Planning a trip to Panama? I spent around two and a half weeks in Panama and I absolutely fell in love with this little Central American country. However, when I was planning my trip I didn’t really know much about it. So if you would like to get a rough idea on what to expect, here are 15 things you should know before traveling to Panama.
Panama connects South and Central America
It is therefore a good starting point to start or end your Central American adventure.
So this means you can either start traveling from all the way up North such as Mexico and then end in Panama or start in Panama and make your way up through Central America.
Panama shares borders with two countries: Costa Rica & Colombia
However, you can not cross the Colombia/Panama border by land but you will either have to take a boat or plane to travel between these two countries. That is mostly due to the fact that the border areas are rather dangerous and there is a lot of drug trafficking going on.
You might need to get yellow fever vaccinations
Even though there is only a small part of Panama with yellow fever risk that you will most likely not end up traveling to, you might need to provide proof that you have had your yellow fever vaccinations before you enter the country. This might be especially the case when you previously travelled to countries that have a high risk of yellow fever.
Panama is really diverse for such a small country
It won’t take you long to travel from one end of Panama to the other end but it is still so diverse. Panama City is a big and busy city with a lot of traffic and skyscrapers.
Travel a bit further and you find empty and beautiful beaches and a little more and you are in the middle of the jungle or next to a volcano. In total, there are ten different and diverse regions in the country.
You can do a lot of different sporting activities, such as scuba diving, surfing, hiking etc.
Panama is a great place for surfing but you can also do other outdoor activities. Due to the amazing wildlife and the scenery, Panama is a great place for hiking. But also scuba diving and snorkelling can be done in Panama.
The currency used in Panama is the US Dollar
Panama does have its own currency which is the Panamanian Balboa (PAB), however, one Balboa is equal to 1 USD. Also the Balboa only comes in coins to up to 1 Balboa so usually you will always pay in US Dollar. Also at the ATM the currency that you will get is the US Dollar.
Travel Tip: Try to get you dollar bills as small as possible as a lot of places will not be able to accept 50 dollar or even 20 dollar bills as they won’t have enough change.
Compared to South America, Panama might be a little more pricy
Now technically I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t been to South America yet. But I just remember how everyone who just came from Colombia to Panama complained about the prices and how expensive it is. Of course, Panama isn’t super expensive, especially accommodation is quite cheap but compared to South America or South-East Asia it can be a little bit more pricey.
Panama produces some of the most expensive coffee
Most people don’t even know that this small country grows coffee beans but some of the famous activities that you can do while traveling Panama is to go on a coffee tour.
Panama has a good local transportation system with busses connecting most places
At the big bus terminals there will be set bus schedules and the locals will always help you out in finding the right bus if you seem lost. In rural areas the busses do not have set times but arrive frequently and it is a cheap and efficient way of travelling. It might take a little longer at times as people get picked up and dropped off a long the way sometimes.
Panama is pretty safe
The Global Peace Index ranks Panama as the 47th safest country (as of 2019). It is therefore the second safest country in Central America after Costa Rica. And in South America only Uruguay and Chile are considered more safe based on this ranking.
That means that solo female travel in Panama is also a great idea and when following a couple of safety precautions you will most likely have no issues when traveling to this beautiful country.
But you are still advised to not take Taxis at night and rather stick with an Uber
If you do take a taxi then make sure to set a price before you get in. I don’t know why it would be saver to take an Uber but that is what I got told at the hostel in Panama City where I was staying at. Anyway, in most cases Uber is cheaper so it won’t be a bad idea anyway.
People are really friendly but English is not very common
I found the locals in Panama to be really friendly but some basic phrases in Spanish are definitely necessary. I’m sure it will somehow also work out if you only speak English but you are a lot better off by practising at least a little bit of Spanish beforehand.
Panama is most famous for the Panama Canal
The idea of such a canal actually dates back to the 16th century. During the construction of the canal thousands of workers ended up dying due diseases, accidents or challenging terrain. Nowadays about 13000 to 14000 ships pass the Panama Canal every year and it takes one ship about 8 to 10 hours to pass through the canal.
You can drink the tap water in most places
Drinking tab water is generally save to drink in most parts of the country. Only in the provinces of Bocas del Toro and Guna Yala you should be better off buying bottled water.
Panama City is the only capital in the world with a rainforest within city limits
I mean, how cool is that? I guess we can all say that that makes Panama City a pretty unique place to visit.
Did you know all of these things about Panama or is there anything that surprised you about 15 things you should know before traveling to Panama? Do you have anything to add?
Let me know in the comments
Talk to you soon x
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Panama was one of my favourite places in the world! Great post 🙂
I have never thought of visiting Panama! It looks like a very fun place to visit!
Panama really seems like a cool country. I’ve never been but i plan to go there. I have friends who’s traveled there and said it’s a great place for digital nomads and expats too.
Awesome post, thanks for sharing this huge amount of information. We are planning a trip to the region right now and have pinned your post to help us with our itinerary. Cheers
Good! Now I know a lot more about Panama. As an engineer, I always wanted to see the Panama channel, but otherwise, all my knowledge about the area was limited.
I would love to visit panama so this is great information to know!! Saved it for Later!!
I’d love to visit Panama one day! These are some great tips, and I never realised it was more expensive there. Good to know it’s safe though!
I really enjoyed reading this. Panama looks a beautiful and interesting place to visit. And your list of things to know before you go should hopefully come in handy if I get a chance to visit 🙂
Ooh these are some great facts about Panama! You’ve covered a lot of essential tips here too, they will be really useful if I ever go!
I would say anywhere around Boquete. There is a lot of nature and wildlife and a lot of people also hike up the volcano at night which is located in Boquete as well 🙂
A city with a rainforest within its limits? Yes! That’s where I want to live. I’ve always been fascinated by the Panama Canal. What are some local foods that you tried?
That’s a good question, I’m not sure actually. They were selling a lot of fish and seafood dishes which I don’t eat so I didn’t try that actually and just stuck with like rice and chicken and a whole lot of empanadas 😀
Wow, so interesting! I would have never guessed that they use the USD mainly! I also love the fact that it has a rainforest within its city limits – such cool facts! And you photos make it look absolutely gorgeous 🙂
I didn’t know that Panama uses the US dollar, that would make going there that much easier for me! I like that it is safe and has Uber. I found using Uber in Bangkok made getting around the city so much less of a hassle, so I would probably do the same here. Thanks for the breakdown!
Nice summary, really! 🙂 I visited South America for the first time in my life and it simply is different 😀 So these travel tips are pretty cool. Gotta get some nice Panama coffee brew now.
Reading through this I really need to visit Panama. I like all the tips and facts given. Thank you for giving details and all about it. Great blog.
I’ve had those change experiences when traveling. You want to buy something so you had over $20 and the guy tells you to be considerate coz its early morning and he doesn’t have change yet. It can be frustrating so yeah always have lose change or you are as good as having no money.