Panama Travel Guide
- Everything you need to know for your trip to Panama-
Panama, or the Republic of Panama, is a Transcontinental Country in Central and South America and between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The country has a rich environment and wildlife, with amazing, modern, and colonial cities. It has a lot of history to discover, but better than that, a wide variety of tourist options. Panama can be your ideal vacation destination, where you can get some delightful food and relax on its beautiful beaches.
Why Visiting Panama?
Above all else, for fun! Panama is a great place to hit the beach, go diving and snorkeling, or get inside the cities and start exploring. There are indigenous people to meet, colonial buildings and fantastic bars and restaurants to try, and historical sites to visit.
It has a history between the Spanish times, their developments into a Republic and then becoming the fantastic holiday destination we see today. You can seek history and have fun at the same time. See the colonial texture and colorful buildings, restored or preserved in Old Town and its good people.
It is easy to visit, especially for the people of the United States. It is small, which means you will not need so many hours to get from one place to another. And it is full of some of the most popular attractions.
The climate, the food, and the safety of the country are also great motivators. If you love music and are a fan of the nightlife on a trip, Panama is a place you do not want to miss. If you are traveling with family or want to go on an adventure with friends, the same can be said.
History, culture, handicrafts, food, and climate, Panama has it all in a relatively small country. Plan to spend as much time as possible to catch it all, and have a good time while you are there.
Panama Top Destinations
Best Time to Visit Panama
Panama basically has two seasons: Dry Season and Wet Season! You will rarely see rain in the dry season, but it is always possible to see this kind of weather in the tropical environment of Panama. Besides the seasons, you should keep in mind that the rain is more usual and heavier on the Caribbean side of the country as compared with the Pacific side.
Dry Season (December - April)
Temperature: 24 °C – 33 °C
The dry season is the best season for visiting Panama, especially if you want to go hiking, scuba diving, and other outdoor activities. Some parts of the country can be rainy even during the dry season, but most spots are sunny and dry.
Wet Season (May - November)
Temperature: 24 °C – 30 °C
You should expect large bursts in the afternoon or early evening with clear morning and night in the rainy season. It’s not too bad to visit Panama during the rainy season, but you should be a rain lover!
Best Panama Tours
Things to Do in Panama
Panama is an excellent destination for a vacation, exploring, and going to notable coastal towns. This place offers a wide range of things: it has beautiful towns, modern cities, and a rich natural landscape. You can take your pick of whatever your heart desires and then head out and discover it in Panama. Plan your trip carefully, and at the same time, do not worry about how you are spending your time. There are so many places to go and things to do, which will make you enjoy this trip.
Begin your Journey by Exploring Panama City
The best starting point of the things to do in Panama is the visit to Panama City. The capital of this country offers many things, the top of all is to explore and go sightseeing. As you are exploring, you might want to try some of the available day tours, find a guide, or just get on public transport and go where that leads you. In any case, there are some beautiful parts that you will discover as you go around and other things which you should not miss.
One of the enjoyable aspects of exploring Panama City is finding the street arts. Right after that you can listen closely and try to hear some jazz music. Get out there and find out how great a city can be. And if you love art and jazz, make your plans for January to catch their annual Panama Jazz Festival.
Visit Café Coca Cola
You can get two birds with one stone by making a quick stop at Café Coca Cola. It is a stop to get some rest and have something to eat, and a visit to the oldest café in Panama City.
Do not Miss the Panama Canal
As you are sightseeing and moving around the city, keep in mind that one of the best things you can do in Panama is to visit the famous Panama Canal. It is one of the most popular highlights and essential parts of the country. This place is not far from the city and is located at Miraflores Locks. It is a great learning opportunity; it has a small museum of its documents and how it was built, and there is also a restaurant if you are feeling hungry.
The Panama Canal is one of those highlights that you have to put on your list. And if you do not feel like going on one of its tours, just tour the place online before the visit. That way, you can select which part of the canal you want to visit and save both money and time.
Walk Around Casco Viejo, AKA Old Town
The area of Casco Viejo in Panama City is a place full of historic buildings and narrow streets. Many ruins are being renovated because of the fame this part of town is gaining. Casco Viejo is also a paradise for people looking to take pictures. It is full of buildings that are a few centuries old with excellent restaurants and cafes to kill some time and relax.
It can be a cultural trip and a destination for relaxing and going from one bar to the other and enjoying the beauty of the Old Town. And if bars and clubs do not interest you so much, you might want to visit some historical sites such as the churches and other colonial buildings. You will not run out of places to go and things to do in Panama, especially in Casco Viejo as it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Look for a Rooftop Bar While in Casco Viejo
Another one of the top things to do in Panama and Casco Viejo is to look for a Rooftop Bar. The locals are always friendly, and these rooftop bars’ atmosphere is something you want to feel. If you are looking for a drink, make it a priority for the rooftop bars.
Visit the Gulf of Chiriqui
One of the fantastic places in Panama is the Gulf of Chiriqui that most visitors forget to visit. There are several things to do here, all of which are recommended if you have the time for them. You can go islanding, relax, visit the locals, learn about their culture, and above all, you might get a chance to see the whales.
Besides, you can have any watersport on the beaches of this area and discover its rich marine life as well. Do not forget to visit the Gulf of Chiriqui and the waters of the Pacific.
Spend Some Time in Bocas del Toro Archipelago
You cannot go to the Gulf of Chiriqui and not head out to the Bocas Del Toro and the Caribbean. The soft sands and the clear waters of these islands can be compared to no other. You can basically find whatever you might want on the land or in the waters of Bocas del Toro. And all of these activities are mostly cheaper than the other places.
You can go exploring by boat, visit and stay in one of its excellent resorts, relax, or party on the beaches. Or if you simply want a glance, you can go on a tour and see most of the best places as quickly as possible. Our recommendation is to go boating and try seafood. Other than that, you can learn surfing and diving and then head out for yourself.
Visit the Wildlife at Coiba Island and National Park
Perhaps the best place to have a calming experience on the beach or see Panama’s biodiversity is at Coiba. Coiba Island is part of Coiba National Park, a great place to discover all the beautiful elements of nature. It is also another of the favorite diving spots for watersport lovers.
You can simply stay on the water and fall in love with the environment, or spend all your time at the beach. Just be careful and considerate of the animals. They are lovely to see but also sometimes dangerous to approach.
Go to the Nature of Boquete and Then try their Coffee
Boquete in Panama is one of those places that can make you fall in love with all of its parts. First off, one of its most popular things to do is to go hiking and trekking. The elevated landscape and the mountains, as well as Baru Volcano, are some of the best hiking spots of the province. If you are not done with nature, perhaps it is also a good idea to try the Zipline in Boquete, which is always exciting for travelers.
Right after having some quality time in Boquete’s natural landscape, another thing to do is try their coffee. This mountain town of Panama offers the best coffee you can find. Nature and the soil are vibrant, making it the perfect place for the plantations to produce some of the finest coffee beans.
Have Some Their Delicious Food in Panama
Whenever you travel to a new place, it is best to try some of their food to familiarize yourself with one part of their culture and taste. Panama’s food is some of the best in Central America, making it a great destination to go on a food tour. Even if you are not planning such tours, be sure to try their seafood, especially in the coastal towns.
Other than that, going for their street food and going from one café to another is one of the things you can do in Panama. The most memorable of these experiences are going to their restaurants and cafés in the country’s older areas. This way, you get to see their beautiful colonial architecture and sample their delicious cuisine.
Something that many of the travelers would recommend is fishing in the Caribbean and then barbequing what you got near the beach.
Get Your Perfect Vacation at San Blas (Guna Yala) Islands
Last, and maybe even the best, is San Blas Islands. Whenever you decide to go to the San Blas Archipelago, you have to do your research and plan your stay. It is best described as a paradise. Guna Yala or San Blas islands have some of the best beaches and waters on the planet. All of the things from hiking, trekking, watersports, and exploring are possibilities here. There are hundreds of islands, and only some of them are inhabited, meaning you can go and find your own island and relax.
You can always go for its day-tours, but the best experience is just to let go and have as much time there as you can. If possible, also look for locals and spend some time among them. The locals or Gunas are some interesting people with their own culture.
It is best to make reservations and book the hotel you want before you travel to Panama. It is because you might not get the place you wish to upon arrival. But also, double-check your reservations as there are possible mistakes and problems when you book online.
When traveling and visiting the wildlife, be careful because stumbling upon a Boa and seeing a Croc is possible! It is not that much of a danger but keep an eye out and stay safe.
San Blas Islands
When planning your trip to Panama, never head to San Blas Islands first! It is one of the best places in the country and may make the rest of your journey less exciting.
Make most of it!
Although one of the most popular and famous places in this country is Panama’s capital city, be sure to check the rest of the country too. Some travelers make a mistake and do not go to other places.
You can use your credit card almost anywhere in Panama. You may also not need to exchange your money as US dollars are accepted in most places. The reason is that the Balboa of Panama has always been the same price as the US dollar. You could say the US dollar is also considered as an official currency.
Local Transportation in Panama
The cheapest and most popular means of transportation in Panama are the buses. They can get you where you want with little money and in short time, but most other locals and travelers have the same idea, so expect them to be crowded. Some of these rides may have a time limit (from sunrise to sundown), and they may be seen less frequently in rural areas. If you want to only stick to top attractions and travel through main roads, traveling by bus is ideal for traveling.
You can find a taxi anywhere you go while in Panama. Other than their availability, their prices are also fair. If you have doubts, you can always find a helpful local and ask about the prices. To be sure of everything, simply ask the price before you head out to avoid complications.
There are limitations in using the subway as there are not many stations, and they do not cover all the places. But if you plan your movement, you can easily avoid traffic and get yourself to popular spots, and tourist destinations.
Intercity Transportation in Panama
The airlines in Panama are relatively well connected and can take you to almost all the places in the country. Chances are, the top spots a tourist should already have plane access, but as soon as this option runs out, you can quickly go for a bus.
The train access across the country is very limited as it only runs along the Panama Canal. It has its limits, but if that is the path you want to travel, your most scenic way is the train as it passes along the canal and the rainforest.
The buses between cities are cheap and do not take so much time to travel. The only problem might be the crowds. You can reach almost everywhere in the country by bus. Different buses with different level of
There are a lot of places that can be accessed with boats and water-taxies. Do you want to travel to the islands? The best way to do so is by boat. Besides moving between the archipelagos, you can also travel by boat to some parts of the mainland. If other transports are available next to the waterway options, it would be better and more fun to take the boat.
You can easily find suitable public transport in Panama but if you want to make it all easier, rent a car. There are some places that you cannot go to a rental, but if you are planning to stay for some time, it might be a good idea to rent a car. Other than that, keep in mind that traffic may be a little annoying in some parts of the country and areas with bad maintenance.
Flight Deals to Panama
Panama Travel Costs
Daily Costs Per Person
If you want to travel on a budget, you can easily save money by avoiding fancy restaurants, hotels, and resorts. It means that if you travel alone and on a budget, you might be spending about $35-45 USD to $70 USD per day. $70 USD sounds a little high to be considered budget, but it can be regarded as a mid-border for budget and top-end, which can go more than $160 USD per day.
If you want to keep the prices to a minimum, you can always travel by bus. Taxis should also charge about $3 USD, but it is always best to check before moving. You can easily find cheap restaurants with prices about $4-10 USD and avoid expensive drinks.
If you want to travel on a budget, anything above 2-star hotels will cost you more than $30 USD per night. Your options can be camping in the country, with $5-15 USD per night, or looking for a dorm, which will usually cost about $10 USD per night. Also, do not think that you will get much of a discount on accommodations by traveling in the wet season.
Hotels in Panama
Find the best hotels in Panama using our best price search engine, or go with one of our All-inclusive tours with 4 Star hotels included. You can book our guaranteed hotels for your extra accommodation; before or after your tour days.
Panama Travel Tips
There are no restrictions on what you should wear, and the language barrier is not much of a problem since you can always find someone who speaks English. But it is better to learn a little Spanish and get to know the culture before you travel.
Before you travel, you better book everything because sometimes you may not get what you want. But when booking a hotel or reserving a restaurant, always double-check because there are rare occasions when people had reservation problems with Panama, which are not becoming less frequent.
If you do not want to spend a lot of money, travel during the wet season. The prices for accommodations in the wet season are not much different, but generally, considering everything, it can get cheaper.
Panama is a clean and safe country. It would be best if you mostly worried about taxi scams and such, or the usual pickpocketing, which is always possible, but there are no major safety concerns.
Although same-sex relations are not illegal in Panama, the people still have some degree of intolerance in the more traditional areas. They will not ask questions, but it is best to keep such things quiet while among some of the locals. This is improving every day, but it is still not in an ideal state.
Taxies are always fine, but you may find a scam riding a taxi, but you do not see such problems with a bust. Other than that, if you get the timings right, a bus can take you anywhere and with a very low price.
|Panama Country Code||507|
|US Embassy in Panama||+507 317 5000|
|Red Cross||+507 228 2187|
Currency & Money Tips
Currency and Exchange
The official currency is called Balboa, but the US dollars are also considered an official currency since the rates are the same. The same can be said about their coins as they also have the same values. But if you want to exchange, you can do it at the airport and offices if you must. Before exchanging your money, however, check the rates, just to be sure.
Credit Cards and ATMs
Although you can use your credit card in most hotels, restaurants, and sites, it is advisable to have some cash with you. If you do not like the idea of carrying too much cash, check with your hotel, restaurant, or the place you are visiting to make sure they accept cash or have a bank or ATM nearby.
Food & Drink (Panamanian Food)
No one should miss the food in Central America because of all the fresh ingredients found in these countries, such as Panama. Freshness and diversity aside, it seems like whatever food and recipe come into Panama becomes more enjoyable with their touch. Have a taste of all of their dishes and discover some new flavors. Some of their food may seem simple, but they are always rich with flavor despite the simplicity. Here are our top ten recommendations on what to eat in Panama, but there is still more to discover as you explore Panama.
Carimañolas (Yuca Frita)
Carimañolas or Yuca Frita is a yuca fritter filled with meat, onions, garlic, and other vegetables and herb to give it a delightful smell. The Carimañolas of Panama is one of the most popular snacks among the locals. Have them while they are hot, and perhaps get a special sauce with it, and you have an ideal breakfast or mid-day snack.
Some say the Carimañolas did not originate in Panama, but wherever it is from, this meat-pie-look-alike is something you must try in this country.
Sancocho (Chicken Soup)
Going to Panama and not trying their national dish of Sancocho chicken soup is not something you want to do. This dish is light, delicious, and traditional. The main ingredients are usually beef or chicken, along with vegetables and herbs. You can mostly see corn, onion and garlic, and a touch of ñampi, which is a local vegetable. o
It is a part of the culture, and everyone in Panama loves Sancocho. It has some variations in each region but still a lovely experience no matter where you have some of this soup.
Panamanian Tortillas (Tortillas de Maíz)
An essential part of the Panamanian breakfast and cuisine is their Panamanian Tortillas or Tortillas de Maíz. They are the thicker version of the Mexican ones and are sometimes called corn cakes because of the deep-fried corn dough. Get creative and try them as a side dish or used these lovely Panamanian Tortillas to make breakfast. Get an egg, some cheese, and vegetables and enjoy. You can even see them being served with some local cheese.
Ropa Vieja (Shredded Beef)
Ropa Vieja is a great meal, especially as lunch, with a unique name! If you know Spanish, you already know the name Ropa Vieja means “old clothes.” According to legends, a man had guests and no food to serve them. Therefore, he goes and uses ‘old clothes’ to prepare a meal.
The popular dish of Ropa Vieja in Panama is made with beef and a variety of herbs and spices. The appearance and the aroma are both delicious, and as they are served, you may see some rice shaped like a cake. Beans can easily be found and add to the taste, but if you see some local vegetables, be sure to try them with your food.
A local and very addictive dessert or snack are the coconut cookies of Panama, Known as Cocadas. These cookies are made of condensed milk, coconut, nuts, and sometimes a little bit of vanilla or dried fruits. You may find them with different flavors and colors as some people make them a little bit more tempting. Whichever kind of these cookies you are offered or see, do not say no.
Hojaldras (Hojaldres) Deep-Fried bread
Hojaldras is a kind of bread for breakfast, like French toast, that can go with almost anything. Try them with some eggs, or some cheese and maybe a little bit of butter. This round and flat fried bread is made of a very simple dough. But if you want to make some for yourself, you might get recipes that include sugar, or salt, or perhaps different kinds of oils.
If you are having breakfast, be sure to give the Hojaldras a try. It is a local favorite and goes well with a lot of options. It might also be a good idea to try some of their famous Coffee at the same time.
If you find fried green plantains in Panama, they are a kind of chips known as Patacones. Some people consider them to be simple snacks, some try them as a side dish, but it does not matter how or with what you eat them. The Patacones are simply loved by all. This kind of chips is made of plantains that are fried in oil.
The same rule of getting creative applies here as well. If you want to try different things, you might want to try them with other things and mix them in a meal. Whatever you do, do not fry them again, as they are usually fried twice to get extra delicious.
Tamales Wraps of Panama
“Tamales” is a food of South and Central America with several versions, all of which are wrapped in banana leaves. Inside the leaves is the cooked and steam mix of corn dough and meat. It is very simple, and yet so delicious. The taste is sweet or savory, with many variants, all of which are worth a try.
Try the Panama Tamales, even if you have tried in other countries. They have more flavors, and the local vegetables and herbs that may come with this meal cannot be found outside Panama.
Bistec Picado (Minced Steak)
The name Bistec Picado is known to some as a super meal and translates into minced steak. The beef is first chopped into small pieces and then prepared with lots of spice. The taste is something unique and memorable, added with rice and a salad or a fine drink, and it is the best traditional meal you can get.
All the Panamanians love the food for its taste and smell, which comes from the spice such as bell pepper, onions, chili powder, and more. The vegetables of Panama also add to the taste, and after is it served with a special sauce; your mouth will start to water.
Try the Coffee, Ron Ponche, Chicheme, and Other Drinks
It would suffice to name the famous Panamanian Coffee, which goes with almost any of their tasty snacks and meals, but there are more. The fame of their Coffee is because of the rich soil of Panama and suitable weather. But Coffee is not the only fantastic drink they have and indeed not the solely recommended drink.
You should also try the local Ron Ponche cocktail or a sweet Chicheme drink. The Ron Ponche is usually used for celebrations and events such as the new year and worth a try if you find it. It is merely a mix of rum, milk, and vanilla and can be a great, local cocktail.
As for the Chicheme, it is a tasty and refreshing drink of Central America, made with corn. It is a nonalcoholic drink, perfect for any time of the day and easy to find as people love it. At first, it may sound odd to have a corn-based drink, but do not judge and just give it a try.
Mobile & Internet
You can use your Data Roaming if it is free (always check the prices with your provider), but it is better just to purchase a local SIM card.
WARNING: If you have not checked the Roaming prices and want to bring your own phone and use data, you may get a high Roaming bill.
Providers in Panama
There are four major providers in Panama from which you can get a Sim card; +móvil – Claro – Digicel – Movistar. These providers cover 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE networks, and from 2020-2021 they will also offer 5G in some areas. But before you make your purchase, read their offers and availability.
The Best Company
The coverage and speed of each provider are different. In terms of coverage, Movistar and +móvil are the best. As for speed, Digicel and +móvil provide better services. You could say +móvil is the best of both worlds, but still, you should consider the offers and their coverage.
- +móvil Sim Card (10 PAB – $10 USD)
- 1.5 GB data
- Free WhatsApp & WeChat for 30 days
- 300 min for calls
- Credit valid for 30 days (rechargeable)
-Other companies offer similar prices, but they may have offers up to $40 USD as well. Therefore, it is better to just pick one that will work better for you.
Where to Buy it?
Kiosks in the international airport of Panama can provide you with a SIM card. The registration is also simple but will require some knowledge of the Spanish language. Outside the airport, you can get a SIM card from other SIM Kiosks and phone shops. They may also be available at their malls.
Holidays & Festivals
|New Year’s Day||Jan 1||Jan 1|
|Martyrs’ Day||Jan 9||Jan 9|
|The Four Days Preceding Ash Wednesday||Carnaval||Carnaval|
|Friday Before Easter Sunday||Good Friday||Good Friday|
|Worker’s Day||May 1||May 1|
|Presidential Inauguration Day||Jul 1||Jul 1|
|Independence from Colombia||Nov 1||Nov 1|
|Flag Day||Nov 4||Nov 4|
|Colón Day||Nov 5||Nov 5|
|First call for Independence from Spain||Nov 10||Nov 10|
|Independence from Spain||Nov 28||Nov 28|
|Mother’s Day||Dec 8||Dec 8|
|Christmas||Dec 25||Dec 25|
Shopping in Panama
Panama is a great place to buy clothes, electronics, and coffee! Their must-buy souvenir is the famous Panama Hat, but, other than that, keep in mind that everything seems to be cheaper in Panama. They also make traditional jewelry and handicrafts available in the more traditional areas of the country.
At the heart of Panama City is a great place to go shopping for both souvenirs and anything else you may need. You should also visit some of the numerous restaurants and cafés or the cinemas of this Mall if you have the time.
It is another Mall in Panama City with many shops, restaurants and cafés and reasonable prices. One of the primary reasons that it is very crowded and favored is its easy access. It is excellent as it is close to public transportations and prices.
There are also the Mulicentro in Patilla and the Westland Mall of Nuevo Arraijan, top Malls, and shopping centers, but you should also seek the local and traditional markets.
Mercado Cinco (5) de Mayo
It’s a market in Panama City where you can find the native Gunas and see their handicrafts. There you can buy some of their fabrics which come in square shapes with the name Molas. They are embroidered by hand and have traditional patterns.
Mi Pueblito is another place to find the indigenous people of Panama and purchase replicas of their cultural items and artifacts. They are located on Ancon Hill, and their items can be perfect for interior decorations. As for their hours, they work as long as there is daylight, usually from 09:00 until 17:00 every day.
A unique part of the culture and a great thing to bring home is a square-shaped piece of cloth with designs. These designs include shapes of animals and figures as well as symbols of the indigenous people.
One of the things the locals make is jewelry made from gold and silver. They create delicate works that are beautified with special stones that go great with the local attire. They are not difficult to find, but you might want to look for them in native markets to make them with hand and traditional means.
The Guna people of Panama have maintained their traditional ways, such as the clothes they wear. If you buy their jewelry, you might also want to try some of their fabrics and clothes, which go great together. Try them on and bring some of them home for friends and loved ones.
There are a lot of people who mistake Ecuador hats for Panama Hats. If you want a beautiful hat and are looking for a suitable souvenir to buy, the best thing you can get is an actual Panama hat. They are usually made by locals and made from palm plants.
To get a good quality hat, you might want to try and buy them while still in Casco Viejo. They can be found in other places, but a traditional hat is better to be purchased from a traditional and local place!
A part of the culture of the people of Panama and the natives have been their handicrafts. They have been making these items for centuries from stuff like leather, seeds, and fruits! You can look for some of these exotic items that last very long and bring some with you to decorate your home.