antigua has a wide range of popular bars, live music venues, and dance clubs as well. 

Panama vs Guatemala


Panama and Guatemala are generally very safe for travelers, but each place has good and bad areas.

According to the US Department of State’s Travel Advisory, you should avoid the San Marcos Department, Huehuetenango Department, and Zone 18 and the city of Villa Nueva in Guatemala due to crime.

In Panama, you should exercise caution in areas of the Mosquito Gulf and the Darién Region due to crime. That said, the majority of areas are very safe in Panama and Guatemala.

Always take precautions to protect yourself while traveling, such as being aware of your surroundings not walking alone at night, and reading about the cities you visit. 

Panama vs Guatemala

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Panama is between January and mid-April, during the dry season when you can enjoy plenty of sunshine.

On the other hand, the best time to visit Guatemala is from November to April during the dry season.

The cheapest time to visit Panama is in April to December, and the cheapest time to visit Guatemala is from May to June.

Also read:


How far away is Panama from Guatemala?

The distance from Antigua, Guatemala to Panama City, Panama is 1,901.1 kilometers. The drive from Panama to Guatemala is 30 hours on average with minimal traffic. 

How do you get from Panama to Guatemala?

The fastest way to get from Panama to Guatemala is by taking a plane, which takes 2 hours and 44 minutes.

Alternatively, you can take the Tica bus from Panama City to Guatemala City for $90 USD, and it will take 2 days. 

How long is a plane flight from Panama to Guatemala?

The plane flight from Panama to Guatemala is 2 hours and 44 minutes on average for a nonstop flight. 

How many miles is the Guatemala border from Panama?

The Guatemala border is 810.66 miles from Panama. 

What mountains go from Guatemala to Panama?

The Central American Cordillera is the largest mountain range that runs through Guatemala and Panama. 

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