This is a guest post by Sean, a spirited traveler with a interest in all things Panama property. He has traveled to more than 30 countries and currently works for a website marketing agency, Website Consultants Inc.
If you are planning on spending some vacation time in Panama you are certainly in for a wonderful experience. Panama is a great place to visit with amazing scenery and friendly locals but if this is your first trip to Panama there are certain things you must know in order to have a safe and pleasant trip. We’ve compiled a list of 10 things to know before your next trip so you’ll be ready before and after you get there.
1. Pack Shorts and Sandals
Panama is hot regardless of what month you travel and it is best to pack for the climate. If you are doing any walking or hiking a good pair of sandals will make your time in Panama that more enjoyable.
2. The US Dollar is Accepted in Panama
Aside from the local currency, the Balboa, the US Dollar is openly accepted for services and goods and the exchange rate to the Balboa is 1:1 meaning you don’t have to worry about exchanging your US currency and paying exchange fees.
3. Taxis are Convenient and Affordable
A regular short taxi ride will cost only a few dollars but it’s important to negotiate the fee before you begin your journey. Try to get cabs away from hotels and the airport, you’ll get a reduced fee and won’t have to barter as hard with the taxi driver.
4. Water is Good, Drink it Up
The local tap water is perfectly safe to drink while spending time in Panama. Certain smaller villages can be questionable and if you venture out it’s probably best to play it safe and drink only bottled water.
5. Most Beaches are Remote
That being said you should plan on bringing all the necessary supplies with you for trips to the beach, including food, water, and sunscreen. It’s much wise to pack everything that you’ll need as there are no stores around the beaches from which to get supplies from.
6. Don’t Worry About the Language
The majority of Panamanians speak English and Spanish, if you know either you will do just fine. Panamanians love practicing their English with visiting vacationers and are happy to teach you some Spanish phrases as well.
7. Relax, You’re Really Quite Safe
With the exception of the border area with Colombia, Panama is a relatively safe place to visit. One should be aware of their surroundings and practice common sense as thieves and pickpockets do prey on tourists. When traveling at night it’s advisable to stick to taxis instead of foot travel.
8. Americans and Most Visitors Do Not Need Visas
Travel to Panama by Americans, British, Canada and several other countries do not need Passports of Visas to travel to Panama. All that is required is a Tourist Card that can be obtained for under 20 dollars at the airline.
9. Don’t Forget Your Camera!
Panama is a beautiful place to visit and it would be a shame if you couldn’t capture the stunning visuals. Think about purchasing a disposable underwater camera as the views below the ocean are just as stunning as the ones above.
10. Relax, It’s a Vacation You Know
Don’t plan too many things to do while traveling in Panama, after all you are on vacation. Spend some time relaxing and unwinding on the beach with a cold drink, you deserve it.
Thanks for the guest post about Panama Sean. If any of you have ever been to Panama feel free to add your own tips in the comments below.
[photos by: hamron, shby, coba, limonada, thinkpanama, Geir Halvorsen, tobym, clappstar, tamaki, Willaert]
I’ve never been to Panama, though I would love to go some day. I didn’t know most of these things (you can drink the water?!), so thanks for the round-up of great tips.
It’s really funny how water sanitation varies from place to place. You can drink from the tap in some places you’d never expect and visa versa.
Thanks for the tips! Panama is definitely on my list of places to go to soon!! And like JoAnna, I didn’t know you could drink the water!
Me too, it’s on the list!
Great tips! I have been thinking about Central America more and more lately. I think it is calling to me…
Same here – I’m going to see how I can work it in next spring. I’m adding more and more places, I really need to organize my plans 😛
Great post -actually dispelled some of the myths/rumors I was prone to believe about Panama.
Great tips! It seems more travelers friendly than I thought. (English speaking, water is safe to drink..) Now I can show the list to my husband so he can relax a bit. 🙂
hehe, is he headed there or are you getting him ready for a trip later on one day?
I have to agree with all these tips having just travelled through the country and returning back there in December. The water is safe but doesn’t taste that yummy though. Transport including car rental is inexpensive as well.
I’ve been enjoying your Panama posts very much. I want to say it’s a destination a bit ‘under the radar’ but I think it’s that way for most of Central America. (Except perhaps for Costa Rica.)
Anil, I know I’m greedy but is it good to keep some destinations under the radar. Costa Rica hovered too high and has been suffering ever since. Well that’s just my opinion others will likely disagree.
I agree Cate, it’s nice to have those unspoiled destinations – I’m greedy that way too 🙂
I’ve never been to Panama. When I do go, I’ll be taking your tips along.
I could certainly use the warm weather right now. For some reason I planned my travel route through some pretty cold places :/
Perhaps the author could learn how to spell “Colombia” Otherwise, good article.
There’s no “Colombia” in the post…I’m confused.
In #7, the author describes the border area of Panama and “Columbia” There is no such country as “Columbia”. It is spelled “Colombia” A unsurprisingly very common mistake by the uniniated, but for a so-called experienced traveller, advising us on his great experience with Panama and other Latin American countries. It is very poor mistake! It makes me think the author really has little idea of the area and just made it up from googling various sources.
Oh, duh there it is. I’ve fixed it and can’t speak for the author but could be an innocent spelling mistake. Slipped when I was editing and I could have done a better job.
Feel free to get in touch with Sean and see what he says if you don’t think his advice is sound or authentic.
Brendan – you misspelled uninitiated. Ironic, given the tone of your comment.
I am leaving this Tuesday on december 18th , 2012 . It will be my first trip to Panama, but I’ve seen Cuba, and mexico a few times! So I am pumped! 🙂
Hope you had a great trip!
I am strongly considering visiting Panama soon. Thanks for the tips.
Cheers, have a great trip.
I just returned from Panama a couple weeks ago. I disagree with some of the comments! Yes you DO need a passport to enter! First thing they asked at customs. Passport please! Also, the water is safe in Panama city to drink, but in the surrounding suburbs and villages, it is NOT! After spending a week in the city, I got spoiled and used to the idea of safe water. I was walking around a small village named Farallon, and had dinner at a quaint little cafe. I had a glass of water with dinner, and was sick for 3 days! I forgot all about “common sense” after a few days at a beautiful hotel where I’d gulp down tons of water cause of the heat. But that was my fault, at becoming complacent after a week or so. Another point please, if I may. There is a town on the Caribbean end of the canal called Colon. It is a place not 100% safe for tourists during anytime of day. They advise to avoid it if you can. Even the “free trade” zone is not the best. Personally, I had no problems or issues.I have traveled a little bit and not much frightens me anyways, but for a newbie, it might be wise to avoid it all together. Perhaps with a guide and a tour group, at least one would not be on their own! Not as bad as Guatemala where I’ve witnessed taxi drivers carrying weapons to protect themselves and their fares from pirates. It is a beautiful and fascinating country to visit. It is also quite Americanized! Macdonalds restaurants are common in the city, and hotel chains that are common back home.When buying souvenirs one can haggle the price like in Mexico, Guatemala and other central American countries! They pretty much expect you to! One of the locals selling his wares even told me that when asked the price from a tourist, they start high as they wish to haggle down the prices! It’s not about saving a mere couple of dollars. The people are generally quite poor, but they do enjoy the price dickering with the tourists.It is a fascinating and beautiful country to visit! The people genuine and kind! The other fellow who commented on the people was correct! They DO love to practice their English, but it also helps to know a little Espanol as the villages and smaller markets English is not spoken always. Enjoy your trips to this amazing country! Thank you for allowing me to say my piece! Travel safe!