Panama is not an overall kid-friendly destination, but then it isn't particularly unfriendly either. A large share of B&Bs, luxury resorts, and boutique hotels do not accept children under 10 to 12 years of age, and discounts for children are rare. Also, few hotels outside of destination resorts offer activities specifically tailored to kids and teens -- though it is easy to book day excursions like snorkeling, jungle treks, or rafting trips, all of which are kid pleasers. Conveniently, a wealth of kid-friendly activities can be found just outside of Panama City. If you have a few more days, add on a trip to the mountain highlands of Boquete, where you can white-water raft, ride a canopy zip line, and hike. Kids love swimming pools, so make sure your hotel has one. The following itinerary is best completed in 8 days, with an extra day in Bocas del Toro.
Day 1: Arrival in Panama City
Head to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, near the Panama Canal, a 45-minute to 1-hour drive from the Tocumen International Airport. Gamboa has a games center, tours, a butterfly farm, and an aerial tram. If you want to stay in Panama City, book your family at the Country Inn & Suites -- Panama Canal, an oceanfront hotel with bike path and pool located near the Amador Causeway.
Day 2: Jungle Cruises & the Canal Zone
Join an early-morning jungle cruise on Lake Gatún to visit "Monkey Island," and view other wildlife like crocodiles, capybaras, and sloths, and motor past huge tankers transiting the canal. Alternatively, ride a dugout canoe up the jungle-shrouded Chagres River to visit an Emberá indigenous community and get painted with jagua juice. At the Gamboa, take a bike ride to Pipeline Road in the afternoon, or visit the resort's serpentarium and butterfly exhibits, and take a ride on their aerial tram. In Panama City, pedal a bike ride along the Causeway and stop at the Punta Culebra Marine Exhibition Center.
Days 3 to 5: From Lowlands to Highlands
Visit the harpy eagle exhibition and see tapirs, ocelots, jaguars, and more at the Summit Gardens Park & Zoo. Afterward, stop at the Panama Canal's Miraflores Locks, tour the visitor center, and have an early lunch at their restaurant looking out over ships transiting the locks. After lunch, transfer to El Valle de Anton, 2 hours from the city, and stay at the Crater Valley Adventure Spa. Relax, bike ride, or let the hotel-activities staff teach your kids to ascend their climbing wall or obstacles course while you have a massage. The following day, book a ride on the Canopy Adventure for a thrilling zip-line ride through the forest. Later, families can organize an easygoing horseback ride, bike ride on country lanes, walk to a waterfall, or explore the amphibian exhibit and minizoo at El Nispero. Spend your last day wandering through the handicrafts fair for souvenirs and gifts to take home.
Day 6: Descent to the Beach
In the morning, transfer back to Panama City for an afternoon flight to the Pearl Islands from Albrook Airport. Settle into your hotel on Isla Contadora, or book an all-inclusive stay at the upscale Hacienda del Mar on Isla San José. On Contadora, kids get a kick out of renting an ATV or golf cart to zip around the island. Lodge at the Punta Galeón for its central location and swimming pool.
Days 7 & 8: Sun & Fun in the Pacific Ocean
Your first or second day, book an all-day tour to sail around the idyllic Pearl Islands for the outstanding snorkeling and fishing. Teens can join a day class to learn the basics of scuba diving. For young kids, book a ride in a glass-bottom boat to view the underwater world without getting wet. Spend the other day lounging on one of the island's dozen beaches, especially on the calm-water Playa Larga Beach, where families can buy a day pass for kids to use the hotel's kayaks, snorkeling gear, swimming pool, and other watersports equipment.
Day 9: Flight to Panama City
Depending on your departing flight home, leave early or in the afternoon to make your connection. Remember that Albrook Airport is 45 minutes to 1 hour from Tocumen, so plan accordingly.