Panama is a country that links Central and South America and the Panama Canal, an artificial 82 km waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, creates an essential shipping route.
In the capital, Panama City, modern skyscrapers, casinos and nightclubs contrast with colonial buildings and the rainforest of Natural Metropolitan Park. Take time to check out Casco Viejo and Panama Viejo, the oldest areas of the city and Avenida Central and Calle Uruguay the modern, colorful shopping spots. Panama has something for everyone.
Panama Travel Info
Language: The official language of Panama is Spanish which is spoken by over 70 percent of the population. The second most commonly spoken language is English so tourists won’t face many problems getting by here.
Visa: Tourists visiting Panama will require a visa as well as an onward journey or return ticket. There is another type of visa which is called a visa stamp. This permits visitors to enter Panama many times a year. However, the duration of each stay must not exceed 30 days. It is recommended to check your country eligibility and criteria before planning a trip to Panama.
Electricity: Panama runs on 110 volts with a frequency of 60 Hz. I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each country you visit.
Panama Festivals & Celebrations
Carnaval de Las Tablas: One of the most popular cultural events in Panama is Carnaval de Las Tablas which is celebrated annually in the month of March for four days before Ash Wednesday. Throughout this Carnival local people spend time with one another and indulge in drinks and food. The nighttime festivities are full of parades with dancers wearing elaborate fancy attires.
Fiestas Patrias: Unquestionably the most pivotal cultural event on the list of festivals on Panamanian calendar is the Fiestas Patrias, which marks the celebration of country’s partition from Colombia dating back to 1903. This festival is also revered as Panama’s Flag Day which makes this event all the more patriotic for locals. The festival taking place in Panama City is the one to watch out for.
Panama Jazz Festival: Music is naturally an integral part of Panamanian people and tourists particularly witness it during the Panama Jazz Festival which is an annual event. The festival starts on 13th Jan and continues till 18th January. Being one of the major jazz festivals, this event attracts thousands of talented artists from across the world.
Safety In Panama
Violent crime is not frequent but does occur in Panama. Petty theft occurs in rural and urban areas throughout the country and both have been reported in areas that are frequented by tourists. Based on this, I wouldn’t leave home without travel insurance no matter how safe you consider the destination to be. Besides, you can still miss flights, lose your luggage or break a leg, especially if you’re as accident prone as I am. For this reason I recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks or months before you plan to visit Panama.
Top Things To Do In Panama
Lose yourself at the Comarca de Guna Yala
Comarca de Guna Yala located towards northeastern Panama side is a 140 miles long narrow piece of land alongside the country’s coast. The indigenous Kuna people have control upon it. Comarca de Guna Yala is a group of many islands with lush tropical forests as well as white sand beaches. The development on these Islands is very less as compared to other Islands in Panama, for example, Bocas del Tor located in the west. Still, you will find some relaxing resorts in here.
Be awed by The Panama Canal
Undoubtedly the most well-known site in Panama and often referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. The Panama Canal has been playing a significant role in linking the Caribbean with the Pacific for the past 100 years. Its design during that time in itself was a pinnacle of engineering. The construction was initiated by the French in 1881, but owing to a high mortality rate of laborers, the work came to a halt. It was resumed only after the USA took the challenge to complete it. Tourists visiting Panama for the first time must not forget to visit the Panama Canal.
Explore the Miraflores Visitor Center
If you want to explore the in-depth history of the Panama Canal, it is recommended to visit the Miraflores Visitor Center. The museum is a four-story magnificent building offering tourists a chance to view Miraflores locks as well as nearby cruising ships. The evening is the best time to witness the entire action taking place on the water. Moreover, a lot of exhibits in this museum are interactive making it an exciting place for kids. The information available is in both Spanish as well as English.
Visit Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo is an old Panamanian district dating back to 17th century. It has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site and is always undergoing some restoration work. The most charming part of Casco Viejo is the multi-colored colonial architecture resembling the architecture of Venice. In addition to this, Casco Viejo is dotted with several ancient churches and buildings. Currently, the area is full of trendy shops, vibrant cafes, and bars.
Stroll across Avenida Balboa
Avenida Balboa presents a quite distinct image of Panama City since it has a lot of skyscrapers unlike the rest of the country. Avenida Balboa is a perfect place for evening strolls since the street is situated just alongside Panama Bay. The promenade is dotted with flowers and trees that magically turns evening stroll into a mesmerizing experience. Don’t forget to visit the monument of Vasco Nunez de Balboa.
Visit the Metropolitan Natural Park
Yet another attraction in Panama City is the Metropolitan Natural Park, the only rainforest located in the proximity of the city. The park gives visitors a chance to explore diverse flora and fauna. If you are an adventure lover, it is recommended not to miss hiking to Ankon Hill. The Ankon Hill offers majestic and picturesque views to the tourists.
Visit Iglesia San Jose
Built-in 1670 the Iglesia San Jose church is situated in Casco Vieja and is one of the oldest churches on the planet. This pinnacle of architecture is visited by every visitor travelling to Panama. The exterior view of Iglesia San Jose might not seem interesting to some, but the most astonishing part of this church is the gold altar and nearby baroque sanctuary. There are many anecdotes about the history of this church one such is that the priests of Panama City painted the gold altar with black color to keep it safe from the famed pirate Henry Morgan.
Explore Panama Viejo
Panama Viejo is yet another area in the old part of the city that dates back to 1519. The structures are mostly ruined. Many of such remains belong to Casas Reales (the Royal Houses), homes constructed by the wealthiest people of the city as well as the restored part of the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion. The place is reminiscent of the colonial splendor.
Situated on Amador Causeway, the Biomuseo was designed by Frank Gehry, a world-renowned architect. The topsy-turvy formation of Biomuseo is worth the visit for travelers. You will also find botanical estate as well as several other visually stimulating artifacts. The Biomuseo surely offers an unforgettable experience.
Spend a fun-filled day at Bocas del Toro
Panama government has invested heavily on Boca del Toro. Attracting a huge number of water sports lovers from all parts of the world, Bocas del Toro has everything for an adventure aficionado. Bocas del Toro is home to Panama’s best beaches like Red Frog Beach situated on Isla Bastimentos and Wizard Beach.
Other than these top things to do in Panama, there is so much more to see and experience in this amazing country. Be prepared to be flexible because sometimes other travelers that you meet on your travels will have the best suggestions for things to do in Panama that are off the beaten path.
What To Eat In Panama
In Panama there is a world of different dishes, desserts and drinks to try – making it almost impossible for one person to try everything in just one visit. If you are short of time, make sure you sample the following;
Sancocho: Sancocho is a staple of Latin America and is a soup packed with vegetables, boiled potatoes, a large piece of chicken and spices for flavor. This delicacy is available in every house and local restaurant in Panama and is extremely economical.
Ceviche: Although is found all over Central America but the Ceviche of Panama is believed to be the best. This is because great, fresh fish as well as veggies and citrus fruits are easily available in Panama and these are the basic ingredients in ceviche.
Tamales: Tamales are a holiday dish traditionally, but in Panama, you can get it throughout the year. It is made of a cornmeal dough and is stuffed with beef, chicken, pork, veggies or a combination of all. This is then steamed inside a banana leaf.
Carimanola: Panamanians are known for their love for fried food, and among all the fried dishes, Carimanola is the best. These are stuffed yucca balls filled with cheese or meat, coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried till they turn crispy.
Seafood Gaucho: This is a local favorite which is a thick rice soup that includes yucca, yams, mixed seafood, and mixed vegetables. It can also be made of beef instead of seafood, but seafood is more popular. You can find Gaucho in nearly every local restaurant.
Where To Stay In Panama
Panama is a very affordable place to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Panama is easy even if you’re on a tight budget. Panama hostels and dormitories make travel here very affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget.
Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best accommodation options have already been snapped up. Panama is a very popular year-round destination.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Panama.
If you’re backpacking in Panama or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in Central America very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
Panama Trip Planner
Best Time to Visit Panama
The best time to visit Panama is during the summer dry season from mid December to mid April. If you’re traveling in a budget then consider braving the wet season when prices and tourist numbers are much lower. Humidity is high in Panama year-round and the amount of rainfall varies a lot between the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country. Some areas in the Caribbean receiving almost twice the yearly rainfall of Panama City.
Panama Travel Budget
Panama is generally an affordable destination for travelers on a tight budget. The cost of your trip to Panama really depends on the level of comfort you will want while here. If you’re backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating fast food then budget between $35 to $50 a day. If you prefer to stay in 3-4 star hotel rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $50 to $100 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants then budget about $250 plus a day.
- Budget: $15 – $35
- Mid-range: $35 – $100
- Splurge: $100 +
Meal For One
- Budget: $8 – $25
- Mid-range: $25 – $60
- Splurge: $60 +
Panama Packing Guide
Packing for a trip to Panama, like most places in central America is easy, just remember to pack lightweight and breathable clothing for dry season and warm, waterproof clothing for trips during the rainy season.
Be prepared for the weather to get extremely hot during the summer so pack a high factor sunscreen and a sun hat. If you forget to pack something you can buy anything you need while you’re in Panama. Prices are generally higher in smaller boutiques (aimed at tourists) than they would be online so expect to pay a premium if you don’t have the option of shopping around due to time restraints on your central America trip.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Panama include a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.
For the full list of everything you need to pack for a trip to Panama check out the Jetset Bunny Ultimate Central America Packing List For Female Travelers.