Travel Guide to Panama – How, Where & Frequently Asked Questions

By Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor May 29th, 2021 Posted in Central America Travel Blog, Travel Blog No comments

Check out this travel guide to Panama that we have for you!

For me, Panama is a great choice for a vacation. At the moment, stunning scenery and amazing outdoor activities coupled with low-cost of living definitely make this country one of the best places to travel to in the world. There are many exotic vacation spots in the Caribbean that almost everyone is aware of, like Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Aruba, etc.-just to mention a few. Not many think of Panama as a warm beach spot to visit. But, it is a very exciting and memorable spot for a great vacation.

Photo by Dennis Sylvester Hurd CC BY 2.0

You knew Panama is one of the best places to travel to because the country has so much to offer in terms of culture, nature and its people. The local people are gracious and warm as you meet them while visiting old museums and historic buildings and towns. Nature lovers are also in for a treat as the country has a well-preserved tropical rainforest.

Photo by dronepicr CC BY 2.0

The low cost of living, cheap healthcare, and a comfortable way of life have made Panama a great choice for tourists. Many American expats have in fact made Panama their second home as it is a country where one can truly live a good life and experience a relaxed and easy lifestyle. If you’re one of those people who are interested in touring this country, let me show you the top 10 places to visit in Panama. I traveled to this place in January 2019 and have discovered many amazing and wonderful things about this country that I’d like to share with you.

Questions and Answers about Panama

Where is Panama?

Panama is located at the end of Central America between Colombia and Costa Rica. The country is roughly the size of the state of South Carolina. It is home to the Panama Canal which connects the Pacific and Arctic Oceans.

Is it safe to travel to Panama?

Generally, Panama is a safe country to visit. People are very friendly and cooperative and they’re always ready to help you especially in the rural areas. However, the crime rate was quite high but now the government has taken measures to eradicate the crime from the country. Heinous crimes are the common issues in Panama, though it’s on its way to getting eradicated. Also, there are several instances of drug trafficking on boats traveling the Caribbean from Colombia north to Panama.

When you’re touring the Darién Province, you should register with SENAFRONT (border control) before traveling and go with a guide. You must avoid the Colombian and Panama border because there are several Colombian rebel groups and drug traffickers operating in that area. The Colón city has a high rate of street crime, so consult hotel staff on areas to avoid.

This isn’t to say something bad will happen to you. It’s an amazingly pretty country that’s well worth exploring, you just need to be street smart and take extra caution to avoid falling victim to crime.

How to Change Money in Panama?

Balboa is the official currency, which is named after Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. The country does not, however, print its own paper currency and instead uses the US dollar as legal tender. The exchange rate for the Balboa has always been tied to the US dollar—one dollar equals one Balboa.

Is it Expensive to Travel in Panama?

Panama is not an expensive country, especially by North American or European standards. Prices can be slightly higher than in other parts of Central America but are usually cheaper than Costa Rica. Tourists coming from the USA don’t need to exchange money—the dollar is legal tender in Panamanian currency. Exchange of other currencies is quite tough and you only get it done at the airport of currency exchange centers. Remember, you’ll not get a currency exchange center outside the city.

Photo by dronepicr CC BY 2.0

What is Unique about Panama?

The beautiful Panama Canal is a large canal, 51 miles (82 kilometers) long, that cuts through the Isthmus of Panama, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This country is the only place in the world where you can see the sunrise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic.

What is the culture of Panama?

Despite being a small country, Panama owns a diverse culture. Officially a Catholic country, Panama has a long-established tradition of ethnic and religious tolerance with large communities from all over the globe including Venezuela, India, Lebanon, Israel, Korea, Colombia, and China to name a few. 75%of the population is Roman Catholic while other people belong to different miscellaneous Christian identities. Plenty of international rock artists belong to Panama and the country is home to a flourishing EDM (electronic dance music) scene. It is known for its indigenous arts, particularly its woodcarvings, pottery, and molas.

What is the Geography of Panama?

The major prominent features of Panama are the forested, volcanic-in-origin, mountains that extend from its Costa Rican border to Colombia, South America. Other prominent mountain ranges include Tabasara, Talamanca and the San Blas. Panama’s two coastlines are referred to as the Pacific and the Caribbean (or Atlantic) rather than the south and the north coasts. Panama has nine provinces. Another important thing is that the country forms a land connection between North and South America.

How to travel to Panama?

If you are planning to travel to Panama, here are some of the airlines that will take you to Panama.

  • London: Airlines like KLM, Avianca, Lufthansa, British Airways and Air France offer flights from London to Panama.
  • USA: Airlines including Delta Air Lines, Alitalia, Copa Airlines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, American Airlines, and Spirit Airlines offer flights from various US cities to Panama.
  • Dubai: From Dubai to Panama, you can fly by Air France, Air China, KLM, and Lufthansa.
  • Singapore: From Singapore to Panama, you can get a flight from Air China, Air France, Avianca, British Airways, Delta, Emirates, KLM, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines or United Airlines.

How to travel to Panama – Transport in Panama?

  • Public buses: Panama City is the main hub of the country network, with regular buses to Colón, Metetí in Darién, Almirante (for Bocas del Toro) and all the western cities and towns. You’ll see different buses from luxury to old school buses.
  • Trains: As far as the rail service is concerned, Panama City Metro, Feristsa, Trams and Panama Canal Rail Services are operating in the country.
  • Taxis: There is a well-organized taxi system in the country. Fares are moderate and taxis are available throughout the country.
  • Private transfers: Transport companies operate at the airport and major regions of the country. In this respect, you’ll come across various options.

What’s the food like in Panama?

It’s really tough to pinpoint exactly what Panamanian cuisine is because like the Panamanian people, it is very diverse. Major dishes include Sancocho, Ropa Vieja, Tostones, Carimanolas, Chicheme, Carne Guisada, Panamanian Corn Tortilla, Hojaldras, Yuca Frita, and Cicadas, etc. if you travel Panama, try to taste these dishes.

What is the weather like in Panama?

From mid-May to November the south-west currents predominate, which brings abundant rainfall on the southern slope exposed to the Pacific Ocean; however, it rains on the north side as well, so this is the rainy season.

On the other hand, from December to April the northeastern trade winds prevail, which bring abundant rainfall on the north side on the Caribbean Sea, especially in the first part (December to January), that is to say when the sea is warmer, while on the south side, beyond the mountain ranges that are stretched in the interior of the country like a backbone, this is the dry season.

Important things to pack for a trip to Panama

Looking to pack stuff for the next Panama tour, consider the following items:

  • Light and airy clothes: Bring light and airy clothes to tackle with heat and humidity.
  • Rain Jacket: It is always good to be prepared and bring a lightweight rain jacket with you on your trip to Panama.
  • Comfortable footwear: Sidewalks in Panama are not even so bring comfortable shoes to avoid twisting your ankle.
  • Hat and shades: Sunshine can be harsh so bring something to avoid direct UV rays.

10 Amazing places to see and things to do in Panama

1. Visiting the Colonial Old Town of Casco Viejo

Photo by Ron Reiring CC BY-SA 2.0

This place is known for its Spanish Architecture. It was built in 1673 and features several attractions. You can visit trendy hotels, bars, and restaurants all day long.

Suggested Tour: Hop on and Ride Off: Tours of Casco Viejo

2. Panama Canal Miraflores Visitor Center

It is just at a 20 minutes drive from Panama City and you’ll get more interesting things here than you could imagine. The Center features a short film on the building of the Canal and a museum with interactive exhibits. You can also see the huge transport ships moving across the locks.

Suggested Tour: Panama Canal Tour (Miraflores Visitor Center)

3. Visit the Fort of Portobelo

Photo by Dan Lundberg CC BY-SA 2.0

Here you’ll come across beaches, eateries and plenty of snorkeling opportunities. However, Portobello is one of the least touristy UNESCO World Heritage Sites I have been to. You can observe the remaining of the past and how the gold trade was protected from the British invasion.

Suggested Tour: Portobelo – Canal Expansion – Train (1855)

4. Hike the Los Quetzales trail

Photo by young shanahan CC BY 2.0

Undoubtedly, it is one of the amazing sites in Panama. It is a great trail for a hiker with any skill set. However, you must look for the rain. There you’ll also come across stunning restaurants where you could enjoy a meal during the breaks.

5. Canoe to Embera Indian Village

Tour groups will take a canoe ride through the jungle to the shores of the communities where you will have the chance to immerse yourself into their culture. These are friendly people and you’ll surely love their company.

Suggested Tour: Day Trip to the Embera Indian Village

6. Surf in Santa Catalina

Photo by dronepicr CC BY 2.0

This village along the Pacific shore is the ideal paradise for surfing. You will have your choice of surf camps here as a number of them have sprung up in the last several years, as well as your choice of many restaurants.

7. Visit the Museum of Biodiversity

This museum was built in 2014 and was designed by famous architect Frank Gehry. It features an aquarium, a rainforest, an audio tour, and a nature center. Tourists to this museum will find a plethora of exhibits in place, as well as many more on the way as this museum, develop over the years.

Suggested Tour: Panama City Museums Tour (And the Biodiversity Museum)

8. Snorkel in Bocas del Toro

The main island is home to quirky and cute and inns and restaurants, many of them overlooking the water. It’s a great base from which to embark snorkeling and beach tours.

Suggested Tour: Zapatilla Island Tour – Explore the best of Bocas del Toro!

9. Dive or Snorkel at Coiba National Park

Photo by LASZLO ILYES CC BY 2.0

Apart from water sport activities, you can also enjoy more than 800 marine species in this area. Snorkeling and diving at this place are amazing and breathtaking.

Suggested Tour: Snorkeling Tour Coiba Island

10. Bike along Amador Causeway

The causeway offers some of the greatest views of the Pacific Ocean entrance of the Canal and Panama City skyline. The simplest way to enjoy the views is to rent a bike from one of the nearby bike rental shops.

Final thoughts on Panama

Despite being a small country, it has much more to offer to the tourists coming from around the globe. If you love nightlife, enjoy beaches, go shopping and participate in many other activities. Locals are friendly and you’ll never feel abroad. More than that, you can also spend real US dollars in this country. I just fell in love with Panama after visiting this marvelous piece of land.

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Written by Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor

Two Monkeys Travel Group – Community Travel Blog is a travel blog and website. We quickly grew into a valuable source of inspiring travel stories, advice, itineraries and travel guides, with the aim of demonstrating how to live a sustainable life of travel, whilst living your own definition of success. If you'd like to contribute and write a guest post, contact us at [email protected]

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