This is a mountain town and its economic activity centers on one of China's largest iron ore mines, which also gives vanadium and titanium, and on steel making. It is a relatively prosperous city and has many migrants from nearby areas, mainly come to seek work.
It is also moderately popular as a tourist destination, mainly for domestic Chinese tourism. The region's attractions include mountains, caves, lakes and canyons.
The land transport in the area runs mainly north-south, along the valleys; the few east-west routes are through mountain passes.
National Highway G5 runs through the area; the town is on a provincial highway a few km off it. G5 is one route between central Sichuan and Yunnan though highway G85, parallel to G5 and further east, provides a more direct Chengdu-Kunming route.
The town also has an airport and a railway station.
Panzhihua can be used as a link when traveling between Chengdu and Lijiang. As an alternative to the 24-hour bus between the cities, one can take the train from Chengdu and transfer to an 8-hour bus in Panzhihua. The train station is at the east end of town, about 25km from the bus station. Bus #64 runs between the two, costs ¥4, and takes about 90 minutes. Taxis are plentiful and much quicker, but will cost over ¥50. Stepping off from a train, you will be swamped by taxi drivers offering rides. The city bus stop is slightly to the left of the train station exit.