Luis Henriquez opened the scoring for the host in just the 16th minute, when he gathered the ball in the Costa Rican area and slammed a shot along the ground past Costa Rican goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton.
Eleven minutes later, the Panamanians doubled their lead through defender Roman Torres.
Five minutes ahead of the halftime break the tide began to turn. Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborio, who scored the last time these two teams met in a World Cup qualifier more than seven years ago, cut into the Canalero lead with strike that would ultimately prove vital to the visitors' chances of salvaging something from the night.
That set the stage for a hard-fought second half in which the Panamanians failed to take advantage of multiple chances and were stymied on various other occasions by the active Pemberton.
In the 86th minute, Bryan Ruiz finally provided the night's defining moment with a piece of individual skill. The Fulham attacker carefully measured a weighted pass and produced a spectacular bicycle kick that Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo could only watch bounce off his post and into the net.
The draw left both teams with one point after the first match day of the final round of CONCACAF qualifying. Costa Rica and Panama will both take to the road for the next round of matches against Jamaica and the United States, respectively.
Notes: The Ticos extended their unbeaten streak to nine games in all competitions, while Panama hasn't lost in its last six overall.