Panama : Definitive Travel Guide

In this article, you will learn everything about PanamaYou will discover all the best places to stay in Panama, things to do, where to eat, how to get around and moreSo if you plan to travel to Panama, you will love this new guide.Let’s dive in
panama travel guide

Table of Contents

Panama Travel Guide

Communication

  • To make calls to Panama
  • To a landline phone: 00 + 507 + seven digits of the phone
  • To cell phone: 00 + 507 + eight digits of the phone

For general information about Panama you can consult the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Panama (https://mire.gob.pa/index.php/es/)

For tourist information on Panama, consult the official website of the Government of Panama.

(http://visitpanama.com/)

Local currency

The legal tender in Panama is the Panamanian Balboa ( ฿, PAB) and the US Dollar ( $, USD).

The exchange rate between both currencies is 1 balboa = 1 dollar.

However, the US dollar is the official currency of circulation in the country.

Throughout the country there are ATMs that accept different types of cards; the most widely accepted are American Express, Visa, Diners and Mastercard.

For more recommendations, see the money section of this guide.

The exchange rate between the Panamanian Balboa and the US Dollar is 1=1.

 

Visa

Northen America, Europe and Aussie people do NOT need a visa to travel for tourism and/or business purposes.

Upon entering the country, the immigration view seals the passport which must have a minimum validity of six months.

At the port of entry, the Panamanian immigration authority may ask for proof that you have the economic resources for your stay; the minimum amount to be proved is 500 US dollars in cash.

You can consult the complete list of entry requirements, types of visas and fees, at the Tourism Authority website.

(http://www.atp.gob.pa/requisitos-de-entrada-panamá)

*** remember: It is the exclusive power of the Panamanian authorities to grant or deny a visa to enter their territory.

 

Requirements to enter

Passport valid for at least six months at the time of entry and until the date your trip ends.

Evidence of accommodation during your stay.

Family, work or financial ties in the place of origin that will demonstrate your intention to return to your country of origin.

The Panamanian immigration authority may ask you at the port of entry to prove that you have the economic resources for your stay (the minimum amount to be proven is US$500 in cash).

For more information, contact the Panamanian Embassy in Mexico.

You can also refer to the website of the Panama Tourism Authority.

 

Enrance of Vehicles

The driver must apply to the Customs for a Vehicle Entry Permit, which allows the temporary entry of vehicles of foreign origin into the Republic of Panama.

The requirements are:

  • Original and copy of the Vehicle Insurance in force in Panama.
  • Original and copy of passport of the main and auxiliary driver.
  • Original and copy of the title of ownership of the vehicle, issued by the country of origin.
  • Original and copy of notarized authorization of the legal representative, in case the owner of the vehicle is a company or the driver is not the owner of the vehicle 

To learn more about the entry of vehicles to Panama

Remember: The Panamanian authorities have the exclusive power to grant or deny entry to a foreign person to its territory, even if he/she has a visa.

If you enter with more than $10,000 USD or its equivalent in other currencies, you must report it to the immigration authorities upon arrival or departure.

Visitors can import up to 500 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 500 grams of tobacco as well as three bottles of alcohol.

If you have a doctor’s prescription, it is possible to import medicine into Panama for a period of up to 90 days.

The entry of firearms, tear gas and pepper spray is prohibited.

Foodstuffs derived from animals, flowers, fruits and vegetables may only be imported with a certificate issued by the Department of Agriculture of the country of origin.

For more information, you can refer to the website of the National Customs Authority of Panama (http://www.panamatramita.gob.pa/institucion/autoridad-nacional-de-aduanas)

In case of exceeding the 6 months of permitted stay in Panama, a fine of $50 will be applied.

 

Safety and Welfare

  • Emergencies in Panama (National Police): 104
  • Ambulance: 911
  • Firemen: 103

No specific vaccinations are required for the entry of tourists.

However, it is recommended that you check in advance with the health authority (http://www.minsa.gob.pa/) for updated official information.

Tourists are not entitled to free medical care; you must have travel insurance or medical expense insurance with coverage abroad before leaving Mexico.

Always carry your insurance identification card and emergency phone numbers with you.

 

Yellow Fever

The World Health Organization launched an initiative against Yellow Fever in January 2016 to prevent its spread.

The Yellow Fever virus is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes.

Initial symptoms include fever, chills, headache, back pain, general body aches, nausea and vomiting, fatigue and weakness.

In severe cases, the person may develop high fever, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), bleeding, and eventually shock and multiorgan failure.

 

Recommendations

Vaccination is recommended for all persons older than 9 months who live in or plan to travel to countries where yellow fever is present.

Wear clothing that protects exposed areas of the body such as arms and legs and use repellent.

People who should not be vaccinated are

children under 9 months (or children 6-9 months during epidemics, where the risk of disease is greater than the risk of adverse effects from the vaccine);

pregnant women, except during outbreaks of yellow fever, when the risk of infection is high

persons with severe allergy to egg proteins, and

people with severe thymic disorders or immunodeficiencies due to symptomatic infection by HIV/AIDS or other causes.

Travelers, particularly from Africa or Latin America, should have a certificate of vaccination against Yellow Fever.

The International Health Regulations stipulate that medical reasons for not administering the vaccine must be certified by the competent authorities.

Updated January 2019.

 

Dengue Fever Outbreak

The World Health Organization currently considers dengue fever a global health problem.

The actual number of dengue cases is underreported and many cases are misclassified.

According to a recent estimate, there are 390 million dengue infections each year, 96 million of which are clinically manifest.

Because this destination is within the countries where the dengue outbreak has been detected we inform you of the following:

Recommendations

  • Apply a small amount of insect repellent to exposed skin.
  • An effective repellent contains 20% to 30% DEET.
  • Spray your clothing with repellents containing “permethrin” or “DEET” since mosquitoes can bite through fine cloth clothing.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever you are outdoors.
  • Use mosquito nets on your beds if your room does not have air conditioning or wire mesh.
  • For additional protection, spray the net with an insecticide containing permethrin.
  • Spray permethrin or a similar insecticide in your room before you go to sleep.
  • When using an insecticide or insect repellent, be sure to read and follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • It is recommended that all international travelers be properly vaccinated 10 days prior to arrival in the risk area.

 

Laws and Customs

Drug trafficking and transfer is a serious crime punishable by 80 to 100 months in prison without bail.

Driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs can result in your arrest and imprisonment, depending on where you are.

It is recommended that you always carry your passport with you, as Panamanian authorities may charge a fine of up to US$10 to tourists who do not carry this document in case of a search.

Visitors who wish to drive a rented car can do so by presenting their valid driver’s license or an international driver’s license.

Seat belts are mandatory when traveling by car.

 

Other

Panamanian authorities offer travel insurance in case of a medical emergency during the first 30 days of your stay in the country with coverage of up to $20,000 for accidental death, hospitalization and medical expenses for injuries.

To make use of this insurance you must present your passport and entry stamp at the health center.

Don’t forget to notify your credit institution and/or bank account executive that you will be traveling to Panama, so that they can inform you of the procedures in case of theft or loss, or problems you might face when withdrawing money with your cards abroad.

For more advice by subject and/or type of traveler, visit the recommendations section of this guide.

Five must-sees in Panama’s five centuries of history

If you hear the name of Panama you will most likely think of the Panama Canal or hats.

Taking into account that the latter are actually Ecuadorian and that they are called so because they became famous precisely because they were worn by the workers who built the Canal, it is very likely that you realize that you do not know much about this country or the main places to visit in Panama.

Tourism in this country? Yes, and in capital letters because it is a real paradise with a thousand interesting places to discover.

Furthermore, this year the capital of the country that is the point of union between Central and South America, Panama City, is celebrating an anniversary because it’s celebrating five centuries, so we’ve prepared a complete guide of the most important places to visit in Panama so that you can discover everything you can’t miss on a vacation in the country.

Keep reading!

It was in 1519 when what is now Panama City was born.

500 years since Pedro Arias Davila founded the city near a ranch that used to be called Panama, with barely 100 inhabitants, so he called it Our Lady of the Assumption of Panama.

Although it was not until two years later that it received the title of city and the coat of arms.

Today, it is one of the most important cities in the Americas and has great importance as a center of trade, finance and banking.

What to do in Panama? Sightseeing and interesting places can be found throughout the country.

Keep reading, because we are going to tell you about the essential places to see in Panama and it is very possible that when you finish this post you will start looking for information about traveling to Panama as the perfect destination to go on vacation in 2019.

Panama City, tourism by places full of charm in the capital, the great essential of the places to visit in Panama

What to do in Panama City? A unique capital full of contrasts, it offers multiple and diverse options for leisure and tourism as it is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Central America, with impressive skyscrapers, but without losing both its colonial essence and the original character of the city, before the inauguration of the Canal.

That’s why it’s a travel destination that’s beginning to catch on because of the great attractions Panama City has to offer.

Unique tourism in an amazing capital city is what this place that is yet to be discovered for grand tourism offers you.

What are the most recommended tourist attractions in Panama City? Keep reading!

Taking advantage of the 500th anniversary of Panama (city), we propose a route through its old town, whose streets, places and mythical sites full of history together make up one of the best places to visit in Panama.

Tourist sites and spaces full of charm restored and tuned for this important anniversary, which well deserve a good time to your visit.

As soon as you start walking, you will realize why it is undoubtedly one of the must-see places to visit in Panama.

Don’t miss a quiet walk through its narrow streets contemplating the large houses that make it up.

Although there is still an older city: Panama la Vieja.

That’s where the capital was from its founding in 1519 until 1671, when it moved to its current location after being destroyed by a pirate attack.

The ruins, about 10 kilometers from the former capital of Panama, are a stunning reminder of the disasters of the time.

Places to visit in Panama: tourism in the Panama Canal

Panama City, the country’s capital, is a must on your trip

The Panama Canal: there are many tourist attractions in the country but this is the masterpiece of Panamanian engineering and will surprise you

Among Panama’s tourist attractions, perhaps one of the most exciting is its famous canal.

Contemplating this impressive work of engineering is almost a must on your trips to Panama.

This 82 kilometer long waterway joins the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Ocean (Gulf of Panama) and admits visitors.

How to get to the Panama Canal? You can visit it in two ways; from a visitor’s center or from the water itself.

The first option is to decide on one of the two visitor centers, where you can get information on various aspects of the construction of the Panama Canal: the one above the Miraflores Locks or the Agua Clara Locks.

The other option consists of hiring a day cruise that allows you to travel through the Canal, from one ocean to another, without missing the steps through the locks or the artificial lake of Gatun.

Whatever option you decide on, you can’t miss one of the most symbolic tourist sites in Panama!

Boquete, don’t miss the mountain in your trips to Panama: undiscovered tourist sites, adventure tourism and many emotions

Considered by the American Association of Retired Persons as one of the best places to retire, Boquete also offers adventure tourism for all tastes, especially rafting and hiking.

It is truly a must for trips to Panama.

Home to the quetzal and countless coffee plantations, here you can see almost every shade of green Pantone picks up.

There are numerous hiking trails, you can climb the Baru volcano, raft down the rapids of the Chiriqui Viejo river or contemplate the many birds that live in this paradise area of Panama.

All this, before tasting one of the best coffees in Central America.

There is no doubt that you are in front of one of the most essential places to visit in Panama.

What to visit in Panama, active tourism places in the jungle

Boquete is one of the green lungs of Panama

Visit paradise on your Panama vacation: spectacular beaches in Bocas del Toro that you can’t miss

Once in the country, what are the most recommended trips in Panama? The archipelago of Bocas del Toro is one of the bases of tourism in the country and a must visit in your trips to Panama.

Paradisiacal beaches of incredible crystalline waters await you on its islands, a favorite destination for divers as well as those looking for sandy beaches and idyllic coves to get lost in.

Here, cars have been replaced by wooden boats, the islands are full of bicycles and it is common to taste a fresh fish of the day in any restaurant.

As you can see, there is a perfect synonym for a vacation in Panama: a trip to paradise itself.

It consists of seven major islands, with Colon Island being the main one, followed by Carenero Island and Bastimentos Island.

If you choose the first one and are looking for the best beaches in Panama, don’t miss Playa Estrella, Sandfly Beach and Playa Big Creek.

In case you decide to go to Carenero Island you have to try surfing if your option passes by Bastimentos Island.

Don’t miss the Natural Park of the same name, home of sloths, howler monkeys, tropical birds, frogs, alligators and tropical bats.

Best beaches in Panama: San Blas archipelago

Do you want to get lost in the San Blas archipelago? Panama is waiting for you in this paradise.

More recommendations of beaches in Panama? San Blas, the last frontier and one of those magical places you have to see in Panama

In the San Blas archipelago, Panama is home to a true paradise.

It is one of the most amazing natural places you have to see in Panama.

It offers an island for every day of the year: 365 islands that are mostly uninhabited – only about 80 are inhabited.

They are home to the Guna Indians whose traditions are a tourist attraction in themselves, although seeing their almost deserted white-sand beaches in Panama, the palm trees leaning towards the sea and the transparent waters, there seems to be no need for further claims.

San Blas is what we all imagine when we think of a desert island in the Caribbean.

There are so many places in Panama to visit…

but these paradisiacal islands are definitely a must.

 

 

 

30 Tips for traveling to Panama

We tell you everything you need to know to travel to Panama and enjoy one of the most fascinating countries in Central America.

I won’t deceive you if I tell you that we loved Panama, in fact, it surpassed by far the expectations we had about the country.

The jungle, the beaches, nature, culture and gastronomy, come on, it has it all.

It’s a relatively small country, so traveling to Panama and enjoying it is much easier than in countries where distances are enormous.

travel to Panama

Bocas del Toro, travel to Panama

If there’s one thing we loved about Panama, it’s its jungle scenery.

And that is that, unlike other countries, with the money they get from the Panama Canal, they don’t need to resort to deforestation for certain plantations, so it’s quite a jungle country.

Come on, it’s a wonder.

Visa to travel to Panama

You’re probably wondering what you need to do to get a tourist visa to enter Panama.

Well, depending on your country of origin the entry requirements will be different.

The following countries do not require a visa to enter Panama;

Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay, Brazil, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Poland, Portugal, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Greece, Finland, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Lithuania, Latvia, Cyprus, Russia, Andorra, Denmark, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Ireland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, Czech Republic, Sweden, Malta, San Marino and Vatican.

You can have a look at the page of the Government of Panama in case you have any doubt, in this link, visas to enter Panama.

And of course, if you have any doubts, go to the Panamanian embassy or consulate in your country.

Panama Travel Insurance

Wherever you go it is very important to carry travel insurance, and to travel to Panama you should also take out travel insurance that suits your needs.

We always travel with IATI travel insurance.

We tell you the different options for travel insurance with IATI in this link, Travel Insurance to Panama.

Currency in Panama, balboa or dollar

In Panama there are two currencies that are legal tender and have the same value, the dollar and the balboa.

So you’ll be able to pay in both currencies.

It happened to us on several occasions that we paid in dollars and we were given back balboas, but the most common use is that of the dollar.

If you like to collect coins, or know someone who does, keep some balboas as a souvenir.

Weather in Panama, best time of the year to travel

When to travel to Panama? Good question if you are still not clear about the date for your trip to the Central American country.

Roughly speaking, there are two seasons and three seasons in Panama.

The seasons are dry and wet, and the seasons are high, low and mid.

travel to Panama

Saint Catherine

The dry season corresponds to the months from December to April, and the wet or rainy season to the rest of the months.

You also have to take into account that in Panama City or the Panama Canal area it rains an average of 300 days a year, there is nothing there.

The best time of year is undoubtedly the dry season, but if you get caught during the high season which corresponds to Christmas, Easter or the November 2nd holiday that lasts four days, you may find yourself having trouble finding reasonably priced accommodation.

So I advise you to look for accommodation in good time if you are going on those dates.

We arrived on the 2nd of November holiday, and found some problems regarding accommodation.

Take a look at this link, weather in Panama, where we tell you in much more detail about the best time of year to travel to Panama.

Internet in Panama

In Panama you will find Internet via WIFI in all the accommodations except in some islands farther away from San Blas.

We already know that nowadays we need internet to be able to book accommodations, consult, etc.

If you want to have internet constantly when you travel to Panama, the best option is to buy a SIM card.

Buy SIM card

There are several companies operating in Panama, Digicel, Claro, +Móvil and Movistar.

We bought the SIM card at the airport, and we bought the Movistar card.

But I think it’s not the best, for two reasons.

The first is the price we pay at the airport, which is outrageously high.

And the second is that their coverage is not the best in Panama.

After spending a few days there, and talking to the people there, they told us that the best options, if you are going to stay less than a month, for price and coverage are Claro and Digicel.

Adapter and plugs in Panama

Don’t forget to take an adapter with you on your trip to Panama if you want to have your cell phone charged, camera, etc.

Because the plugs in Panama are different from those used in Spain.

The plugs used for the sockets in Panama are type A and B.

The voltage is 120 V and the frequency is 60 Hz.

Vaccinations needed for travel to Panama

One thing you should keep in mind when traveling to Panama is vaccinations, since depending on the area(s) of the country you want to visit you will have to get some shots.

If you are going to travel to the province of Guna Yala to enjoy the San Blas archipelago, the Panama Canal, the province of Darien or the province of Colon, you must get the yellow fever vaccine.

travel to Panama

Vaccinations for travel to Panama

It was our turn to get that vaccine, since it was one of the few we needed to administer.

Other vaccines recommended for travel to Panama are hepatitis A and B, triple virus, tetanus-diphtheria, typhoid.

And if you are also going to be near the borders of Colombia and Costa Rica, the malaria vaccine is recommended.

In any case, before your trip, at least two months in advance, make a visit to the International Vaccination Center.

Please note that you must have the yellow fever vaccine at least ten days before your trip.

And of course, take the card with you that indicates that you have been given it, it is yellow too.

We tell you in more detail in this link, what are the recommended vaccines for traveling to Panama.

Taxis in Panama City

The truth is that this is always an issue that concerns me when I travel to Latin America.

The bad reputation of taxis in places like Guatemala, Mexico or Colombia, always makes me a little more attentive and more cautious.

travel to Panama

Panama City Skyline from Punta Paitilla

In the case of Panama City, I have to say that our experience was positive.

Even one day when it was raining heavily and we were by the Seafood Market, we tried to stop taxi drivers on several occasions and were not stopped 🙁

But we do use to go to Albrook bus station to go to Santa Catalina, or on the street, to go to our accommodation.

In any case, if you have doubts or you don’t see it clearly, the best option is to ask a hotel to call you a taxi.

Transportation to travel in Panama

How do I get around Panama? Buses, planes…? If you’re asking yourself this question, the best option is public buses.

We use them to go from Panama City to Santa Catalina and to go from Bocas del Toro to Panama City in a night bus.

You can also use the plane to go to places like San Blas or Bocas del Toro, but the downside is that they are expensive, quite expensive.

travel to Panama

A devil

To go to San Blas, you will need to hire a tour, as the only vehicle that allows you to go there is a 4×4.

But we’ll tell you about that a bit later.

Another option to take into account is the shuttles.

They are private transportation that connect different tourist sites in the country.

We use them to go from Santa Catalina to Boquete, and from Boquete to Bocas del Toro.

The company that makes these tours and others is Hello Travel Panama.

Accommodation in Panama

Panama has all types of accommodation and for all pockets.

It is true that it is a little more expensive than the surrounding countries, but in terms of quality and price, I really don’t have many objections.

So depending on your possibilities and what you want to spend, you will not have great problems to find something that suits you.

 

 

I also tell you, if you are going to travel during the high season, such as Christmas, Easter or the November 2nd holiday (and the three days following), I do advise you to book in advance, as everything is usually full.

And when I say everything, that’s practically everything.

We had some problems finding accommodation in Santa Catalina, as we were looking for it as soon as we got there.

Between the fact that the bus was delayed due to traffic jams when we left Panama City (it was November 2nd), and that it was that holiday, we had a hard time finding a place to stay, but we managed to get it 😉

Is it expensive to travel to Panama?

Panama is not an expensive destination, but it is not cheap either.

By working the country with dollars, everything is more expensive than any other country around, except Costa Rica, which is more expensive.

Places like Bocas del Toro or, especially San Blas, are more expensive to travel to, but it’s still an affordable country to travel to.

Is it safe to travel to Panama?

If you are wondering about safety in Panama, I have to say that it is safe to travel in the country.

Just like anywhere else, use common sense.

Perhaps the hottest areas are in Panama City and Colon City (not to be confused with Colon in Bocas del Toro).

In the case of Panama City, one area you should not get into is El Chorrillo.

It’s next to Casco Viejo, and it’s not recommended at all, so don’t go there.

 

The Casco Viejo is a quiet place, and you’ll see that there is plenty of accommodation for tourists there, but at night we did hear that certain precautions had to be taken.

We stayed in the area of Cangrejo and Marbella the days we were in Panama City, we walked at night and we did not feel any sense of danger at any time.

In the case of Colon, it is also a place with a bad reputation, so if you decide to go, move around the tourist areas, and avoid being there at night.

In any case, as I said a little above, always use common sense and take the necessary precautions, as in any other place.

Travel without fear, but with caution.

Travelling to Panama on your own?

If you have doubts between traveling to Panama on your own or on an organized trip, we are sure you can travel on your own.

Panama is a country where moving is easy, whatever the destination you want to go, you will be able to get there.

To the places that are less touristic, maybe there are less frequencies of transportation, but without a doubt it is a perfect country to do it by yourself.

Don’t forget to get travel insurance if you travel to Panama.

We tell you how to find the best travel insurance to travel to Panama, and for being our reader, you can take advantage of a 5% discount by clicking here.

Travel Itinerary to Panama

If you are still not sure what your itinerary will be in the country, and you need some help to plan it, we leave you here with our 17 day itinerary to Panama.

Day 1; Arrival to Panama City

Day 2; Panama City

Day 3; Panama City – Soná – Santa Catalina

Day 4; Santa Catalina

Day 5; Santa Catalina – Coiba – Santa Catalina

Day 6; Santa Catalina – Boquete

Day 7; Boquete – Route of the Quetzals

Day 8; Boquete – Bocas del Toro (Columbus – Bastimentos)

Day 9; Bastimentos – Zapatilla Cay

Day 10; Bastimentos

Day 11; Bastimentos – Colón – Almirante – Panama City (night bus)

Day 12; Panama City

Day 13; Panama City – San Blas (Chichimé)

Day 14; San Blas (Chichimé)

Day 15; San Blas (Chichimé)

Day 16; San Blas (Chichimé) – Panama City

Day 17; Panama City and back

And if you want some more info, you can always take a look at this link with the detail of our travel itinerary to Panama.

 

Gastronomy in Panama

Buff, what to say about the gastronomy in Panama, simply delicious.

If there’s one thing I’m sticking with, it’s ceviche.

Although it’s typical of Peru, there are many other countries where it’s eaten regularly.

In Panama I tried to eat ceviche every day, am I crazy? No, it was just delicious.

 

 

Patacones are also typical, what is this? Well, they are male bananas cut into somewhat wide slices and fried, delicious.

And if you like spicy, I think there is no country where I have tasted better spicy than Panama, and look how spicy I am.

Without a doubt, in Panama I think you won’t go hungry, maybe you’ll get a few extra kilos, but it’s worth it.

For us, the best ceviche we had was at the Panama City Seafood Market, a must see.

And if you don’t like Panamanian cuisine and want to eat other things, don’t worry, you’ll also find food that’s not so typical, but that you’re used to.

Visit Panama City

Panama City, besides being the country’s capital, is also Panama’s main gateway.

So, after a long journey, in some cases crossing the Atlantic Ocean, you are quite likely to spend at least one day there.

Even though it is not a monumental city or of great interest like other places, it is worth taking a tour of it, and visiting its main attractions.

What to see in Panama City

Panama City Skyline from the Coastal Belt

The Cinta Costera is the promenade that goes from the area of the skyscrapers to the Casco Viejo.

This promenade is quite pleasant, and really worth a walk in a place like this.

Before reaching the Casco Viejo there is a mandatory stop, which is the Seafood Market.

There you can eat a ceviche or any other Panamanian dish.

Casco Viejo is the colonial area of the city.

The second settlement, since the first one was attacked and destroyed by English pirates.

The first settlement of the Spanish in Panama was called Panama Viejo.

It is on the other side of the city, so you will have to get there by taxi.

Other than that, there’s nothing else to see in the area, and it doesn’t seem to have a good reputation.

Interior Seafood Market, Panama City

From Cerro Ancon you can enjoy the best views of the city, but before climbing, you will have to pass by Mi Pueblito, another tourist complex in Panama City.

To get there it’s better to do it by taxi, as the road may not be very safe.

And before you get to the Panama Canal, there’s the Parque Natural Metropolitano, a jungle lung on the outskirts of Panama City.

Check out this link, What to see in Panama City, to find out more about what to see in the country’s capital.

Best areas to stay in Panama City

Panama City is a big city, and as always, in this type of place it is convenient to choose well where to stay, as far as areas are concerned.

In the case of Panama City there are several areas where you can stay to enjoy the city, without having to worry.

The areas where visitors who come to Panama City usually stay are Cangrejo, Marbella and Casco Viejo.

Streets of Casco Viejo, Panama City

Both the areas of Cangrejo and Marbella, which are next to each other, are the most peaceful areas of the city.

That is to say, the areas where you can walk in total tranquillity at night.

Besides, there are a lot of bars and restaurants in these areas, in case you feel like going out at night.

We stayed in both areas, and we really liked it.

Also the Casco Viejo is another area where many tourists come to stay.

Although it is a quiet area during the day, it is true that at night they told us that we had to keep an eye on it.

In any case, there is a lot of security in the area, and being Panama City, if you decide to try the Casco Viejo, I don’t think you’ll have any problem.

Besides, a lot of hotels and hostels are opening in this area.

We have written an article where we tell you which are the best areas to stay in Panama City, with our own experience.

And as a bonus, those areas where you should never go in Panama City.

How to go from Panama City to the Canal

Perhaps the best known thing about Panama is the Canal.

I have to confess that although we were about to go there, we finally changed our plans.

But yes, the Panama Canal is the greatest civil engineering work on the planet, and there are many, many visitors who come to see it up close.

Well, we told you all the information we collected to get there.

Las Exclusas de Miraflores is the place where you usually go to see the Canal.

There are three different ways to get there.

You can get there by local bus, the cheapest and slowest way.

You have to go to Albrook bus station, and there take the bus to Miraflores.

Make sure you get the last bus from Miraflores to Panama City.

Another way to get to the Panama Canal from Panama City is to make an agreement with a taxi driver.

What you also need to agree on is that he will wait for you to return to the city.

And finally, you can take an excursion where they take you and bring you back.

This is the easiest way, but also the most expensive.

You can take a look at the Panama Canal tours here.

Santa Catalina on the Pacific Coast

Santa Catalina was one of the great discoveries of our trip to Panama.

We wanted to go to a town and we wanted tranquility, and we had read that Santa Catalina had that, and also a beach.

But the ultimate goal of going to Santa Catalina was to visit the island of Coiba.

A really atypical place, it was a high security prison until 2004, which made this island preserve perfectly all its flora and fauna.

A beach in Santa Catalina

Back at St. Catherine’s, things got better than we thought.

Perhaps the accommodations we stayed in were the big factor, and that was that getting up in the morning and having some spectacular views of the Pacific, helped quite a bit.

Our stay in Santa Catalina was really nice, and we recommend it to everyone.

So we tell you in this link everything you can see and do in Santa Catalina.

Visit Coiba Island

As I have told you before, the island of Coiba and its surroundings are perfectly preserved.

So much so, that it’s the third largest marine sanctuary in the world.

This can be read in several ways, but the best is to go diving or snorkeling.

And it is precisely to snorkel and enjoy a unique place that we took to the island of Coiba.

 

 

But in Coiba National Park there are more islands, Granito de Oro Island or Ranchería Island are some of the ones you will visit and enjoy when you visit this magnificent place.

To get to Coiba you can only do it through an excursion with an authorized agency, and from Santa Catalina, but it is well worth it.

We tell you much more and with more detail in Coiba National Park, snorkeling and diving in Panama.

The Quetzal Route in Boquete

Traveling to Boquete and seeing the Quetzal Route was a fairly casual, last-minute idea and on the way, but a good one.

If we went to Boquete it was for two reasons.

The first one because it is located halfway between Bocas del Toro and Santa Catalina.

And the second reason was that there was a possibility to do a trekking with a very attractive name, La Ruta de los Quetzales.

 

 

It’s called that because many years ago, there were many quetzals, but today there are almost none left.

The quetzal is a bird that in the time of the Mayas was considered as sacred.

Seeing the Atlantic and Pacific from the Baru volcano

Did you know that there is only one place in the world where you can see the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean at the same time?

Well, that place is in Panama, very close to Boquete.

So point out Boquete on your travel route to Panama.

As you can see, Boquete is very playful.

Well, now comes the good part.

How do I climb the Baru volcano to see both oceans? I tell you beforehand that it’s not easy, and besides not being easy, climbing to the top of Volcano Baru doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to enjoy those views if the day is not clear.

To climb the volcano, you have to go out at night, to complete the climb and see the sunrise, which is when there are least clouds.

There are many places in Boquete that offer this excursion.

Don’t miss Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is one of the paradises you will find when traveling to Panama.

But it is also one of the most sought after destinations for those who travel there.

Do you know why it’s called Bocas del Toro? Well, the areas called Bocas allude to groups of islands or coast where pirates had it easy to hide and attack other ships.

When you are there, you will be able to throw a little imagination and see how easy it can be for a boat to hide and move quickly.

Bastimentos

Visiting Bocas del Toro is a must if you travel to Panama, you will not be disappointed in the least.

Besides, you can visit authentic postcard islands like Zapatilla Cay, did you know that the first Survivor reality show was filmed there? Well, imagine how much of a paradise that is.

Choose an island in Bocas del Toro

Here’s some advice I think you should take to heart.

Bocas del Toro is made up of many islands, but most of the travelers who come there, stay in Bocas del Toro Town, in Colon Island.

This is because it’s the place where you can find the most accommodation, bars, restaurants, and wine in general.

It is also the place where the boats arrive from the port of Almirante.

 

 

But the good thing about Bocas del Toro, at least in my opinion, is that it’s a little further away.

Look for the island you like the most, what else you can get, and move around the other islands through the taxi-boats.

We stayed at Bastimentos Island, and we loved it.

You can take a look at Bastimentos, tranquility and nature in Bocas del Toro, where we tell you what beaches you can enjoy, visit the town of Old Bank, a past and the fauna you can see, like the little red frog and sloths in full freedom.

Bastimentos

Old Bank

Besides, Bastimentos Island is a National Park, a real gem.

There are also other islands like Isla Carenero, Isla Solarte or Isla Cristóbal, but I have no information to offer you about them 🙁

How to get to Bocas del Toro

This is a good question, and you may have already been looking for information on this point.

Well, there are basically two ways to get to Bocas del Toro, by plane from Panama City and by night bus.

The night buses to Bocas del Toro leave from the Albrook bus station.

And from Bocas del Toro, they leave from Almirante station.

In the second case, you must book the day before, so you don’t run out of space with Taxi 25 company in Bocas del Toro Town.

travel to Panama

Taxi 25 in Colon Island

Tip, wear some warm clothes, because they put the air conditioning on as if you were in Siberia for the whole eight-hour journey.

To fly to Bocas del Toro from Panama City, there’s only one daily flight that leaves early from the airport, which is located next to Albrook’s Marcos A.

Gelabert bus station.

The price per trip is over 100 dollars.

Another option is, if you are going from somewhere in between like Boquete, take a minivan with the company Hello Travel Panama.

Talk to your accommodation and they will book it for you.

We will tell you in detail everything about how to get to Bocas del Toro.

Paradise in San Blas

If there is a place in Panama that seemed like a paradise to us, it is the archipelago of San Blas, with its 365 islands.

Some are tiny islands, typical of a postcard, others larger, but all with a common peculiarity, which are managed by the Guna Yala community.

travel to Panama

An island of San Blas

This way, the accommodation is in their hands, and it is certainly an experience to share a few days with them.

It is important that you respect their customs.

They do not like having their pictures taken without their permission, so if you want to take a souvenir of them, you will have to ask their permission first.

Chichimé, San Blas

In Guna Yala time passes at a different pace.

You will be able to do an incredible snorkeling, see manta rays and all kind of marine fauna.

We were on the island of Chichimé, and before going, you must hire an excursion that takes you to its territory.

You can take a look at this link, Chichimé Island, a paradise in San Blas.

I also recommend, that before going to the province of Guna Yala, know a little more about its history to better understand why they work in this peculiar way, San Blas, travel to the territory Guna Yala.

How to get to San Blas

As I told you before, the most common way to get to San Blas is by hiring a tour from Panama City.

Normally, all accommodations give that option.

But you can also go on your own, although getting to the port of Carti can be a bit complicated.

And considering the time of year, there may not be accommodation available on the less inhabited islands, but on the busiest ones.

travel to Panama

Saint Blaise

Much of the route is necessary to do it in 4×4 because of the poor conditions in which the road that crosses this territory Guna Yala.

Another option is to contact a Guna Yala family and let them take you to their island from Panama City (I don’t know if it is possible from other places).

We opted for the simplest and most expensive option as well, which is to hire a tour from Panama City.

But when we were in Chichimé Island, the family that takes the accommodation there, told us that if we came back another time, or some acquaintance or family member did it, they should contact them directly, saving themselves the intermediaries.

We told you in detail how to get to San Blas, either on an excursion, on your own or by contacting the family on Chichimé Island where we were, how to go to San Blas.

Visit the National Park of Darien

Visiting the Darien National Park was one of the things that stayed with us during our trip to Panama.

The Darien National Park is located in a jungle area of very difficult access, making the border with Colombia.

There are certain areas, especially those closest to Colombia where you will not be able to reach for various reasons, its accessibility, and that is a corridor of drug trafficking, therefore, dangerous.

But the rest of the more accessible areas, even if they are difficult to reach, I think it is very worthwhile.

I tell you, not having gone on our trip to Panama, is reason enough to try a second trip.

The excursions to the Darien National Park are organized, since getting there is complex, besides, you have to know the area well.

If you are interested, you can ask at your accommodation, they will indicate you the different options you have.

Travel to Panama and Costa Rica

During our tour of the Central American country we met many people who had decided to travel to Panama and Costa Rica.

They are two neighboring countries, which share a border, and not only that, but the Friendship National Park.

It can be a good option if you have enough time, travel to both countries and enjoy the nature, biodiversity, culture and gastronomy of both.

Keep this in mind in case it fits into your plans!

If you contract the travel insurance by clicking on the banner you will get a 5% DISCOUNT on your insurance for being a Travel Passport reader.

Travel guide to Panama

Did you know that in Panama you can find paradise? Maybe it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about traveling to Panama.

The skyscrapers of Panama City or the Panama Canal are usually the best known claims, but they are far from the best.

So we have decided to write this Panama Travel Guide to tell you where the paradises are, as there are several of them.

How you can reach them, and everything you need to plan your trip and enjoy to the fullest one of the countries that have surprised us most for good in recent years.

 

Any questions you may have regarding transportation, areas to stay in Panama City or anywhere else in the country.

Necessary vaccinations, what travel insurance you need, documentation and visa, our itinerary and much more.

So, with this Travel Guide to Panama, we want to clear up any doubt you may have.

We traveled through part of this small country, the beginning of the isthmus that links South America with North America.

And we did it practically by road, we got to know the indigenous area of the Guna Yala in the San Blas archipelago.

We went to the border with Costa Rica in Bocas del Toro, without stopping to enjoy the Baru volcano in Boquete or the idyllic island of Coiba, until not long ago one of the most terrible prisons in the world.

Nature is a constant in Panama, moreover, after having visited Borneo, arriving in Panama was a delight.

Deforestation is almost non-existent, and to a large extent, that is due to the large amount of money involved in the Canal.

Thanks to this income, Panama does not need to exploit land, deforest it and destroy the fauna and flora.

So, as you can imagine, the natural parks are impressive.

Unlike other countries, Panama has that still wild point.

That is, mass tourism has not arrived, so they keep the essence intact.

It’s definitely a destination worth seeing.

We didn’t have time to get to Darien, but I think if I went back, I’d go head first.

 

The gateway to Panama is the airport in Panama City, unless you arrive by sailboat from Cartagena de Indias in Colombia, or from Costa Rica.

From Panama City you can start planning your route, although you may have some doubts about moving west to Bocas del Toro or San Blas.

The reality is that you have several alternatives, and surely some of them will adapt to what you are looking for.

The truth is that the best way to enjoy Panama is to travel at your own pace and talk to Panamanians.

Let them tell you about the country, about life there, and ask you questions.

Of course, Panamanians are also that very important part of the country, beyond what you can see.

Visa and Documentation

As in any other country you will visit, depending on your country of origin, and mainly on your passport.

In any case, in order to enter the country, you will need to have your passport with at least six months validity, prove that you have enough money to be able to spend your stay in the country, and the yellow fever vaccination certificate.

Our experience was the following, we arrived at the airport, went to immigration, presented the passport, had it stamped and that was the end of the story.

They did not ask us for information about our economic availability, nor did they ask for the yellow fever certificate, which we did have.

If you have a passport from Spain, or from most of the European Union countries, there is a visa exemption, that is, you do not need a visa to enter the country.

The need for a visa has been eliminated for the following countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Uruguay, Paraguay and Nicaragua.

There is also the option of a tourist visa for the following countries: Canada, United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Language

The official language of Panama is Spanish, so if you’re reading this blog, you won’t have any problem communicating with the locals, or rather with almost everyone.

And I mean almost everyone, because there are areas where Spanish is not spoken, and you can even meet people who do not speak it.

This situation can happen in the area of Bocas del Toro, since there is a community that is of Antillean and Jamaican origins.

The language they speak is a mixture of English, French and Spanish.

You may understand single words, some of them, but understanding sentences is practically impossible, among other reasons because of their accent.

 

And this area is not the only one with its own language.

In the Guna Yala region, the Guna Yala Indians have their own language, and this one is impossible to understand.

When you arrive in San Blas, you will see that there are Indians who do not speak Spanish, although most do.

Vaccinations

For your trip to Panama you will have to make a visit to the nearest International Vaccination Center.

There you will have to tell them what your travel plan is in Panama, since you will have to get some vaccines if you don’t have them yet.

I’ll tell you in advance which are the vaccines you must have up to date;

Yellow fever, mandatory if you travel to San Blas, Bocas del Toro or Darien.

It was precisely for this trip that we had our first and only vaccination, since you only have to get it once in your life.

Keep in mind that for it to “activate” it needs about ten days, so calculate well before your trip.

 

You will be given a yellow fever vaccination certificate that you must take with you to Panama.

Other vaccines you will need are;

Tetanus/Diphtheria.

Hepatitis A and B.

Triple virus, measles, mumps and rubella

And these would be the additional vaccines that the International Vaccination Center would most likely tell you about;

Typhoid fever (usually Vivotif’s pills).

Malaria, there is no vaccine, but there are drugs that do the function of prophylaxis, such as Malarone.

In Panama, the risk of malaria is found in the province of Guna Yala and Darien.

The best way to avoid any risk is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, although it is not easy, it is not impossible.

You should take certain precautions to avoid being bitten as much as possible.

Mosquito activity increases at sunrise and sunset.

During the rest of the day, they are almost inactive.

So try to wear long sleeves and long pants during those times of day.

Always put repellent on any exposed skin (neck, hands, ankles and feet) during these hours.

There are repellents with a permethrin base, which do not damage clothes, like Halle.

You can put this directly on your clothes, it is an extra prevention.

At night, always sleep with a mosquito net.

You can read an article we have written about the vaccinations needed to travel to Panama.

Be sure to read this article, where we explain the basics you should put in your first aid kit.

Never forget that prevention is better than cure.

Safety

Maybe you’re wondering if it’s dangerous, or what dangers Panama is hiding.

Well, good news, I consider Panama to be a safe country, but you have to take certain precautions, just like anywhere else.

Panama City is a pretty safe place, but there are areas you should avoid at any time of day, and others, where you have to be a little careful at night.

In Panama City there are two especially dangerous areas.

The first one is so far away from any visitable area that for you, as a tourist, you won’t even know it.

But there is one area that you should keep in mind and be careful, this area is called El Chorrillo.

It is located next to Casco Viejo, so if at any time you notice that the atmosphere changes from one street to another in Casco Viejo, it means that you are not very far from El Chorrillo.

Start once you cross 12th Street West, don’t go in there.

 

At night the same thing happens, we walked at night in the areas of El Cangrejo and Marbella, as that is where our accommodation was.

The Casco Viejo is also an area of accommodation for tourists, but at night you have to be careful, despite being an area with a lot of surveillance.

Over the rest of the country, the feeling of tranquility and security is absolute.

So you know, enjoy.

Travel insurance Panama

I always say, prevention is better than cure, and travel insurance with the little money it costs with respect to travel is worth taking out, because if you have any mishaps, you are covered.

And Panama is not exactly cheap if you have to go to a hospital, a bill can be really high, and end up with your savings.

I wouldn’t risk it.

For a few years now, we have always taken out travel insurance with IATI, the truth is that we have not had any reason to complain, so we continue to recommend it.

If you hire it through this link, you will get a 5% discount.

You can take a look at the following link where we explain in more detail how to hire the best travel insurance to Panama.

Currency and exchange

Interestingly, there are two official currencies in Panama, the US dollar and the Balboa.

Both currencies have the same value, that is, one Balboa = one dollar.

In fact, there are no Balboa bills, only coins, and prices are in dollars.

Even so, I consider that Panama is not expensive, nor is it cheap.

So if you have euros, you will still have an advantage over the dollar, but if you go with another currency of lesser value, it will be more expensive.

ATMs are everywhere, as well as exchange offices, so you can get money on the go anywhere (except in San Blas).

There are only ATMs in Bocas del Toro Town.

Accommodation

Depending on the area where you go, the accommodation changes.

But good news! There are accommodations for every taste and pocket in almost every area we visit.

In San Blas, you can only stay on the islands where there are cabins prepared for that purpose, and they are owned by the family living on the island.

Usually, these cabins are quite simple, so don’t expect big luxuries, but it’s an incredible experience.

You can take a look with more information at this link, Accommodation in San Blas.

 

In Panama City there are several areas where you can stay, and as it is perhaps the most complex place to choose, we have prepared this article, where we indicate the different areas with their pros and cons.

And putting special emphasis on security, Accommodation in Panama City.

With respect to Bocas del Toro, where you stay will depend on what you are looking for.

If you want party or tranquility, if you want nature or something more urban.

We stay in Bastimentos Island to have very close authentic wonders of nature, as well as virgin beaches.

How to go to Bocas del Toro

But if you prefer to be in a party atmosphere, your place is Bocas del Toro Town, on Isla Colón.

We have also prepared for Bocas del Toro an article where we tell you about the different lodging options, depending on the different islands in the archipelago, and what you are looking for.

This way you can find the place that best suits what you are looking for, Accommodation in Bocas del Toro.

Luckily, in Panama, the different places you go, will offer you different accommodation options depending on the areas and what you are looking for.

This happened to us in a place as small as Santa Catalina, small but with three perfectly differentiated areas.

So if you are planning to go to Santa Catalina, you can also take a look at our article on Accommodation in Santa Catalina.

Boquete was where it was easiest, since we went directly from Santa Catalina in the only shuttle service there is, which is owned by a network of establishments in the country, Hello Travel Panama.

 

So they took us to the accommodation they work with in Boquete, which is located in the town square, and is really nice, Hostel Mamallena.

 

You can take a look at the pictures, prices, availability and reviews at this link, Hostel Mamallena.

Transport

This is one of the points you should take into account when planning your trip to Panama if you don’t want to waste a lot of time, or leave money behind, or even make unnecessary stops.

Perhaps the place you are most hesitant to visit is Bocas del Toro, as it is very far from Panama City.

But like everything else, there are tricks that can make your life easier.

The two options you have are basically to go by plane, which is very expensive and only one a day, or to go by night bus.

But you can take advantage of your itinerary and save time and money.

We decided to go to Bocas del Toro little by little, first Santa Catalina, then Boquete, and from there, to Bocas del Toro.

If you want to have absolutely all the details about how to get to Bocas del Toro, take a look at the following link, How to get to Bocas del Toro.

You may also have questions about how to get to the 365 islands of the San Blas archipelago.

And there are basically three ways to get there, on your own, by hiking, and a mix of the two.

We tell you in detail in this link, How to go to San Blas, Guna Yala territory.

To move around the rest of the country, we tell you all the details about how we did it and the alternatives that exist.

Take a look at Transportation in Panama, how to move around the country.

Travel Itinerary

Important, organize your travel itinerary well to make the most of the time you have, the additional information; if you are going to be in Panama on November 2, 3, 4 and 5, keep in mind that it is the most important holiday of the year for Panamanians.

Translated into the traveler’s language, those days are very expensive and it is really difficult to get accommodation.

Moving around the country on those days is also more complex, we got stuck for several hours when we left Panama City to Santa Catalina.

I think our itinerary didn’t turn out to be bad, especially considering that because of the holiday we didn’t know about (and we found out about it as soon as we arrived in Panama), we had to change it as we went along.

I think the only “but” we can put to this itinerary is the stop we had to make between Bocas del Toro and San Blas in Panama City.

If we had been able to plan a little earlier, we could have gone directly to San Blas without having to spend another night in the capital.

You can take a look at ourPanama Travel Itinerary in 17 days.

Weather in Panama

Before you jump in to buy a ticket to fly to Panama, make sure you know what time of year you are traveling.

The climate in Panama is divided into two seasons, the rainy and the dry.

The rainy season is really rainy, and it would be a shame not to be able to enjoy San Blas or Bocas del Toro.

We went at the end of the rainy season, and we did suffer the onslaughts of the rains arriving in San Blas, and the first hours on the island of Chichimé.

Luckily, there were only other days of heavy rains in Panama City.

But both in the Canal Zone and in Panama City, it rains more than three hundred days a year, and let it continue to do so, otherwise the Canal would no longer be navigable.

We tell you everything you need to know about the weather and the seasons to travel to Panama in the following link, Best time of the year to travel to Panama.

Panama City

 

Panama City is the gateway to the country.

But, even if the cities are not the best of Panama, it will allow you to get to know the colonial past and a little bit of history about the country, and the city itself.

Visiting the Casco Viejo is a must, and strolling along the coastal strip, especially on a morning, are activities that make Panama City worth a short stop.

Santa Catallina

Santa Catalina is the relaxation of Panama’s beachfront.

But also, this small corner, hides one of the most important places in the world to surf.

Coiba

To arrive at Santa Catalina is to reserve a day to enjoy nature in one of the most impressive and best preserved national parks.

The latter, because it was a prison.

A small fact, in size, Coiba, is the third marine sanctuary in the world.

Don’t think twice, go to Coiba.

Boquete

Boquete could go unnoticed if it weren’t for the Baru volcano and the Quetzal Route.

It is also a place to get to know this Panama far from the coast and the capital.

Trekking along the Quetzal Route is easy, however, you will come into contact with impressive nature.

Unfortunately, there are less and less quetzals left, the bird that gives its name to this route.

But if you go in the season that they migrate there, you can be lucky and enjoy this sacred bird.

Bocas del Toro

Bastimentos

Bastimentos was the island we decided on as a base camp.

And I think we were right, since it belongs to the Bastimentos National Park, and that means virgin beaches, seeing sloths in the wild, and the smallest and most poisonous frog in the world.

Zapatilla Cay

Cayo Zapatilla became famous for being the setting of a Robinson Crusoes in a reality show.

Today it’s two postcard islands.

You can only visit one of them, since the other is a preserved national park.

Without a doubt, getting to Bocas del Toro and not going to Zapatilla Cay is unforgivable.

Colon Island

How to go to Bocas del Toro

Isla Colón is the entrance point to Bocas del Toro, and although Bocas del Toro Town is just another place to pass through, the island hides places you can’t miss.

San Blas

The Guna Yala

San Blas Chichime

A trip to San Blas is to get closer to life in an indigenous community, the Guna Yala, who live as they have “always” lived.

It is true that some habits have changed, but the language, clothing, community life, laws and customs, are still present and are their sign of identity.

Chichimé

San Blas Chichime

The island of Chichimé is one of the furthest from the coast, from the port of Cartí.

This means that it is more isolated, with little tourism, and close to the Dutch Keys.

This was the island where we decided to enjoy San Blas, our little piece of paradise on earth.

Table of Contents

Welcome to Panama!

DISCOVERY

Panama’s plusses

Panama at a glance

The destination in 10 keywords

Panama at a glance

History

Population

Arts and Culture

Festivities

Local cuisine

Sports and Leisure

Children of the country

VISIT

Province of Panama

Province of Colón

Coclé Province

Province of Veraguas

Province of Herrera

Province of Los Santos

Province of Chiriquí

Province of Bocas del Toro

Province of San Blas – Guna Yala

Province of Darién

FUTURE THOUGHT

Think smart

Photo gallery

Cards gallery

Welcome to Panama!

Panama made international headlines in 2016 with the revelations of the Panama Papers, a scandal of money laundering and large-scale tax evasion.

But this small country of 4 million inhabitants is not limited to its sulphurous reputation and is full of many treasures! Appearing only 3 million years ago, this meagre dike, which connects the two Americas and separates the Atlantic and the Pacific, has quite simply turned the biological history of the world upside down!

A true natural bridge for the circulation of species from the north and south of the continent, the isthmus concentrates some of the richest biodiversity on the planet, and presents a palette of contrasting landscapes and atmospheres: from coral archipelagos to wild beaches bordered by lush vegetation, from the dampness of tropical forests to the freshness of the cordilleras… There is something for everyone! Conquistadors, pirates and gold diggers were the first to take an interest in this territory, but it was the discovery of the Pacific Ocean in 1513 that sealed its fate forever.

At the centre of enormous geopolitical stakes for centuries, Panama has become an unavoidable transit route thanks to its famous canal, now a hundred years old, whose existence would almost be forgotten as the country offers so much more.

A bridge between Western American culture and the Latin American way of life, Panama is a mosaic of faces, cultures and atmospheres. As soon as you arrive in Panama, you will be greeted by the lively rhythms of salsa and reggaetón.

Take the time to visit this vibrant and modern capital, before plunging into a completely different universe: in less than an hour you will find yourself on a dugout canoe and sail up a river to an Amerindian village! After the jungle, a small bucolic road takes you through the Panamanian countryside, El Interior, to meet traditions that are still very much alive.

Then explore the mountainous region of Chiriqui, with its clean and fresh air, before reaching the paradisiacal beaches of Bocas del Toro, San Blas, or Boca Chica…

“Panamá, bridge of the world and heart of the universe! “deserves this adage. The country is like a comfortable hammock fixed between two continents. You only have to sit down to never want to leave it again, as the many foreigners who come to live here every year testify.

DISCOVERY

Panama’s plusses

CIUDAD DE PANAMÁ – Detail of a Diablos Rojos, multicoloured city bus, icon of the capital.

Nicolas LHULLIER

A land blessed by the gods

Unlike its Central American neighbours, Panama is immune to major natural disasters (hurricanes or earthquakes).

The vagaries of the weather are limited to very heavy rainfall sometimes in winter.

In the islands, the weather then changes quickly: the sea takes on bluish black tones and the sky takes on electricity.

The atmosphere is heavy and the landscape seems almost supernatural.

Inland, the vegetation is more luxuriant and its colours more vivid.

But the rain never lasts long, it comes and goes, interrupting a walk, then leaves room for the sun again!

A generous nature

A true biological bridge between North and South America, the country has one of the richest concentrations of animal and plant species in the world, with an exceptional level of endemism in some regions.

In addition to the birds, insects and land mammals that can be observed on land, Panama’s warm, crystalline waters are home to an incredible marine fauna that is a delight for fishing and diving enthusiasts.
From the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the tropical rainforest to the coral archipelagos, the country is a huge garden! Some of its jewels already enjoy great fame with several natural sites inscribed on the World Heritage List.

A mosaic of faces and cultures

A mosaic of faces and cultures – Guna Women in Avenida Central.

© Nicolas LHULLIER

Panamá brings together an incredible diversity of mixed races, born of the country’s strategic position between two oceans, in the heart of the Americas.

Latinos, Europeans, Africans and Asians rub shoulders with no less than seven Amerindian groups, who are distinguished by their lifestyles and traditions.

A thousand and one faces that you will get to know! What do they have in common? No doubt kindness…

but also a certain carefree attitude and a generalized joie de vivre! Careful, it’s contagious…

A land of adventure

Despite its small size, you will find that many areas still seem unexplored.

From the jungle of the Gulf of Darién, through the Central Cordillera, to the hundreds of islands off the isthmus, it is easy to get off the beaten track.

Don’t hesitate to ask local guides because Panama can be explored in a thousand different ways: walking in the rainforest in search of rare birds, hiking in the Chiriquí or Veraguas highlands, exploring the rivers in dugout canoes among the crocodiles, fantastic crossings at nightfall in the archipelagos of San Blas or Bocas del Toro…

The sweetness of life

The good life – SANTA CATALINA

We often come here by chance to leave with the feeling of having lived a unique adventure.

The hospitality of the people, the colourful landscapes and the tropical climate are no strangers to this.

But Panama has many other advantages, attracting more and more North Americans and Europeans who want to retire or start a business here.
Among the advantages dear to new residents are political stability and security, modern infrastructure, a low cost of living compared to the country of origin, a rapidly growing economy, the use of the dollar as a common currency, messy tax advantages, the level of English spoken by Panamanians, and so on.

In the end, many travellers stay and embark on new adventures…

Panama at a glance

Panama at a glance – Exhibitions of molas, Isla Perro.

The flag of Panama

Panama Flag – Panamanian flag

The flag was the first patriotic symbol that Panamanians raised when Panamanian independence from Colombia was announced on November 3, 1903.

In the upper left-hand square is a blue star; to its right is a red square.

The pattern is reversed on the lower part.

White symbolizes peace, the peaceful union of the two historical parties: the Conservative Party represented by the colour red and the Liberal Party by the colour blue.

The blue star evokes honesty; the red star, law and order.

The flag is everywhere: in taxis, shops, government offices and even in churches.

And it is probably the one most easily recognized by all the sailors of the world, since it is flown by nearly one merchant ship in five! Panamá has the world’s largest merchant navy fleet, with its flag of free registration or “flag of convenience”.

Finally, the country’s largest flag dominates the capital, at the top of the Cerro Ancon.

It would have the size of a basketball court!

Country

 Official name: Republic of Panama.

 Capital: Panama City (or Ciudad de Panamá).

 Area: 75,517 km².

 Language: Spanish.

Population

Population – Wild domino game in the Peatonal.

 Population: 4 million.

 Density: 45 inhabitants/km2.

 Birth rate: 18.32 ‰.

 Infant mortality rate: 10.41 ‰.

 Life expectancy: 78 years (75 for men, 81 for women).

 Literacy rate: 94.1%.

 Religion: Catholic 85%, Protestant and others 15%.

Economy

 Currency: The official currency is the balboa (PAB or B/), in fixed parity with the US dollar (US$).

1 PAB = 1 US$.

The balboa does not exist in the form of banknotes, it is the US dollars that are used.

For cents, balboa centavos and dollar cents, of the same size, are used interchangeably.

 GDP: US$ 47 billion.

 GDP/capita: US$11,850.

 Growth rate: 6% on average.

 Unemployment rate: : 4.5%.

 Inflation rate: 1% (est.)

Time difference

With France: – 7 hours from the end of March to the end of October or – 6 hours from the end of October to the end of March (when it is 8 pm in France, it is 2 pm in Panama).

Climate

Climate – Bloc Meteo panama

The climate is humid tropical.

It is hot all year round, with an average of 28 to 31 °C during the day and 20 to 23 °C at night (altitude can bring temperatures below 10 °C in the mountains).

Rainfall varies with the seasons.

The Caribbean slope receives nearly 3 meters of rain per year, twice as much as the Pacific coast, but microclimates are numerous.

During the wet season, called winter (invierno), from the end of April to early December, heavy rains fall all over the country, but they usually last only a few hours a day.

During the dry season or summer (verano), from December to mid-April, the breeze makes the air less humid and showers are less frequent.

This period is much more marked on the Pacific side.

The destination in 10 keywords

Native Americans

The first inhabitants of the region are the Indians, or rather the so-called “first”, “indigenous” or “native” peoples (pueblos indígenas).

The latter term is widely used and preferred by those concerned.

On the other hand, the term Indio (“Indian”) is considered very pejorative and even insulting in Latin America.

There are seven Amerindian groups in Panama (Ngäbe, Buglé (or Bokota), Guna, Emberá, Wounaan, Naso (or Teribe), Bri-bri) which are said to represent about 8% of the country’s population.

As in the whole of Latin America, many of them belong to the most disadvantaged classes.

But the communities are struggling with great determination to assert their ancestral rights, especially over the land they occupy.

Five autonomous territories already exist, known as comarcas.

Cantina

The places where beer and rum are traditionally served the most are the cantinas, whose saloon-style door makes it impossible to see what’s going on inside.

Almost exclusively frequented by men (who come out wobbly), the main attractions of these bars are billiards, típico music and cases of beer.

The locals will be able to welcome the tourists with an amused eye, but we do not advise women to enter, even if they are accompanied…

Drugs

Panama is known for its drug trafficking and money laundering business.

The neighbourhood with Colombia, whose cocaine production floods the world, is not easy to manage: the jungle border is particularly porous and the hundreds of islands and beaches on both sides of the country regularly receive large parcels.

The embarrassing presence at the head of state of General Noriega, a notorious drug trafficker but also a former CIA agent and former DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) informant, gave rise to Operation Just Cause in December 1989.

But the arrest of the narco-dictator did not help matters.

“Ali Baba is gone, but the forty thieves are still there,” joked the man at the time.

Trafficking and money-laundering operations continued unabated in the 1990s.

The “cocaine towers”, as the buildings housing the banks were called, and the free zone of Colón quietly continued their laundering functions.

Recently, laws have limited the amount of cash deposits and the use of nominees to make it more difficult to launder money through banks.

It would seem that today the most powerful “washing machines” for dirty money are the construction sector and casinos…

but it is always the same white powder that is used!

Isthmus

190 km in its widest part and barely 51 between the Gulf of San Blas and the estuary of the Río Chepo, the Isthmus of Panama, born 3 million years ago, stretches between two oceans and represents a natural bridge for animal and plant species between North and South America.

A unique land of biological and human encounters: its greatest wealth!

Panamax

Name given to ships whose size allows them to use the Panama Canal.

Panamax sometimes have only a few centimetres of free space on each side when they pass through the soon to be century-old locks (33.50 m wide and 305 m long).

Container ships, or tankers too wide to cross the canal, are called “post-panamax”.

They are becoming more and more numerous, which has encouraged the creation of new, wider locks.

Piñata

The piñata is a figurine representing a character appreciated by children (Mickey, Titi, etc.) or any other object.

Made of coloured crepe paper, its height often reaches more than one metre.

Of Mexican origin, this tradition was gradually adopted by all of Central America.

In Panama, it is the custom to offer a piñata to children whose birthday is being celebrated…

It is hung high up on the end of a rope.

The hero of the party carries a stick and hits the piñata until it breaks.

Surprise and happiness! A shower of sweets and little presents then falls from the figurine, and all the children rush out, delighted, their hands outstretched.

Seco

Far from matching the taste of local rums, this strong, white alcohol, made from sugar cane and very cheap, is the most popular in the country.

Taste the seco con vaca (literally “seco with cow” served with milk).

Sombrero

The hats commonly called “panama” are not native to the isthmus but to Ecuador.

The name given to the Ecuadorian hat would come from the expression “panama hats” used by the Americans to designate the hats worn at the beginning of the last century by canal workers and engineers, many of whom were originally from Ecuador.

The elegant hats worn by Panamanians, especially in the interior of the country, are called pintado (or pinta’o).

They are made from plant fibers and originate from the village of La Pintada.

Hats are also made in Ocú, the ocueños, with a slightly different style and recognizable by their unique white color.

There are several ways to wear the pintado, depending on whether you are a “tough guy”, an intellectual, a young man or a wise old man…

Find out more!

Telenovela

From 6pm, don’t miss the telenovelas, those dramatic or comic Latin soap operas that are a hit.

All the ingredients are there to move the viewer: sexy women, men with slicked-back hair, pretty houses, governesses, mistresses, devastating looks, betrayals and lots of tears…

Tipico

This term, which encompasses traditional way of life, cuisine, music, dance and costumes, refers to great regional pride and authenticity.

The carnival and many festivals pay tribute to this “typically” Panamanian folklore, originating in the central provinces known as “El Interior”.

Panama at a glance

Overview of Panama – Fishing boats in Panama Bay.

© Nicolas LHULLIER

Geography

On a planisphere, Panama appears as a narrow strip of land connecting two landmasses.

It is an “isthmus”.

The traveller is often confused by the cardinal signs, as the country is more of a horizontal shape in the middle of a continent that is largely elongated from north to south.

One reaches Costa Rica (and North America) by going west and Colombia (South America) by going east.

Like a thin dike, Panama separates the Atlantic – or rather the Caribbean Sea (or the West Indies) – to the north and the Pacific to the south.

It stretches for 725 km.

Its width does not exceed 190 km at its widest point and is reduced to 51 km at its narrowest point, between the Gulf of San Blas and the Río Chepo estuary.

Despite its modest size (75,517 km², 1/7th of France) Panama is home to one of the richest biodiversity in the world.

 Relief: The cordilleras that cross the isthmus over almost the entire length of the isthmus structure the country to give it this particular form of elongated, lazy “S”.

Although 87% of the country is less than 700 m above sea level, it is relatively mountainous.

 Coastline and Islands: Panama has nearly 3,000 km of fairly rugged coastline with several gulfs, bays and lagoons.

1,288 km are bathed in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea and 1,700 km receive the powerful rollers of the Pacific.

The waters of the Caribbean coastline are home to a wide variety of corals and mangroves.

Tides are less important on the Caribbean side because the coastal waters are deeper than on the Pacific side.

The country also has 1,518 islands and islets.

Climate

The country mainly enjoys a humid tropical and maritime climate.

It is hot and humid all year round, with two distinct periods: the dry, windy season, called verano (summer), which runs from mid-December to April; the wet or “green” season, invierno (winter), the rest of the year, with the exception of a lull of a fortnight around July: el veranillo (early summer).

The country is sheltered from the hurricanes that hit the Caribbean from June to November, but heavy rains can fall at that time, causing significant flooding along the rivers.

Environment

Panama is one of the most “bio-diverse” countries in the world and has many parks and nature reserves for the conservation of species.

But the country is suffering from the evils of the modern world: global warming and rising sea levels (the San Blas archipelago is particularly threatened), deforestation and destruction of the habitat of wild animals, corals and marine fauna, hunting and species trafficking…

Fauna and Flora

Panama is a paradise for biologists! The great climatic and geographical diversity of a tropical country located between two landmasses and two oceans, explains the exceptional richness of the fauna and flora.

11,000 plants, 976 species of birds and 250 mammals have been recorded.

The variety of corals is equally evocative: 58 different species on the Atlantic side and 18 on the Pacific side.

Of the 1,307 species of marine fish, 140 are of commercial interest.

Of the 56 species of freshwater fish, 25% are endemic.

It is obvious that the implementation of programmes to raise awareness and manage the pressures of human activities (related to fishing, tourism, etc.) on natural resources must be a priority in order to preserve this diversity.

It is also up to us, tourists, to contribute to this!

History

A land of passage and settlement

According to the Panamanian anthropologist Reina Torres de Arrauz, the Isthmus of Panama has always been a land of passage, or a bridge between the cultures of the north and south of the continent, as well as the Caribbean.

It is estimated that human presence in the isthmus dates back several tens of thousands of years and the first permanent settlements were established 11,000 years ago.

The first Spanish expeditions

The first expedition to approach the lush coasts of Darién was that of Rodrigo de Bastidas in 1501.

The Spaniards who followed the northern coast of South America and then the coast of Darién, believing they were already in Asia, were looking for a passage to the Indies.

The sailors did not find this mythical strait but met “Indians” …

and gold!

One year later, Christopher Columbus set off on his fourth and final voyage to the New World.

He too is looking for a strait.

The expedition undertook the reconnaissance of the Central American coast from Cape Gracias a Dios (in present-day Honduras) to Darién.

Each coastal breach can be a passage to the west.

In particular, Columbus explored the Bay of Caraboro (renamed Almirante), the Chiriquí lagoon and the coasts of Veraguas .

The journey continues to a native locality where the fleet runs aground after a violent storm.

Columbus, amazed by the place, baptized the place Porto Bello (“pretty port” in Italian which, hispanized, will become Portobelo).

The expedition rested there for a while before returning to the Veraguas gold region to try to found a colony: Belén.

It is a failure, the conquistadores, hungry for gold and women, are chased by the natives and the expedition will finally fail in Jamaica.

Conquest and colonization

In his plan of conquest and colonization, the King of Spain decided in 1508 to divide the lands of the New World in two, the continental part of which was then called “terra firma” (any land that cannot be circumnavigated by caravel, as opposed to the Caribbean islands).

The territories east of the Gulf of Urabá constitute New Andalusia.

To the west of the gulf is Castilla de Oro governed by Diego de Nicuesa.

In 1510, he tried to establish himself in a welcoming bay that he named “Nombre de Dios”, but very quickly the conquistadores had to abandon the place, driven out by poisoned darts.

They went further east and founded Santa María la Antigua del Darién.

The locality, today in Colombian territory, is considered the first colonial city of continental America.

The discovery of the southern sea

Leaving Santa María del Darién on September 1, 1513, Balboa, at the head of an expedition of 190 conquistadores, a few scouts and a thousand indigenous porters, plunges southward into the inhospitable Darién forest.

On September 25, after three weeks of strenuous marching and clashes with local tribes, the adventurers saw the mouth of a vast expanse of water from the top of a hill.

On September 29, Balboa took possession, in the name of the Spanish crown, of “the seas, lands, coasts and islands of the south, and the kingdoms and provinces attached to them.

The South Sea will be renamed “Pacific” by Magellan in 1520, because of the calm weather the navigator enjoyed during his ocean crossing between Tierra del Fuego and the Philippines.

The discovery of the South Sea is certainly the most important chapter in the history of the conquest, after the great “discovery” of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

This new stage unfortunately heralds great catastrophes for the peoples of the Andes.

In June 1514, Pedro Arias de Ávila (Pedrarias Dávila) was appointed governor in place of Balboa.

This sexagenarian is known for his cruelty.

Contrary to the instructions of the crown, which advocated a gentle conversion to Catholicism (as much as it could be at the time), thousands of Indians were massacred or forced into slavery.

Foundation of Panama City

On August 15, 1519, Pedrarias seized a small fishing village in the South Sea, called by the indigenous Panamanians Panamá, which means “abundance of fish”.

The town became an important ecclesiastical and commercial centre and the starting point for expeditions to the north and south of the continent.

Francisco Pizzaro took the direction of expeditions to the Pacific and embarked south in 1524 and again in 1526.

He discovered Peru in 1528 and soon discovered the riches of the Inca Empire.

Panamá then saw tons of gold, silver and precious stones from South America, not to mention the pearls harvested in the neighboring archipelago.

But things became more complicated at the end of the 16th century with the arrival of pirates and freebooters in the Caribbean Sea…

Indeed, this concentration of wealth did not leave the great naval powers indifferent.

England, France or Holland gave intrepid sailors (often former pirates) “letters of marque” or “racing” authorizing them to attack the ships and trading posts of an enemy nation.

Portobelo and the fort of San Lorenzo were attacked many times during the 17th century.

After the final destruction of Portobelo in 1739 by Vernon, the Spanish crown eventually imposed the Cape Horn route to reach its western colonies in South America.

Portobelo, deprived of fairs, emptied of its population, while Panama fell into decadence.

At the beginning of the 19th century, a project for the construction of an inter-oceanic canal proposed by the scientific explorer Alexander de Humboldt could have revived activity, but the time had come for the emancipation of the American colonies and it was not until the 1850s that the isthmus emerged from the economic slump.

Independence

At the beginning of the 19th century, a few years after the independence of the United States (1783) from Great Britain, and the French Revolution, the idea germinated in Latin American Creole bourgeois circles (the descendants of Spanish colonists, sometimes mixed with Indians and Blacks), of an “emancipation” of distant Spain.

Taking advantage of the Napoleonic Wars on the Old Continent and the military weakening of Spain, the process of independence began in 1810 and quickly spread throughout Latin America.

Thus, on November 10, 1821, “el Primer Grito de Independancia” (the First Cry of Independence) resounded at the Villa de Los Santos.

This revolt by a group of peasants led by Colonel Segundo Villareal in the Azuero Peninsula marked the beginning of the emancipation movement in several localities: Natá, Penonomé, Ocú and Parita.

It ended on November 28, 1821 in Ciudad de Panama, with the solemn proclamation of independence from Spain by a junta of civilians, military and clergy.

The Spanish troops withdrew without fighting.

From the construction of an iron line to the canal

The discovery in 1848 of gold veins in California revived the activity of the small Colombian province in just a few months.

The gold seekers, coming from the eastern United States and Europe, preferred to avoid going to the Far West via the dangerous North American plains where dreaded Indian tribes lived.

The isthmus, the narrowest part of the continent, became the main route for adventurers.

It was then that an American shipping company, the Panamá Railroad Company, began building a railway line from 1850 onwards, linking Panamá to “Aspinwal Colón”.

The work attracted a workforce from all over the world, with a majority of Jamaicans and Chinese.

The first trains started running in 1855 and it took only 4 hours to cross from one ocean to the other.

But engineers from America and Europe set themselves a new challenge: to link the two oceans without even getting off a ship.

The success of the Suez Canal, inaugurated in 1869, had drawn the attention of the scientific community to the possibilities of other inter-oceanic canals around the world.

Projects abound in the United States and Europe.

Panamanians feared that the waterway would be built in Nicaragua.

The opportunity is too good.

In 1903, a junta of conservatives and liberals launched a separatist movement under the unofficial protection of the United States in exchange for the signing of a new treaty for the canal.

The Colombian troops who had come to stop the rebellion were neutralized in Colón, without any real fighting and without the intervention of American warships anchored off the coast.

Panama’s independence was proclaimed on November 4, 1903 (the National Day was instituted on November 3).

Three days later, the United States recognized the new state.

Work resumed and the canal was finally completed in 1914.

This technological feat is considered at the time as the eighth wonder of the world, because of its spectacular achievements: the Gaillard breakthrough with millions of tons excavated in the cordillera, the engineering structures (its locks are still in operation) and the imposing Gatún dam which gave birth to the largest artificial lake in the world at the time (after having swallowed up hundreds of villages and necessitated the displacement of 50,000 people).
On August 15, 1914, as Europe threw itself into the war, the steamer Ancon made the first official crossing of the Panama Canal.

Political instability

Very quickly, the discriminatory regime set up in the Canal Zone (separate fountains and toilets for blacks and whites, wage conditions according to skin colour, etc.) offended Panamanians and fuelled nationalist sentiments.

There is less and less support for the foreign military presence, as well as for the behaviour of American companies like the powerful United Fruit Company, which holds the best land and disregards the rights of farm workers in the banana plantations.

Nevertheless, the country experienced a certain prosperity during the Second World War, with the massive arrival of soldiers spending without counting and the realization of major works providing jobs (military bases, airports, pan-American and trans-American roads).

However, on January 9, 1964, a student demonstration degenerated and the consequences of this event were considered a major step in the process that would lead a few years later to the retrocession of the canal.

1968-1981: the nationalist and popular revolution

In May 1968, populist Arnulfo Arias was elected President of the Republic for the third time.

A few months later, he was overthrown in a coup d’état staged by young officers of the National Guard.

The aim of the junta was to change the balance of power in the country, confiscating power from the traditional oligarchy and giving it to the people.

General Torrijos ruled the country with an iron fist from 1969 to 1981 under the guise of puppet presidents.

Profound social reforms in education and health led to a halving of illiteracy and infant mortality in ten years.

On the economic front, an agrarian reform led to the expropriation of large land holdings which were redistributed to small farmers grouped into cooperatives.

There were also nationalizations, major road improvements and the creation of the International Banking Centre.

In terms of foreign policy, Panama is one of the so-called “non-aligned” countries.

It has privileged relations with the countries of the anti-colonialist and anti-American movement (Cuba, Salvador Allende’s Chile, etc.) and at the end of the 1970s supported the guerrilla movements in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
In 1973, taking advantage of a UN meeting in Panama, Torrijos exposed his people’s demands concerning the canal to the whole world.

Negotiations on the question of a restitution of the canal, initiated in 1964, will accelerate in 1977 with the election of Jimmy Carter to the American presidency, leading to the signing of the Torrijos-Carter treaty on September 7, 1977.

The text, which was triumphantly received in Panama and throughout Latin America, provides for the gradual “retrocession” of the canal and the area by the year 2000.

As early as 1979, the country recovered more than 60% of the territory of the Canal Zone (military bases, ports and the railway line).

But on 31 July 1981, Torrijos died in a plane crash above the Coclé mountains, an accident whose causes still remain a mystery .

The Noriega dictatorship

A fuzzy period follows Torrijos’ death.

Generals and puppet presidents succeeded one another until the elections of May 1984.

Nicolas Barletta, Torrijos’ former collaborator and World Bank President for Latin America, won the elections with only 1,713 votes in favour.

The opposition spoke of fraud but the United States supported the Chicago-trained economist.
But less than a year after his election, President Barletta was “resigned” by Manuel Noriega, commander-in-chief of the National Guard.

To the dictatorship’s classic recipes (muzzling of the press, repression of opponents, corruption), he added arms, drug and visa trafficking and set up a vast money-laundering network.

December 1989: the “just cause” operation

On the night of December 19-20, 1989, just before the Christmas holidays, the United States launched, in the name of a “just cause”, the largest military operation since the Vietnam War.

Guillermo Endara was officially proclaimed President of the Republic on December 20, 1989, the day of the invasion.

He inherited a country ruined and eaten away by insecurity, corruption and trafficking of all kinds.

Endara succeeded in restoring democracy and bringing the country out of the economic isolation in which it had been plunged since 1987.

Political instability continued until a woman came to power.

Mireya Moscoso, the widow of President Arnulfo Arias (1901-1988), won the presidential elections of May 1999 with 44% of the votes.

At 53 years of age, Mireya is the first woman to lead the country.

From the beginning of her mandate, she had the immense privilege of honouring the handover of the canal on December 31, 1999 at noon.

From 2000 to today

Mireya Moscoso’s record is mixed.

The 2004 elections saw the return to power of the PRD.

Elected with 47% of the vote ahead of former president Guillermo Endara, Martín Torrijos benefited greatly from the prestige of his late father.

The young president will benefit from an unprecedented economic boom during his four years in office but will not succeed in reducing social inequalities and insecurity.
May 2009 thus saw the victory of the candidate of the liberal right, Ricardo Martinelli (61% of the votes), at the head of the ‘Alliance for Change’.

This multi-billionaire entrepreneur launched a vast programme of major works aimed at modernising infrastructures (roads, airports, etc.) throughout the country but especially in the capital, with the controversial Cinta Costera III project (viaduct around the Casco Viejo) and the more intelligent project of a metro, the first in Central America, the first line of which will be inaugurated in April 2014.

On the social front, relations with civil society, trade unions and the press have seriously deteriorated.

Several demonstrations against social and environmental reforms (mining reform) degenerated, leaving several people dead.

More positive for the country was the reduction in poverty, which officially fell from 32% in 2010 to 25% in 2014.

Economically, the country has maintained strong growth but has become heavily indebted (the debt increased from 11 to 17 billion dollars in 5 years).

While the balance sheet is rather good, the elections of May 2014 are a surprise compared to the polls, Martinelli was already seeing his runner-up José Domingo Arias as head of state and his own wife as vice-president! But it is Juan Carlos Varela, his former vice-president and worst political enemy, who is elected with 39% of the votes, ahead of Domingo Arias of the Cambio Democrático party (32%) and the former mayor of the capital Juan Carlos Navarro of the centre-left PRD (28%).

A real slap in the face for the outgoing president.

The main challenges of his mandate are the pursuit of growth and the reduction of social inequality and poverty, which are still very high.
The year 2016 has been doubly talked about on the international scene.

First, the Panama Papers affair, a system of international tax evasion.

First, he pretended to negotiate, when the sanctions threatened to be lifted, by agreeing to play the game of transparency.

It even pledged to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) automatic exchange of information process by 2018.
However, on August 5, 2016, Nobel Prize winner in economics Joseph Stiglitz and anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth, by resigning from the committee created after the scandal, denounced a certain lack of transparency.

The committee, composed of 4 Panamanians and 3 foreigners, had been set up to address the problems of opacity in Panama’s financial system.

Both men reported “censorship” in the publication of their findings.

According to them, the executive branch was under “pressure from the business community”.

The government had announced a few days earlier that the president alone would decide whether or not to release the findings.
Another important date in 2016 will be the completion of the canal’s expansion in general jubilation.

Delayed due to major strikes in 2012 and 2013 and financial disputes with the consortium of international companies in charge of the work, the new canal was inaugurated in June.
After the Martinelli tornado, Varela represents calm and the Panamanians are not really used to it?

All the more so as in the first quarter of 2016, the unemployment rate in Panama exceeded that of the international financial crisis of 2009.

As a result of the economic slowdown, it fell from 5.2% in August 2015 to 5.6% in March 2016.

More than 100,000 Panamanians are unemployed.

The next elections will be held in Panama in 2019.

Time to make Panamanians forget the antics of Martinelli – who suddenly left the country.

CLIMATE & GEOGRAPHY OF PANAMA

1/ Panama’s climate

Panama offers a tropical climate tempered by the altitude which has 2 seasons: the dry season and the rainy season.

Dry season: from December to April

It is also the high tourist season when the natural reserves and beaches are very busy

While it is hot and dry in the eastern regions and along the Pacific coast, the rains are scarcer on the Caribbean coast.

Rainy season: Between May and November, it rains more but the temperatures are still very pleasant

It comes in the form of thunderstorms rather in the early afternoon and can last between 1 and 3 hours, giving way to a bright sunshine later in the day

As a result, nature takes on its most beautiful colours and conceals beautiful treasures that will delight photographers and botany enthusiasts

The sun continues to shine during the day and offers great opportunities for relaxation

It is also the period when the waves are the most important, making the joy of surfers

Humpback whales migrate to the Pacific off the coast of Panama and leatherback turtles come to lay their eggs on Caribbean beaches

At this time, it rains more on the Caribbean coast than on the Pacific coast.

However, like its neighbour Costa Rica, Panama usually experiences its “little summer” in July: a dry period during which the rain stops and temperatures rise.

Regardless of the season in Panama, temperatures are roughly the same, ranging from 21 to 32°C in the lowland regions and 10 to 18°C in the mountains.

The sea offers, throughout the year, great opportunities for swimming, between 25 and 30°C.

Panama is not subject to cyclones.

2/The best season for a trip to Panama

Depending on the region visited, the ideal seasons will not be the same: 

Between December and April (dry season), the climate is ideal whatever the itinerary

Hikers will prefer this season to optimize the practice of their activity.

The rainy season, from May to November, is more marked on the Caribbean coast

But lovers of animals and unusual discoveries will be able to observe humpback whales and leatherback turtles. 

3/ Temperatures (in degrees centigrade, maximum in the shade)

 

4/ Rainfall (height in millimetres per month)

 

5/ The geography of Panama

This country, which represents only 1/7th of France (75,500 km²), is bordered to the north by the Caribbean Sea and to the south by the Pacific Ocean

It forms the link between Central and South America

It stretches 772 km from east to west and between 50 and 190 km from north to south depending on the location

The famous Panama Canal, which crosses the country in its center, delimits the eastern region from the western region

Despite its small size, this country offers a multitude of landscapes and climates

Between its numerous nature reserves and its 1500 islands or islets scattered off the Caribbean or Pacific coasts, it is home to one of the richest biodiversity on the planet

Panama is both mountainous and seaside, volcanic and lacustrine

It has nearly 3000 km of coastline divided between the Caribbean (1290 km) and the Pacific (1700 km).

The country shares borders with Costa Rica in the west and Colombia in the south-east.

MAP OF PANAMA

Download the map

1/ Some data

Surface area: 75,500 km² (1/7 of France) Population: 3.4 million inhabitants Density: 46 inhabitants per km² Mixed race: 57% mixed race (of Amerindian and European origin), 18% white, 15% black, 5% mulatto (from Africa and Europe), 5% Amerindian (indigenous) Capital : Panama City with 1,330,000 inhabitants Highest point: Baru volcano, 3,475 m above sea level Bordering countries: Costa Rica to the west and Colombia to the southeast Dimensions: 772 km from east to west, between 50 and 190 km from north to south depending on the location

2/ Sites inscribed at UNESCO

Cultural

  • Fortifications of the Caribbean coast of Panama: Portobelo, San Lorenzo (1980) 
  • Archaeological Site of Panamá Viejo and Historic District of Panamá (1997) 

Natural

  • Coiba National Park and its Special Marine Protected Area (2005) 
  • Darien National Park (1981) 
  • Reserves of the Talamanca-La Amistad Cordillera / La Amistad National Park (1983)

FORMALITIES & VISA IN PANAMA

For your trip to Panama, you must absolutely be in possession of a passport valid for 6 months after the date of return. If you are a European citizen, you do not need a visa for a stay of less than 3 months (otherwise, please contact the embassy in Paris to make the necessary arrangements).

To obtain your biometric passport in France, go to the town hall with the necessary documents (tax stamp, proof of address, identity card and 2 passport photos) and they will deliver it to you within 3 weeks on average.

Advice: During your trip, keep a photocopy of this precious document with you

Driver’s license: to drive in Panama, it is not necessary to have an international license

The French driving license is valid for a stay not exceeding 3 months.

If your flight transits through the United States, remember to apply for your electronic visa (14USD per person, valid for 2 years, online application): https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/ For any French national returning from Panama, you can bring back: 200 cigarettes (2 cartons) OR 50 cigars, 4 litres of wine (not sparkling), 16 litres of beer, 1 litre of alcoholic beverage over 22 degrees OR 2 litres of alcoholic beverages under 22 degrees OR 1 litre of alcohol of 80 degrees and over.

PRACTICAL LIFE IN PANAMA

1/ Language

Spanish is spoken by all Panamanians except sometimes by certain indigenous communities, notably the Kunas who have their own dialect

However, most of them understand the language.

The Spanish of Panama is more similar to that of the Caribbean than of Central America

Its pronunciation is more nasal than in South America

The particularity of Panamanian Spanish is the shortening of words by deleting the last syllable or the last consonant.

Accent: s, c and z are pronounced “s”.

Some words in Spanish: bonjour = buenos dias; au revoir = adios; salut = hola; à bientôt = hasta luego SVP = por favor; merci = gracias; oui = si; non = no

2/ Time difference

The time difference in Panama is :
– minus 6 hours in winter

Example: when it’s 12 o’clock in Paris, it’s only 6 o’clock in the morning in Panama.
– minus 7h in summer

Example: when it’s 12 o’clock in Paris, it’s only 5 o’clock in the morning in Panama.

3/ Voltage

The current is 110 V, plugs with 2 flat American plugs

An adapter is therefore necessary.

4/ Telephone & Internet

The dialling code to reach Panama from France is 00507

The country has a good mobile phone network and operators vary according to region.

In major cities or tourist areas, you will have no trouble finding “cyber cafés” and there are more and more places offering wifi, especially in hotels of a certain standard and the “western-style” cafés found in the big cities.

CURRENCY & MONEY IN PANAMA

1/ The Panamanian currency

The currency in Panama is the balboa (PAB) 1 EUR = 1.13 PAB (see: https://www.oanda.com/lang/fr/currency/converter/) However, the currency that circulates the most is the US dollar (USD)

When settling in USD, currency is often given in balboas.
Therefore, it is preferable to travel to Panama with dollars

Use small denominations for tips and payments in remote areas of the country.

2/ Payment cards and cash withdrawals in Panama

You can also withdraw balboas or U.S

dollars with your Visa, American Express or Mastercard in mid-sized cities or towns that usually have ATMs

Be careful, you’ll find it harder to find them in some more remote areas

Keep in mind that credit card transactions are always subject to commissions (which vary from bank to bank).
The opening hours of banks are quite limited: from 8 am to 3 pm from Monday to Friday and on Saturday from 9 am to noon

ATMs are usually open 24 hours a day.
It is also possible to exchange cash (dollars) on the spot at banks or exchange offices (casas de cambio), but exchange rates are often higher.
Try, as far as possible, to always have change on you, as not all shopkeepers or taxis have the change, some will refuse you the sale, and to limit the use of your card to save bank charges (leaving with dollars).

3/ The cost of living in Panama

Panama is a cheap country compared to Europe, even though fares have increased in recent years with the boom in tourism

Its economy is one of the most stable in America

The most profitable sectors are finance, tourism and logistics (75% of GDP).

For example:

the dish of the day in a local restaurant: 5 to 10 €. 

a menu in a classic restaurant: between 10 and 15 €. 

a more elaborate menu: between 15 and 30 €. 

a 1 litre bottle of water costs about 1 €. 

1 litre of diesel: €0.80 

 an entry in a national park: 10 USD 

4/ Taxes and tips

Tipping is always a sensitive issue

It is to be determined according to your appreciation for the quality of the attention received, the duration of the services performed and the intensity of the work provided.
In restaurants, the tip “propina” is usually included in the service and is included on the bill

Several amounts appear depending on what you wish to leave: 10, 20 or 30%

If this is not the case, it is customary to leave 10% of the bill.
Allow approximately 1 to 2 USD per day per person for the driver, 3 to 5 USD per day per person for the guide.

When leaving the country, you will have to pay an exit tax of : 40 USD (payable by credit card or in dollars).

Some advice

Always refuse banknotes that are taped or torn at the edges: it would be impossible for you to use them;

Remember to carry some change and small denominations for your petty expenses; 

Know that once back in France, you will not be able to change your balboas into euros..

Also, it is better not to withdraw too much at the end of your trip, or else spend it all on the spot! 

VACCINE, HEALTH & SAFETY IN PANAMA

1/ Vaccines and treatments recommended for travel to Panama

No vaccination is administratively required for travellers from Europe to Panama

However, the following are recommended:

  • Tetanus 
  • Polio 
  • Diphtheria 
  • Typhoid 
  • Hepatitis A recommended 
  • Malaria: the regions at risk are limited to the Darien area (border with Colombia)

Beware anti-malaria drugs are often more harmful in their side effects than the prevention they are supposed to bring

Only your doctor can advise you on whether or not to plan anti-malaria treatment. 

2/ Food

During your trip to Panama, there is no real health problem. Water is drinkable in most cities

For rural areas, prefer bottled water. 

3/ Safety

Panama has no major safety problems

However, as in all large cities, it is necessary to remain vigilant and watch one’s affairs.

However, be careful in the town of Colon on the Caribbean coast, where it is not advisable to walk around.

Here are a few instructions to follow: Never entrust your official documents to anyone and always carry a photocopy of your passport and driver’s license.

Do not display any external signs of wealth (watches, jewellery etc).

Do not leave your personal belongings unattended or give them to strangers.

TRANSPORT TO PANAMA

1/ Flying to Panama

Given Panama’s geography, in most cases the plane offers considerable time savings

There is one regular airline that operates on domestic routes: Air Panama

These are usually small planes that offer about 20 seats and limit the weight of luggage to about 10 kilos.

Flights depart from Albrook National Airport in Panama City

They serve David, Bocas del Toro, the San Blas, Coïba, las Perlas and other smaller destinations.

2/ Taking the bus in Panama

The “Diablos Rojos” (red devils) are the public buses that crisscross the avenues of the capital

These old school buses do not meet any safety standards, so it is best to avoid them.
In addition, many air-conditioned buses serve the whole country and the main tourist sites relatively well

It is probably the cheapest way to discover the country, not forgetting that it also allows you to meet the locals

However, timetables are not always well adhered to, and the buses are quite slow.
In the capital, the bus station is located next to the Albrook Mall.
Outside holidays and long weekends, it is not necessary to book several days in advance; a few hours are enough.

3/ Taking the metro in Panama 

A metro line is under construction in the capital

Speed and punctuality are the 2 assets of this means of transport which will hopefully relieve congestion in the city..

4/ Taking the metro-bus in Panama 

There is a bus network in the capital to get around the city

Special lanes have been built especially for them to facilitate their circulation. 

5/ Taking the train in Panama

There is only one train in Panama that connects the capital to Colon on the Caribbean coast

It is a relatively luxurious tourist train that runs from Monday to Friday and offers the crossing of the rainforest in 1 hour while running along the famous Panama Canal for 77 km

The departure is from Panama at 7:15 am, and the return from Colon at 5:15 pm

It costs 25 USD per adult (15USD per child).
Departure from the Pacific coast: Corozal train station, located near the Albrook Mall.
Departure from Colon: Station located at Mount Esperanza in the city near the port of Cristóbal.

3/ Taking the boat to Panama

In some areas, the boat is one of the only means of transport, especially in the archipelagos of San Blas and Bocas del Toro

Their size depends on the length of the trip: transfers from island to island are often made on wooden pirogues (without protection against the rain…): sensations guaranteed! 

6/ Car rental in Panama

Renting a vehicle to survey Panama is certainly the best way to discover the country at your own pace by making stops along the way

If you wish to get off the beaten track, it is best to rent a 4×4 vehicle, which is often necessary to explore parks and nature reserves without fear.
The main roads are in relatively good condition

As for the secondary network, it may or may not be paved, and often decorated with potholes of varying sizes

It is possible to reach Costa Rica by road via Yaviza

On the other hand; you will not be able to go to Colombia, since the Panamerican Highway (main road that crosses the whole country) ends in the Darien region.
Caution is required: the unpredictable behaviour of some drivers, the large number of trucks and the more or less passable state of the road require the utmost caution

Therefore, the following are a few tips to follow:

  • respect the speed limits
  • prefer daytime driving
  • do not leave your belongings visible or valuables in the car.
  • have a GPS or a good road map
  • Anticipate the actions of pedestrians and bicycles travelling along the roads.
  • check the condition of the vehicle when you take it in (brakes, tyres, lights…) as well as the insurance contract.
  • buckle your seatbelts in the front and back (not mandatory) or face fines.

in case of a police check you must not under any circumstances pay money to the police officer

He will draw up a report that you must give and pay to the Transit and Land Transport Authority (ATTT) of the city where the offence took place.

In the event of an accident with another vehicle, or a collision (or break-in) during your absence, inform the police who will draw up a report (do not move the vehicle before the police arrive, otherwise the insurance will no longer cover the damage).

Rental cars are not allowed to leave Panamanian territory.

Driver’s license: To drive in Panama, it is not necessary to have an international driver’s license

The French driving license is valid for a stay not exceeding 3 months

Depending on the rental company, you must be at least 23 or 25 years old.

7/ Distances and transport time

PANAMA ACCOMMODATION

Accommodation is an integral part of the trip, so it’s important to find your way around and choose the type of accommodation that suits you best

Panama has a wide range of establishments, from low budget to high-end

Each place: whether in the city or in the mountains, on the beach or in a national park, offers its typical accommodation

From a lodge to a luxury hotel or a night in a tent, you will find what you are looking for.
Due to the increasing number of tourists in Panama, hotels sometimes show their limits and are not numerous enough to absorb the attendance during Holy Week or Carnival.
Panama has long remained a popular destination for business people

It is only recently that it has also seen a significant increase in the number of tourists who come to discover the country for its culture, activities and beaches

So it will take a little time to adapt, equip and organize itself in order to welcome the tourists of the 21st century in the best possible way.
Like its neighbour Costa Rica, Panama has opted for a policy of environmental protection

These accommodations are integrated in the heart of the national parks, on the seaside or in the heart of the cities and respect a very precise ecological charter.
The busy period is from December to April during which it is preferable to book in advance.

1/ Hostels

There is a good supply in Panama, but you can’t expect very cheap rates

You can find classic dormitories but also rather comfortable double rooms.

2/ B&B

Bed & Breakfast has multiplied in recent years in Panama with the rise of tourism

They can be simple and unpretentious as charming, comfortable and much more expensive.

3/ “Cabañas

These can be simple as well as luxurious and comfortable

Special attention is often paid to the decor and the welcome

They can correspond to a small, very simple house like a Lodge located in an exceptional site with optimal comfort.

4/ Category 3* local – standard

This is the category we recommend with the best value for money

Single room, clean and with private bathroom, fan or air conditioning

They can be devoid of charm in modern buildings or on the contrary have a lot of character in a very authentic style

They usually offer TV, telephone, Wifi and English speaking staff.

5/ local 4* categories

Prices are starting to get higher, but this can still be affordable for those with a larger budget

This often involves accommodation in boutique hotels or all-inclusive hotels with larger capacities but with very good service and often a swimming pool.

6/ category 5*

In this category, we generally find environmentally friendly Ecolodges, as well as large hotel complexes, generally located on the coast, which offer their guests a wide range of services and activities

Most of them are located in a privileged setting on exceptional sites.

7/ Apartments and villas

They are increasingly developed in Panama

More or less large, from one to several rooms, equipped with a kitchen and a swimming pool for the most luxurious, they allow families or groups of friends to gather in this place and to radiate in the area

Rates vary according to the size, the period and the geographical area chosen.

You also have more “local” possibilities:

Night at a local’s house: this is a good opportunity to see how the locals live

This formula tends to become more and more democratic and a few good addresses are emerging

According to the sites, the comfort can be more or less summary but the goal is to share the life of the families (participation in the daily tasks, work in the fields, preparation of the meals…).

Camping: it is an uncommon practice but wild camping is tolerated.

CULTURE & HISTORY OF PANAMA

1/ History

Pre-Columbian Period: The oldest traces of pre-Columbian cultures found in Panama date back more than 10,000 years

When the Spaniards arrived, it is estimated that between 600,000 and 1 million indigenous people lived in the region; different tribes coexisted according to a certain hierarchy.
1501-1539: Discovery and conquest of Panama: Christopher Columbus reached Panama on his 4th voyage in October 1502

On February 24, 1503, he founded the first Spanish settlement in continental territory: Santa María de Belen.
1539-1821: Colonial regime: Panama was part of the Spanish Empire from 1538 to 1821

1821: End of Spanish domination: on November 21, 1821, Panama obtained its independence by integrating Great Colombia

In 1855, the State of Panama is created and federated with New Grenada (now Colombia).
1880: creation of the Panama Canal: on 1 January 1880, the Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps began work on the Panama Canal, but soon gave up due to heavy human and financial losses

It was the United States that subsequently resumed work

The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 18 November 1903 gave the rights to operate and build the canal to the Americans.
1903: creation of the State of Panama: Panama separates definitively from Colombia and becomes a fully-fledged state.
1968: coup d’état of Omar Torrijos: General Omar Torrijos is the subject of great controversy

Some see him as a dictator, others as the person responsible for important social progress

On October 11, 1968, he came to power in a coup d’état

He was then “head of state” and not president

In 1977, he signed the Torrijos-Carter Treaty with US President Jimmy Carter, allowing Panama to regain sovereignty over the canal

However, this did not take effect immediately

Torijos remained in place until 1981, when he died.
1985: Manuel Antonio Noriega in power: in 1985 Manuel Noriega, a former CIA agent, becomes General of the Armed Forces of Panama

Between 1984 and 1990 he is considered the head of state, although he does not have the official title

In 1989, when presidential elections were due to take place, Noriega cancelled them.
1989: US intervention against Noriega: after the cancellation of the presidential elections in 1989, the United States invades Panama to overthrow Noriega

His rival Guillermo Endara (Solidarity Party, right) then becomes the president of the country

He ruled the country until 1994.
1999: Panama regains control of the canal: on 31 December 1999, following the Torrijos-Carter Treaty signed in 1977, the United States restores control of the canal to Panama

2004: Martín Torrijos elected president: on 2 May 2004, Martín Torrijos (centrist coalition “New Party”), son of Omar Torrijos, becomes president of Panama

2014: Juan Carlos Varela is elected president: conservative party.

2/ Famous figures 

  • Ruben Blades: popular salsa singer
  • Lorna: reggaeton singer
  • Yomira John: bolero-jazz singer
  • Rosa María Britton: writer
  • José Quintero: director

FESTIVALS AND TRADITIONS OF PANAMA

Important Celebrations

January 9: Martyrs’ Day in commemoration of the riots of January 9, 1964 for the sovereignty of the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal was controlled by the United States from 1903 to 1979.
11 January: “Mil Polleras” parade in Las Tablas

More than 10 000 women are dressed in traditional costumes of their region and their most beautiful polleras (headdresses)

mid-January: feria de las flores y del cafe in Boquete

mid-January: the Panama Jazz Festival brings together amateurs and international jazz artists

around January 20th: feria de San Sebastian in Ocu (province of Herrera), agricultural festival, folk dances, local gastronomy

Early February: the carnival takes place in several cities of Panama every year 4 days before Ash Wednesday. It is the most popular event in the country. The most important are the carnivals of Las Tablas, Penonome and Panama City

Early February: feria de Santa Fé, in Veraguas. Agricultural festival, local traditions and gastronomy.

February 25: Independence festival of the comarca Kuna on the islands of the San Blas archipelago March Ash Wednesday: festival of Diablos y Congos in Portobelo

Theatrical dances, songs, colourful masks are on the agenda

mid-March: festival of the Pollera Conga in Portobelo

during March: feria internacional de David Folk songs, dances and music.

April Holy Week – March or April: big processions all over the country

beginning of April: feria de las orquideas, in Boquete

end of April: feria internacional de Azuero in Los Santos

One of the biggest agricultural festivals in the country during which farmers exhibit their most beautiful cattle.

May 1st: dia del trajajo, trade union demonstrations for the fiesta del travai.

June early June: Corpus Christi, at the Villa de los Santos: parades, dances, local traditions

Many tourists come to discover this festive and colourful celebration.

July 22nd: Festival nacional de la Pollera, in Las Tablas. Parade of the most beautiful traditional dresses.

August 15 August: Panama City’s foundation celebration: music, dances ..

mid-August: Manito festival, in Ocu, in the province of Herrera

Representation of folk dances, local dance of the Mejorana.

September around the 15th: feria internacional del Mar, in Bocas del Toro

Various concerts and festive evenings with the aim of making people aware of the preservation of the environment

Around September 24th: festival of la mejorana in Guarare, which features this little guitar typical of the region. Dances, songs and folk music.

mid October: feria del torito guapo in Anton. Presentation of traditional costumes and election of the most beautiful

21 October: procession of the Black Christ in Portobelo.

November 10th: 1st call for Independence in Villa Los Santos

November 28th: national holiday.

December 8 December: Day of the Immaculate Conception, which is also Mother’s Day in Panama (holiday).

 

Traditions

Religion : Catholic

Drinks: Cane juice, Seco (sugar cane alcohol), rum (Seco Herrerano, Ron Abuelo and Carta Vieja), beer (Soberana, Atlas, Balboa, Balboa Ice, Golden Best, Panamá, Cristal). 

Music and dance:

the mejorana, the punto, the tamborito with its dancers dressed in the pollera (typical Panamanian dress), the cumbia or the congo with African influences, the omnipresent accordion, the salomas (particular shouts found in the songs)… 

Amerindian populations: they live at the eastern and western extremities of the country (Kunas, Emberas, Wounaans…). 

Cuisine: corn (staple food of Panamanian cuisine), tama (corn-based paste filled with meat and flavoured with condiments), patacones (fried plantain banana slices that accompany or replace rice), cassava… 

Sport: boxing (the sport that has given the most victories, joy and satisfaction in Panama). 

Questions and answers about Panama that every traveler should know

Today, Panama is a country that no longer goes unnoticed on the route of most travelers around the world.

Although the famous Panama Canal is still the main attraction for many tourists, I must also mention the rest of the domestic destinations that have become a space in travel guides as favorite places to visit in the region.

Boquete, Bocas del Toro, Santa Catalina or Guna Yala (popularly known as San Blas) are just some of the places that have become enormously important in the last 10 years, and this is thanks to the peculiar attraction of each one, which has allowed tourism to soar.

If you came to this post looking for basic answers about Panama, you are in luck.

In the last few months, I have received any number of questions from my country in my email or in social networks, some more specific and detailed than others, which has made me investigate a little more.

At the same time, I don’t pretend to believe that I have each and every answer (almost impossible for anyone to know every detail about their own country), but I do know enough to clear up the essential doubts of those who plan to come to Panama and have little information beforehand.

Before we go any further, I would like to make it clear that if you have any questions that you don’t find and you feel that I should have mentioned throughout this list of questions and answers, let me know with a comment so that I can help you.

Even if I don’t have the answer at the time, I could find it out for you and save you time in the process 😉

Let’s get started.

Is Panama safe?

At a Central American level, Panama is pretty quiet, and has even made the list of the 5 least violent countries in the Americas.

But nothing is perfect in life, and to say that everything is peace and love would be to pretend to cover the sun with a finger.

Certainly, and as in many places, there are robberies, pickpocketing and other types of crime where tourists become the main victims, but it is not something that happens so often.

Most of the time these events occur through the carelessness of the traveler.

As I usually suggest, use your common sense and always ask about the safety of a place before visiting it.

As a suggestion, avoid the city of Colon (its level of danger is high) and those regions of the Darien that have had a history of conflict with guerrillas and narco-paramilitaries.

 

Make the most of your time with one of the following tours with an English-speaking guide that we recommend:

  • One day tour to know Panama City
  • Excursion to the rainforest and fort of San Lorenzo from Panama
  • Excursion to the San Blas Islands from Panama
  • Excursion to the indigenous village and Monkey Island from Panama
  • Private excursion to an Emberá Indian village

Discover more tours in Panama

What is the time difference between Spain and Panama?

The time difference between both countries is 7 hours during summer time in Spain, and 6 hours in winter time.

To explain it better, Spain would be 7 hours ahead of Panama in summer, while in winter the advance would be 6 hours.

What kind of food is usual in Panama?

The gastronomic variety is immense in Panama, and historically this is thanks to its geographical position as a transit country.

Visitors will find that foods such as rice, salads, beans and meats are abundant in the Panamanian diet.

It is also normal to eat fried foods, especially at breakfast.

The national dish is sancocho, which is a chicken soup and is eaten a lot in the Azuero region and central provinces.

Is it advisable to drink tap water?

At least in the main cities, the quality of the water is excellent, so there will be no need to resort to purifying tablets.

In rural areas, the most prudent thing would be to buy your water bottled.

What can I visit in each province of Panama?

First of all, the republic is divided into 9 provinces and 5 indigenous comarcas (Guna Yala is the most famous of all the comarcas).

Below is a list of the provinces, indicating the highlights of each:

  • Bocas del Toro: Colon Island.
  • Chiriqui: Boquete, La Amistad International Park, Cangilones de Gualaca, Volcano Village and Cerro Punta.
  • Cocle: The Anton Valley, the beaches of the Pacific (El Palmar, Santa Clara, Rio Mar).
  • Colon: Portobelo, Isla Grande, Chagres National Park.
  • Darien: The Darien National Park, The Patiño Bay.
  • Herrera: Chitré, Parita, Sarigua National Park.
  • Los Santos: La Villa de Los Santos, Pedasi.
  • Panama: Taboga, Panama la Vieja, Casco Viejo, Contadora.
  • Veraguas: Coiba Island, Santa Catalina, La Yeguada.

Which are the main airports in Panama?

The Tocumen airport, located about 23 kilometers from downtown Panama City, is the most important and largest airport in the nation.

Regarding domestic flights, the company Air Panama is the one that provides flight service to the whole country and its center of operations is Albrook airport.

It is located 15 minutes from downtown Panama City.

How is the climate throughout the year?

From December to May is dry season and the rest of the months is rainy season, but as a good tropical country that is Panama, you will find much sun throughout the year.

Regardless of the time of year, the average temperature remains around 29°.

The biggest advantage is that, even in the coldest part of the country (the highlands of Chiriqui province), you won’t have to wear as many clothes for the cold.

What kind of vaccines should I get to travel to Panama?

A vaccine against yellow fever is suggested, especially in the rainy season.

During the year you may hear cases of dengue fever, but they are very few and the highest percentage of incidences occur in remote areas.

In any case, it is always good to take measures and carry mosquito repellent to keep them at bay.

What is the local currency?

The currency is the US dollar, although it is normal to hear Panamanians use the term Balboa (in honor of Spanish explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa).

In 2011, $1 coins began to circulate, something new until then.

Can you cross from Panama to Colombia by land?

Not at all.

There are no roads or makeshift trails passing through the vast, dense Darien jungle to Colombia.

What many do is cross by sail to Cartagena from the San Blas islands.

The company San Blas Adventures is the one that offers the best service and has good prices.

Another alternative, which is cheaper, is to travel from Puerto Obaldía (Panama) to Turbo (Colombia).

In an emergency, what number should I dial?

The phone number you should have in mind is 911, which allows you to contact the fire department, police and medical services.

The great thing about 911 is that it covers the entire nation, which is not bad at a time when domestic tourism is constantly growing.

What is the recommended travel budget for traveling to Panama?

This is a very relative question since, as in any destination in the world, the budget will depend on what you want to do and how long you want to stay in Panama.

By throwing out an approximate figure of how much you would spend per day, I calculate that $20-$25 divided between lodging, food and a few extra expenses on the street.

Of course, the quoted price may be lower if you prefer to order Couchsurfing accommodation or if you want to cook most of your meals.

Is it a good idea to rent a car and drive in Panama?

Unlike the chaotic and congested streets of Panama City, the rest of the nation is quite relaxed and easy to drive, and even more so if you take into account the fact that the Panamericana (the country’s main highway) is in optimal condition and more signposted than a few years ago.

It is essential that the person has a valid driver’s license to rent a car for a period not exceeding 90 days.

It is a good way to know the country with total freedom.

If this is your favourite option, we recommend you to do it through our partner where you will find a wide range of options and very good offers:

What type of clothing is ideal to bring on a trip to Panama?

With how hot it is in Panama, there is nothing better than bringing the simplest and most comfortable clothes possible, as well as a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses.

For those who decide to go hiking, it is essential to bring long pants, a pair of sneakers and a good mosquito repellent.

In the coldest destinations in the country, located in the province of Chiriqui, a coat or light jacket is enough.

Is tipping mandatory?

Tipping is still a topic of discussion in Panama.

There is usually a general rule of tipping 10%, although it is not mandatory at all.

There are restaurants that add it to the bill, which is a good idea to ask first if it is included or not.

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