- Is Panama safe?
- When is the best time to visit?
- I don't speak Spanish. Will that be a problem in Panama?
- Do I need a visa to visit Panama? Is there something I need to know about before my trip?
- What's the best way to get to Panama?
- What is the currency?
- Which Airlines fly to Panama from which US cities?
- How do I get from the airport to my Panama City hotel?
- How are the prices in Panama?
- Can I drink the water? Are there any health concerns?
- What's the weather Like?
- Where do I take domestic flights?
- What is the Tourism Hotline Number?
- What are the transfer times between Panama City and the most Popular Destinations?
- What kind of souvenirs and gifts can I find?
- What type of wildlife can I see in Panama?
- Where are the Best Places to See Wildlife?
- What electrical voltage is used? Can I use my electrical appliances?
- In case of an emergency, what are the medical facilities like?
- Are there any required vaccines? What about mosquitos?
- Is it safe to drive in Panama? Can I take a "fly and drive vacation"?
- How much should I tip?
- What Time Zone is Panama in?
- Why choose Panama over other Latin American and Caribbean destinations?
- What kind of clothes and other items should I bring?
- What's the basis for the Panama's economy?
- Is Panama a typical Latin American country? What's the Ethnic makeup?
- What's the Government Like?
- I would like to travel on to South America from Panama. Are there any roads, ferries or boats?
- Is there some leftover anti-Americanism?
- Is Panama a good place for business?
- Does Panama run the Canal as well as the Americans did?
- What is the easiest and cheapest way to make and receive phone calls in Panama for a visitor?
Is Panama safe?
Yes - Panama is the safest country for tourists in the region and one of the safest countries in Latin America. The purse snatchings and pick-pocketing common in other places are uncommon here.
That said, like anywhere some caution is needed. Don't wander around in poor areas especially at night. In Panama City, take only authorized taxis which are painted yellow with a number on it or a taxi officially connected to your hotel. If there's two people in the front seat of the taxi, don't take it.
Use common sense-don't carry large sums of money or flash expensive watches.
One city in Panama is unsafe: Colon. There are no tourism attractions in the city of Colon itself so avoid it. When you visit the Colon area, go with a tour guide or to go to the Free Trade Zone only.
There is also a State Department warning for a remote part of Darien province that borders with Columbia where no tourists usually go- just journalists and missionaries.
There are two "seasons" and many people prefer to come in the "dry season" from mid-December through May when it doesn't rain.
October and November have the most rain. That said, the sun shines at least part of the day, 365 days a year most places. Two seasonal exceptions- Boquete where it rains a lot in September and October and Bocas where it can rain a lot at times. From late December thru April plus August and September are good for Bocas. Keep in mind, that both Boquete and Bocas have rainforests- so with the rain comes all that incredible greenery.
In Panama's so called "rainy season" or "green season" from June until December, most days there is a one to two hour tropical rain storm in the late afternoon. Before and after the sun is out and most activities can be planned around it. Many hotels offer special "green season" rates and it may be easier to get reservation. We don't recommend coming in rainiest months of October and November. months.
Check out our full article on the subject here.
I don't speak Spanish. Will that be a problem in Panama?
Not a problem. English is a second language-most Panamanians speak some English and many speak it fluently, especially those that cater to tourists. Panama has always been an international business crossroads where English is a necessity.
Do I need a visa to visit Panama?
Citizens of most countries including the USA, Canada and the European Union don't need a visa. They only require a valid passport for trips of up to 180 days. If you want to stay longer you have to travel to another country, stay 3 days and then re-enter Panama to get another 180 day tourism visa. For all other countries consult your embassy or a Panamian consulate about visa requirements.
Of note: a law requires anyone entering Panama to have at least 3 months before his passport expires. So make sure you do, or you may be refused entry. Panamanian law also requires you carry some kind of ID when you are out and about in Panama. You don't have to carry your passport, you should carry a photocopy of the photo page of your passport and also the page where you entry date is stamped.
If your children are traveling with one parent only, Panama requires a notarized letter of permission from the other parent.
What's the best way to get to Panama?
Panama is a 3 hour flight from Miami. There are direct flights to Panama from ten US cities: Newark, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Orlando Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale and Toronto. See also our Airlines and Car Rental pages.
If you are coming from Costa Rica, flights from San Jose cost about $400 round trip. You can also come by bus over the border to West Panama to visit both Bocas del Toro and the Chiriqui Highlands. Going to Panama by bus from Costa Rica,includes a tedious and unpleasant border crossing. It' s no fun but it is cheap.- about $80 round trip. San Jose-Panama takes about 12 hours.
You can drive to Panama from the United States on the Panamerican Highway. We don't recommend it unless you are fluent in Spanish and have experience living in Latin America.
You may be one of the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit Panama off a cruise ship. No permits are needed to disembark and take shore trips.
What is the currency?
The US dollar is the currency. Yes - that's right-no currency exchange hassles. The US dollar is one of Panama's great tourist conveniences. You don't have to be a mathematical genius to figure out what that meal just cost etc.
Which Airlines fly to Panama from which US and Europe and from which cities?
There are direct flights to Panama from ten US cities: New York (Copa and Delta ) Newark (Unitedl) Miami (American and Copa), Los Angeles, (Copa) Houston (Unitedl) Atlanta (Delta) Orlando (Copa) Washington D.C. (Copa) Las Vegas (Copa) Chicago (Copa) and Ft. Lauderdale (Spirit)
KLM flies direct from Amsterdam and Iberia from Madrid. In late 2013, there will be a direct flight from Paris.
Copa is Panama's international airline. Flight times from US cities range 2/5-5 hours.
How do I get from the airport to my Panama City hotel?
Tocumen International Airport is 15 minutes by a super highway from downtown Panama City. Official taxis and vans waiting for you as you exit the airport customs area.The fare is around $25 for private van or taxi and $15 for a shared taxi. No bus service from the airport is available.
Hire a Private Taxi to get around Panama City: If your Spanish is not great or you just want to relax and leave everything in capable, friendly hands, we recommend you contact Judy of Easy Travel Panama who specializes in "personalized" ground transportation and sight-seeing service by private taxi. From the minute you touch Panamanian soil, you will have a knowledgeable and English-speaking driver/guide at the Tocumen International airport to receive and assist you. Their rates are very reasonable- for example $25 an hour for your private taxi with an English speaking, knowledgeable guide. An airport pick-up is $40. Easy Travel offers transportation throughout Panama City and other nearby popular destinations.
Contact Judy at
Tel: (507) 6617-4122
How are the prices in Panama?
Panama is an inexpensive destination as an "affordable exotic destination"for exotic, unique and off-the-beaten-path kind of experiences without hordes of people with priceless pristine nature. Panama is not the place for "bargain basement" mass beach vacation offerings like Cancun.
It's also a great place for backpackers. Buy Lonely Planet Panama for budget travel and hotel info.
Can I drink the water? Are there any health concerns?
Panama has the best sanitary conditions in Latin America. It is the only country where you can drink the tap water anywhere. ( With a few exceptions in Bocas del Toro). The "Montezumas Revenge" that is so common in the rest of Latin America is almost unheard of. There are no otherhealth concerns and no shots or special pills are necessary unless you are going to hike in the Darien jungle.
In the lowlands, temperatures during the day range between 80 F and 90 degrees Fareinheit (25-30 degrees Celsius). It cools off in the evenings which are invariably pleasant. In the highlands the day range is between 45F and 85F.
There's two seasons - the "dry" season and the "green" season. The dry season is from mid-December until May and green season from May until December. "Dry" means it rarely rains and the green season means typically a refreshing tropical shower late each afternoon. It rarely rains all day, which means that rain is no obstacle to tourism activities. The exception to this rule is Bocas del Toro and Boquete. In Bocas, it can rain all day from time to time. In Boquete September and October are the rainiest months, so not the best time to visit.
Where Do I Take Domestic Flights?
Panama's domestic airport is in Albrook about 15 minutes from downtown Panama City and 45 minutes from Panama's Tocumen International Airport. The most popular destinations are Bocas del Toro and David ( the gateway to Boquete). Round trip fares are around $200.00.
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Just call 311. Operators speak English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. They will advise you if you are having a problem, like a lost passport or snatched purse and also give general tourism advise.
Panama City-Gamboa Rainforest Resort or Canopy Tower: 45 minutes by car.
Panama City-Panama Canal Miraflores Lock and Visitor Center: 20 minutes by car.
Panama City-Contadora Island: 15 minutes by plane.
Panama City-San Blas Islands: 30 minutes by plane.
Panama City-Isla Grande: 2 hours by car, longer by bus.
Panama City-Bocas del Toro: 1 hour by plane.
Panama City-Boquete: 1 hour flight to David, then a 45 minute drive by car. .
Panama City-Anton Valley (El Valle): 2 hours by bus or car.
Panama City-Pedasí: 4.5 hours by car, 6 hours by bus.
What sort of souvenirs and gifts can I find?
Panama has the greatest variety of indigenous-made souvenirs of any country outside Mexico. Panamanians have an innate sense of beauty that shows in their handicrafts. "Molas", intricate hand-sewn tapestries of the Kuna indians are the most popular souvenirs - you can buy little girls dresses, women's clothes and handbags decorated with molas. Native jewelry, Panama hats, fine woven baskets from the rainforest palms and natural dyes, tropical wood carvings and pre-Colombian and Spanish Colonial style jewelry are some of the other most popular items.
What type of wildlife will I see ?
Panama's position as a narrow land bridge connecting two continents has endowed it with some of the world's most pristine and bio-diverse rainforests. It's national parks cover five million acres. One key indicator of its biodiversity: Panama (the size of North Carolina) has 944 recorded bird species, more than the US and Canada combined.
The easiest way to see some monkeys and other tropical nature take the Monkey Island Tour of the Panama Canal with Jungle Land Explorers, Ancon Expeditions or Gamboa Tours.
Some of the animals most often seen are: monkeys, sloths, the tropical ñeque and gato solo, alligators, armadillos and huge variety of birds. One American travel writer told us that she saw more nature in one afternoon in Panama's Soberania National Park just 45 minutes from downtown Panama City, than she saw in two weeks in Brazil's Amazon.
Panama has also been the home of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) for ninety years, an ecological treasure and the world's top tropical scientific research institute. No country outside the developed world has a flora and fauna that has been as studied and cataloged as Panama has, thanks to STRI.
Where are the Best Places to See Wildlife?
To see wildlife,from Panama City,go on the Monkey Island tour or with a nature guide to the Metropolitan National Park. Panama has many national parks including several just outside Panama City: Soberania National Park, Barro Colorado Island, Monkey Island, Pipeline Road, Plantation Road, Achiote Road. There;s also national parks in Bocas del Toro, Volcan -Amistad National Park in Chiriqui (on the border with Costa Rica) the Pearl Islands, Darien and Coiba Island National Parks.
Hotels and ecolodges near National Parks include Gamboa Rainforest Resort and Canopy Tower (Panama Canal Rainforest/Soberania National Park, Hacienda del Mar (Pearl Islands), Punta Caracol and Al Natural (Bocas del Toro), Los Quetzales and Finca Lerida in Chiriquí's Amistad National Park.
You can see wildlife without breaking a sweat by having lunch at Los Lagartos Restaurant over the historic Chagres River at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, just 45 minutes from Panama City. From the restaurant terrace you'll see trove of tropical wildlife - alligators, turtles, fish, birds in the river and even an occasional mammal on shore. Ask the waiters to give you some bread to throw in river and see what appears...this is a sure family hit.
In case of an emergency, what are the medical facilities like?
As a by-product of its long association with the United States, many Panamanian doctors are U. S. trained and the standards of the top hospitals compare favorably to US standards. Punta Pacifica, Punta Paitilla, San Fernando and National are all excellent hospitals with mostly bi-lingual doctors. The least expensive is Hospital Nacional in Panama City (Tel: +507-204-8100) which has a special department for tourists with a multilingual staff. They accept most insurance policies.
Are there any required vaccines? What about mosquitos?
There are no required vaccines or shots. You're unlikely to see a mosquito your whole trip. Panama may be a tropical country but mosquito control is effective. Exceptions would be if you are in the rainforest after dusk or hiking or overnight in the jungle, in which case insect repellant is advised.
Is it safe to drive in Panama? Can I take a "fly and drive" vacation?
This would be best for outside Panama City. Panama City traffic is chaotic and tricky - we recommend just taking taxis. They are plentiful, safe and inexpensive. Or hire personal driver. Make sure to take only official taxis which are yellow and have a number on them. FYI, Panama City has major traffic jams in the morning and evening rush hours.
Outside Panama City, Panama has one of the best road infrastructures in Latin America. The Panamerican Highway, the main highway across Panama is in excellent condition - 75% of it is a modern new four lane highway. Feeder roads off this main highway to the various top destinations are also excellent. American style gas stations and fast food restaurants are all along the way. As with driving in any unfamiliar country, we strongly recommend you plan to drive only during the day.
See Car Rentals.
How Much Should I Tip?
10% is normal. Some tips are included in the bill, so check. You don't have to tip taxi drivers-but it would be much appreciated. Be generous- that extra dollar or two means a lot to a Panamanian family.
Panama is on EST from October to April and CST from April to October when daylight savings goes into effect in the States.
- The most accessible exotic nature in the world - the "hyper-diverse" Panama Canal Rainforest is 30 minutes from Panama City.
- Beautiful beaches along 1000 miles on coast on both oceans and on fifteen hundred islands with hardly a soul in sight.
- Seven living indigenous cultures with their own way of life and traditions.
- Forty-eight fascinating historical monuments.
- 954 bird species in vast National Parks
- A fun, sophisticated and safe capital city.
- An exciting night life with casinos, discotheques and excellent restaurants.
What kind of clothes and other items should I bring?
For the tropical climate, light colored, loose fitting cotton clothes are the most comfortable. Panama is near the equator the sun is strong- you"ll need good sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.
Do plan on being dressed neatly. Panamanians don't appreciate grunge and will treat you better if your dressed neatly. Panamanians themselves, especially the women of Panama City are beautifully groomed. Panama City is a dress-up city, but as a tourist casual is fine.
The highlands can be cool in the evenings so a warm sweater or light jacket is necessary. If you plan to hike, bring long pants, boots, a hat and insect repellant.
Is Panama a typical Latin American country? What's the Ethnic makeup?
Panama is not typical at all. Don't expect to see mainly the typical mestizo (descendants of a combination of Spanish and Indian) population like in the rest of Latin America. There's saying that Panama was "born globalized." The population of 3.3 million people has diverse origins: Spanish descendants, blacks (brought in from the Caribbean to build the Canal), indigenous cultures, and important immigrant populations from North America, Europe, China, India and Middle East.
Of special note and a major tourism attraction are the are seven living Indian cultures: Kunas in the San Blas Islands on the Caribbean, Embera and Wounaan in the province of Darien, Ngobe Bugle in the provinces of Chiriqui, Bocas del Toro, Veraguas and Teribes, and the Bokotas in Bocas del Toro province.
What's the basis for the Panama's economy?
Panama is a primarily service-based economy. Services include the Panama Canal, logistical services, tourism, the largest free trade zone in the Americas, and an international banking center with over 100 banks. Panama City is becoming the hub of the Americas and a preferred place for regional meetings.
Because of the high quality of life, many international companies are making their Latin American corporate headquarters in Panama. Panama offers tax incentives and special economic zones for businesses and corporate headquarters.
Bananas, shrimp and coffee are the major agricultural exports.
What's the government Like?
Panama has one of the most stable democracies in the Americas. Since 1989, when the dictator Noriega was deposed, Panama has been a fully democratic country.
Panama's current President Ricardo Martinelli is of the countries most successful businessman. His goal to make Panama the best country in Latin America to do business and a model for the region. Crime rates are down and major infrastructure projects are underway including a subway system which will debut in early 2014.
I would like to travel on to South America from Panama. Are there any roads, ferries or boats?
No. Panama is the literally the end of the road. No roads cut through the dense jungle of Panama's Darien province to South America. Nor are there any official ferries or boat service. The only way to go is to South America is to fly. If you have a car, you can arrange to ship it by boat.
Is there any anti-Americanism?
Panamanians are some of the most pro-American peoples anywhere. They are proud to finally have complete sovereignty over their country with the transfer of the Panama Canal, but are delighted to see Americans back as tourists and investors. Due to their long historical association with the United States, Panamanians understand and appreciate Americans as few other countries do.
A local joke is that Panama is just like Miami except that Panama is safer than Miami, more people speak English in Panama than in Miami, there are no hurricanes and Americans are more popular than in Miami.
Is Panama a good place for business?
Panama is fast becoming the business hub of the Americas. It has Latin America's second freest market economy, a first-world communications and road infrastructure, the dollar as its currency, a major international banking center, the largest Free Zone in the Americas and an unmatched geographic position with multiple logistic transportation centers. It's international airport has direct flights to 80 international cities. There are laws granting major tax and hiring incentives for corporate headquarters. There is a special economic zone where a new city is being built- Panama Pacifico, with tax incentives for businesses and fast track government permits. Caterpillar, Dell and 3M are already there. Panama City in one of Latin Americas safest and most sophisticated capitals with a variety of neighborhoods attractive to foreigners.
Foreign investors will tell you they enjoy working with Panama's entrepreneurial class most of whom were educated in the States or worked for Americans in the former Canal Zone.
Dealing with government permits etc. is not such a pleasure, but little by little things are getting streamlined.
Does Panama run the Canal as well as the Americans?
Yes. As acknowledged article in the Wall Street Journal, and the Smithsonian Magazine 2005, Panama runs the Canal as well, if not better than the Americans.
Under Panamanian control, for the first time the Canal is run on a for-profit basis. Profits go to Panama's treasury. Technological developments are also dramatically increasing efficiency.
For more information visit our Panama Canal Destination Page.
What is the easiest and cheapest way to make and receive phone calls in Panama for a visitor?
Panama- USA/Canada phone calls are incredibly cheap- 5 cents a minute. The cheapest way to make phone calls is to buy a $10.00 C &W or Movistar phone card at major grocery store like El Rey or Farmacia Arrocha. You just put in the "code" and call from any phone. If you want to receive phone calls, you can buy a cheap pre-pay cell phone in a mall and use it on each trip. You can activate it each trip by buying a SIM card. Then you will have your own Panama # and people can call you from the States.