FAQ - The Most Frequently Asked Questions about Travel to Panama

Is Panama safe?
Panama is among the safest countries for tourism and business travel in the region. Purse snatchings, pick-pocketing, and other types of vandalism common in other places are uncommon here. Violent crime is very rare.

That said, you should exercise caution and common sense. If you feel like you shouldn’t be wandering in a particular area, pay attention to that intuition. Avoid displaying large sums of wealth. In Panama City, take only authorized taxis (they are painted yellow and have an official number on them) or use Uber. If there's two people in the front seat of a taxi, especially late at night, wait for another.

Some areas to be wary of include city of Colon and Panama’s border with Colombia. If you visit the Colon area, go with a tour company and stick to the free-trade zone.

Back to top

When is the best time to visit?
You can travel to Panama throughout the year, but you will want to think about what you want to do before deciding when to come.

During the rainy season, which is also low season, there is typically a tropical storm in the late afternoon which will break up your day. The upside is that prices and availability are better. Steer clear of the wettest months: October and November.

Check out our full article on the subject here.

Back to top

I don't speak Spanish. Will that be a problem in Panama?

No. Most Panamanians are bilingual in English and Spanish, especially those that cater to visitors.

Back to top

Do I need a visa to visit Panama?
If you are coming from anywhere in the Americas or the European Union, you most likely will not need a visa, but you will need a passport that is valid for at least 6 months to land tourist visa which will last you between 30 and 90 days.

Be sure to consult your embassy or a Panamanian consulate about visa requirements.

What other laws should I be aware of before visiting?

Panamanian law mandates that visitors entering Panama by air, water, or land, to have the following:

A passport that is valid for at least six months.
Proof that you have a minimum of $500.00. Cash, a credit card with a bank statement confirming access to $500 or even travelers checks will be sufficient. Authorities rarely asked for this, but it’s good to have just in case.
A ticket to exit the country within 90 days

Like other countries, Panamanian law requires you carry some kind of ID at all times. To avoid losing your passport, carry a photocopy of your passport’s photo page and the page where you entry date is stamped.

If children are traveling with only one parent, Panama requires a notarized letter of permission from the other parent.

What's the best way to get to Panama?

By air: most visitors come to that country via Tocumen International Airport. If you are coming from Costa Rica or Colombia, flights cost about $400 round trip.

By land: You can also come by bus via Costa Rica to visit Bocas del Toro and the Chiriqui Highlands. Although it is a tedious 12 hour ride from San Jose, it’s cheaper than flying. The Pan American highway connects Panama with its northern neighbors. While it's safe, it would be best to speak some Spanish.

By water: Tourists who pass through Panama on a cruise ship will need permits to disembark. Your ship will provide this permit.
See also our Airlines and Car Rental pages.

Back to top

What's the local currency?
The US dollar is the currency, which is just one of Panama's great conveniences. No need to be a mathematical genius to figure out what that meal just cost.

Back to top

Which Airlines fly to Panama from which US and Europe and from which cities?
TThere are direct flights to Panama from 16 US cities (and counting): San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Newark, Washington, Denver, Boston, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Worth, Chicago, Tampa, Atlanta and Orlando. Flight times from US cities range from 2.5--7 hours

Copa offers direct flights from Toronto and Montreal and there are direct flights to Panama from Amsterdam, Paris, Valencia, Frankfurt and Madrid.

Back to top

How do I get from the airport to my Panama City hotel?
Tocumen International Airport is 30-60 minutes by beltway to downtown Panama City (depending on traffic). Official taxis and vans are available where you exit the airport. Their prices range from $20 - $40.

Locals do take a bus from the airport to downtown, but you will need a “Metro” card to do the same and sadly these are not sold at the airport. If want to try your Spanish and your luck, you can ask a local to swipe their card for you in exchange for the $1.25 it costs (or offer them a bit more to sweeten the deal).

Hire a Private Taxi to get around Panama City: If your Spanish isn't great or you just want to relax and leave everything in 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 $30 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
Email: easytravel@cwpanama.net
Tel: (507) 6617-4122

Back to top

How are the prices in Panama?
While Panama is an affordable destination, it does not thrive on bargain-basement mass beach vacation offerings like Cancun. With consistent economic growth, prices in the city have become steeper in the capital, but there are still plenty of places to stay and eat for any budget in and outside of Panama City.

Back to top

Can I drink the water? Are there any health concerns?
With the exception of Bocas del Toro, you can drink the tap water all along the country.

While visiting with up-to-date standard vaccinations is most-likely fine, the United States’ Center for Disease Control recommends getting the Hepatitis A and the Typhoid vaccine. If you are really going to be going deep into the wild, consider getting Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever, Rabies and Malaria vaccines as well.

Back to top

What's the Weather Like?
Panama has two climates: the lowland which is tropical and humid and the highland which has year-round spring temperatures.

In the lowlands, temperatures range between low 70 and high 90°F (23°-30° C). Days are wildly bright and evenings are deliciously balmy. In the highlands, temperatures move between 60 and 80 F (15°-25° C). The ocean is a welcoming ~80°F (29°C) along both coasts all year-around.

There's two seasons: the dry and the rainy. The dry season runs from January through April and rainy season from May through December. During the latter, there is normally a shower in the afternoon, leaving mornings and nights open for unbothered adventure. The seasons often blend into each other and each region has its own microclimate and peculiarities. For example, in Bocas, it can occasionally rain all day.

Go here to learn more about when to visit.

Back to top

Where Do I Take Domestic Flights?
Panama's domestic airport, Marcos A. Gelabert, is in Albrook, is about 15 minutes from downtown Panama City and 45 minutes from Panama's Tocumen International Airport.

Copa has flights from Tocumen Airport to David, which is an hour’s car ride away from Boquete, Chriquí. There are also flights from Marcos A. Gelabert to David and also to Isla Colón which is where you will land by air in Bocas del Toro, as well as many other popular destinations. Domestic round trip fares range between $100 and $300.

Back to top

Back to top

What are the Transfer times between Panama City and the most Popular Destinations?
Panama City-Pacific Coast Beaches: 1 ½ -2 hours by bus or car.

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.

Back to top

What sort of souvenirs and gifts can I find?
Panamanians have an innate sense of beauty that shows in their handicrafts. Beyond the Panama hats, you will find palm-leaf woven baskets colored with natural dyes, tropical wood and tagua nut or vegetable ivory carvings, pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial style jewelry and "molas" which are intricate hand-sewn tapestries of the Guna indians which are made into everything from hand-mittens to pillows and jackets.

The best place to buy high-end souvenirs and jewelry is Reprosa which has stores in Casco Viejo, downtown Panama City, and Costa del Este. For a wide-variety of playful designs sold by the artisans themselves, visit Paseo Las Bovedas in Casco Viejo which has spread of craftsmen hawking their fare. Throughout Casco you will find a number of other souvenir shops.

Back to top

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 biodiverse rainforests. National parks cover five million acres. One key indicator of its biodiversity: Panama, which is roughly the size of North Carolina, close to 1000 recorded bird species. That is more than the US and Canada combined.

One American travel writer told us that she saw more nature in one afternoon in Soberanía National Park, located just 45 minutes from downtown Panama City, than she saw in two weeks in Brazil's Amazon.

To see multiple species of monkey, sloths, birds, alligators and other animal life, take the Monkey Island Tour of the Panama Canal with Jungle Land Explorers Ancon Expeditions.

Panama has been the home of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) for almost a century. Thanks to the presence of this world-renown scientific research institute, Panama’s flora and fauna that has been as faithfully studied, cataloged, and preserved.

Back to top

Where are the Best Places to See Wildlife?
There are a number of national parks close to the city you can see critters in: Metropolitan Soberanía, Barro Colorado Island, Monkey Island, Pipeline Road, Plantation Road, and Achiote Road. Take a guide or go with a tour operator to really take advantage of these rich deposits of flora and fauna.

Outside of Panama City, the most well-known are La Amistad and Volcán Barú in Chiriqui (on the border with Costa Rica), Isla Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro, the Coiba and the Pearl Islands on the Pacific side, and Darien National Park, which has had a Unesco World Heritage status since 1981 and is the country’s largest and most checkered protected area.

National Parks are not developed as they are in the States or Costa Rica for that matter: most trails are not maintained so you will need to hire a guide to find your way across them.

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.

See wildlife without breaking a sweat over lunch at Los Lagartos Restaurant which overlooks the historic Chagres River at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, just 45 minutes from Panama City. From the restaurant terrace you'll see a trove of tropical wildlife including alligators, turtles, fish, birds in the river and even an occasional mammal on shore.

Back to top

What is the electrical voltage? Can I use my electrical appliances?
The voltage is the same as the United States and Canada: 110V.

Back to top

In case of an emergency, what are the medical facilities like?
Many doctors are trained in the US or Canada and the standards at top hospitals compare favorably with those in other developed nations. Punta Pacifica, Punta Paitilla, San Fernando and Hospital Nacional in Panama City are all excellent hospitals with bilingual doctors. Hospital Nacional in Panama City offers inexpensive care and has a special department for tourists as well as multilingual staff. They accept most insurance policies.

Outside the city, medical facilities vary in quality so be sure to purchase travelers insurance ahead of time.

Back to top

Are there any required vaccines? What about mosquitos?
There are no required vaccines or shots, however United States’ Center for Disease Control recommends getting the Hepatitis A and the Typhoid vaccine. If you are really going to be going deep into the wild, consider getting Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever, Rabies and Malaria as well.

Mosquito control keeps these nuisances sparse in the city, but if you are hiking in the rainforest or jungle, be sure to generously apply insect repellent.

Back to top

Is it safe to drive in Panama? Can I take a "fly and drive" vacation?
Unless you are an internationally experienced driver with a high-tolerance for aggression, we don't recommend driving in Panama City. In short, it’s chaotic, confusing, and features exhausting traffic jams during commuting jobs. Taxis are plentiful, safe, and inexpensive and Uber is available throughout Panama City. Make sure to take only official taxis which are yellow and have a number on them. You can also hire personal driver or explore the Metro.

Once you are outside Panama City, renting a car makes sense. The Panamerican Highway, the main highway across Panama is in excellent condition and 75% of it is a modern new four lane highway. Feeder roads off this main highway to major destinations are also reliable and lined with gas stations and restaurants (with the exception of the road to San Blas). As with driving in any unfamiliar country, we strongly advise you plan to drive during the day as much as possible.

See Car Rentals.

Back to top

How Much Should I Tip?
10% is normal. Some tips are included in the bill, so be sure check. While you don't have to tip taxi drivers, gratuity is greatly appreciated: that extra dollar or two means a lot to a Panamanian family (minimum wage is $700 a month),

Back to top

What Time Zone is Panama in?

Panama is on EST from October to April and CST from April to October when daylight savings goes into effect in the States.

Back to top

Why choose Panama over other Latin American and Caribbean destinations?
Panama has...

  • 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.

For more reasons check out: Why Panama is a Great Tourism Destination.
Back to top

What kind of clothes and other items should I bring?
Bring light colored, loose fitting clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat to prepare for Panama’s near constant beat of sun. If you are coming during the rainy season, be sure to throw in an umbrella and appropriate wear.

While dressing casually is fine around most of the country, plan on adding a little more glamour when you are traveling around the capital: Panamanians don't appreciate grunge and will treat you better if your clothed well. Panamanians themselves, especially the women, are fastidiously groomed and many dangerously teeter on impossibly high heels day-in and day-out.

The highlands can be cool and misty so a warm sweater or light, rainproof jacket. If you plan to hike, bring long pants, sturdy boots, a hat, a water bottle, insect repellent, and a reliable sense of humor.

Back to top

Is Panama a typical Latin American country? What's the Ethnic makeup?
There's saying that Panama was "born globalized." The population of roughly 4 million people has hugely diverse origins: Spanish conquistadores, industrious blacks (African descendants brought in from the Caribbean to build the Canal), indigenous cultures, and immigrant populations from North America, Europe, China, India and Middle East all share the length of the Isthmus.

The eight living indigenous cultures are national treasures: Gunas in the San Blas Islands on the Caribbean side; Emberá and Wounaan in the province of Darien; Bribri in the north; the Guaymí and Ngäbe-Buglé in the provinces of Chiriqui, Bocas del Toro, and Veraguas; and the Teribes or Naso and the Bokotas in Bocas del Toro province.

Back to top

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 a business hub of the Americas and a preferred place for regional meetings.

Because of the quality of life and safety 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.

Back to top

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 is Juan Varela whose 5 year term began in 2014. He'a a populist but business friendly and effectively working on reducing corruption.

Back to top

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. You can take a boat from the Colon side of Panama. Check on some backpacker blogs for info. Otherwise, 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.

Back to top

Is there any anti-Americanism?
Panamanians are some of the most pro-American peoples anywhere. They'ew 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, there are no hurricanes and Americans are more popular. It's true.
Back to top

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 120 international cities. There are laws granting major tax and hiring incentives for corporate headquarters. There's 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 and dozens of others are already there. Panama City in one of Latin Americas safest and most sophisticated capitals with a variety of neighborhoods attractive to foreigners.

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. can be frustrating. , but little by little things are getting streamlined.

Back to top

Does Panama run the Canal as well as the Americans?
Yes. As acknowledged article in the Wall Street Journal, and the Smithsonian Magazine, 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?
If you have a smartphone, the cheapest way to make phone calls is over wifi.
If you want to receive phone calls without being on wifi or using an international plan, you can buy a cheap cell phone & SIM card at an electronics store and then acquire a pre-paid phone card at major grocery store like El Rey or Farmacia Arrocha. If you want to use a chip with your own phone, it will need to be unlocked.

Back to top