Panama is a rather small country in Central America next to Costa Rica and Colombia. And as the name suggests, it is home to the impressive Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. For such a small country, Panama is incredibly diverse, from beaches to jungles to deserted islands.
Panama is definitely worth the visit, but if you are travelling by yourself, you might be wondering if it is a safe location. Here is my complete guide to solo female travel in Panama.
Find out if it is safe, which places you should not miss out on, or which safety precautions you need to take while travelling. Let’s go!
I had spent a little more than two weeks in Panama, but you could easily spend more time in Panama, as there is so much to see and do.
Is Solo Female Travel in Panama safe?
First, yes Panama is safe! Back in 2017 I travelled to Panama by myself and I had absolutely no issues. It was also the first country in Latin America I travelled to.
Of course there are some places to avoid but if you do your proper research and use common sense, you will be completely fine! In fact, Panama is really safe to visit, only Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay are considered “safer” in Latin America.
I can highly recommend solo female travel in Panama to everyone. It is a great country to get an introduction to Latin America as well.
You do not necessarily need to speak Spanish, but of course it will make your trip a lot more enjoyable if you are able to speak a bit of Spanish. Some people will be able to speak a bit of English, but like in most Latin American countries, that is definitely not guaranteed. Therefore, make sure to know at least some basic Spanish phrases.
There are a lot of helpful online resources that help you learn a new language such as Italki. With Italki you can get one-by-one lessons with native speakers and there are also so many other languages to choose from!
Basic Facts about Panama
The official currencies are the Panamanian Balboa (PAB) as well as the US dollar. One Balboa equals exactly one USD. Because the Balboa only has coins up to 2 Balboa and does not come in bills, mostly the US dollar is used. If you go to the ATM you can only get USD as well
Panama shares borders with Costa Rica in the North and Colombia in the South.
The official language spoken in Panama is Spanish.
The capital city of Panama is beautiful Panama City.
Want to know more? 15 Things to Know Before Traveling to Panama!
But first, here are some resources you might need for your trip to Panama:
Skyscanner: Find the cheapest flight to and from Panama
Hostelworld: All the very best hostel deals
italki.com: Brush up on some Spanish and speak with some native speakers. Sign up now and get $10 of italki credit if you ever spend $20 on lessons.
Places to Visit in Panama
Below you can find some of the places that I visited. All of these are popular backpacking destinations and all beautiful places you should visit when travelling to Panama. One benefit of Panama being relatively small is that you never have to fly within the country and can easily visit all these places by public transport.
You can not travel to Panama without visiting its capital city: Panama City. Unless you are coming from Costa Rica or with a boat from Colombia you will most likely be starting your trip in Panama City and there are some great activities you can do in Panama City. Spend your time visiting Casco Viejo, enjoying some traditional Panamanian dishes and of course pay a visit to the world-famous Panama Canal.
Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is a province in Panama, close to the Costa Rican border. Other than the mainland, you can also find several islands. Popular activities in Bocas del Toro include going on a boat tour and watching some dolphins, snorkelling, going out or scuba diving.
If you are planning on scuba diving, you can bring your own Scuba gear and dive equipment, but you can also rent it at the diving schools.
There is also a famous island pub crawl every Friday that is called Filthy Friday. It is a lot of fun, and you will be taken to a couple of different bars.
Boquete is a small little town in the middle of Panama, mostly known for its beautiful nature that surrounds it. From Boquete you can visit coffee farms, go hiking or hike to the volcano Baru that is located close by. I have not done it myself but you can do a hike up which starts late at night, so you will get to see the sunrise when you reach the top.
I heard it’s pretty exhausting but also worth it. Other than that you can go water rafting or enjoy the beautiful nature and wildlife in and around Boquete.
San Blas Islands
The San Blas islands consist of over 350 islands, of which only 49 are inhabited. They are home to the Kuna people. The most popular way of visiting the San Blas islands are as an overnight trip from Panama City or as a sailing trip to/from Colombia. The San Blas islands are one of the most beautiful places in the world (at least according to me).
Santa Catalina is a small, remote town on the Pacific coast. Instead of big supermarkets you will find small convenient stores, just a handful of hostels and no Wi-Fi in a lot of places. It is a great place to sort of escape for a bit. Everybody is super friendly in Santa Catalina, and it is an amazing place for surfers of all kinds of levels.
You can rent surf boards on the beach or at your accommodation and head to one of many surfing spots along the coasts. Also, you can take day trips to Coiba Island, which is close by. There you can enjoy the national park or go scuba diving and/or snorkelling.
Safety Tips for Solo Travel in Panama
To be fair, when I first arrived in Panama City, I didn’t really take too many safety precautions. I walked around with all my valuables or didn’t inform myself about which areas were safe to visit. Nothing bad happened, and I also never really heard any bad stories about Panama.
But I guess you can never be too careful! I have never felt unsafe in Panama (I have felt unsafe in Costa Rica before). Here are some safety precautions you should follow just to be safe. Most of these safety precautions can be applied to a lot of different countries.
Leave your valuables in the Hostel: Don’t carry all your valuables around with you, but rather leave them in the hostel if you can. You don’t need to leave your phone, but just remember to keep it close. Only take your credit card with you if you need to get cash out. And only take money with you that you need for the day.
Take Ubers rather than taxis: In Panama, I had learned from my hostel that Uber are safer than taxis. Mostly because the routes can be tracked and drivers have gone through background checks. By taking Uber, you don’t take the risks of using unregistered taxis. Other than in for example Colombia, Uber is legal in Panama.
Be aware of your surroundings: Just listen to your gut feeling. If there are places you do not feel comfortable about visiting, then don’t do it. Be especially careful in places with lots of people such as bus stations.
Get a Panamanian Sim Card: Or just have access to the internet. That is necessary, so you will be able to call an Uber if you are in an area where there is no Wi-Fi. It also enables you to look up your location on a map or find things to do nearby. In a case of emergency, you will also be able to call for help.
Don’t walk around by yourself at night: Places that seem perfectly normal during the day can get a bit dodgy at nighttime. The chances of petty theft also increase once it is dark outside. So if you want to get from one place to another, either take an Uber or make sure you are with other people.
Listen to locals: Locals will know best about which areas are safe and which places you need to avoid. Therefore, make sure to ask locals for their opinion if you are unsure of anything.
Download Offline Maps: I highly recommend getting an app where you can download offline maps. Not just for Panama, but I use it for every country I travel to. I can recommend Maps.me. Offline apps of course are useful for safety reasons, but they also give you ideas about where to go and discover new surrounding areas.
Don’t travel to certain areas: Of course, not all areas are safe to visit. Colón has a higher crime rate, and you should either avoid it or be super careful. And of course, avoid the Darién Gap between Panama and Colombia. This area is exclusively jungle and a popular route for smugglers, drug traffickers and FARC.
To conclude, I would suggest being a little more careful than you are in Europe or South East Asia and avoid certain areas. Other than that, I would definitely say that solo female travel in Panama is completely safe. There is not too much you need to worry about safety wise. It is a perfect country for first-time solo travellers in Latin America.
Where to stay in Panama as a solo female traveller?
Bambuda Castle, Boquete: Probably my favourite hostel I have ever stayed in. The hostel is in a castle with beautiful views of a volcano. It also has a pool as well as a Jacuzzi. They host dinners every night which you can join for $10 and a great way to meet other travellers.
Hostel Villa Vento Surf: This is the hostel I have stayed at in Santa Catalina. The vibe was really chilled out, the staff was friendly, and they also upgraded me from an 8-bed dorm to a 3-bed dorm. There are free breakfast pancakes, and you can rent surfboards as well.
El Machico Hostel: This hostel is located in Panama City in the Marbella neighbourhood, one of the safest areas in Panama City. The staff is friendly and there is a lovely pool to enjoy some beers. It is just a short walk to the ocean. I really enjoyed staying there.
Lost and Found Hostel: This hostel is a little off the beaten track and a nice place to stop at if you are coming from Boquete and want to go to Bocas del Toro next. It is kind of on the way. The hostel is up a hill and once you make it up there it is surrounded by beautiful nature. The hostel is eco-friendly, and you can enjoy some hiking tracks in the area.
When to travel to Panama?
Panama has two seasons: dry season and wet season. Dry season lasts from December to March, whereas wet season lasts from mid-March to December. Dry season is the more popular season for travellers to come to Panama. But to be fair, all year around is a good time to travel to Panama, I believe.
I travelled in July and August, and I barely had any rain while I was there. Temperatures are similar all year around.
How to travel around Panama?
Panama has a good public transportation system, and it is easy to make your way around Panama. In Panama City, there are a bunch of bus connections and a bigger bus terminal for long distance busses. It can be a bit confusing to know which bus to take, but it is easiest to just ask at your accommodation or to ask some locals.
Taxis and Ubers are widely available in Panama City. Just make sure to rather take an Uber rather than taxis at nighttime for safety reasons.
If you take long distance busses, you might have to stop over in David in between to switch busses. Overall, it’s not too complicated. Most drivers know where the popular backpacker routes are and tell you if you are in the right bus if you ask them.
Flying in the country is not really necessary. Unless you are coming from Costa Rica or by boat from Colombia, you will arrive at Tocumen International Airport (PTY) outside of Panama City. You could fly to Bocas del Toro, but mostly you will probably just make use of public transportation or shuttle services.
The shuttle busses have the advantage that they take you somewhere directly, so you will save some time. They are a bit more pricey though.
Onward Travel from Panama
Panama to Costa Rica: The easiest way and most common way to leave or enter Panama is crossing over to Costa Rica by land. Because Panama is a rather small country, a lot of people combine a visit to Panama by also travelling to a lot of other countries in Central America. From Bocas del Toro it is around one hour to the border from where it is another one and a half hours to get to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
Panama to Colombia: You can not cross over to Colombia via land, so the only way to get to Colombia other than flying is via boat. There are several companies that offer 5-day sailing trips through the beautiful San Blas Islands to Cartagena, Colombia. Not the cheapest option to travel, but I believe it must be an incredible experience.
Make sure to check out my best tips for solo female travellers in Colombia as well.
Panama to anywhere else: Panama has a bunch of airports, but pretty much all of them are for domestic flights. If you want to fly to Costa Rica, you can also fly from Bocas del Toro. For any other international destinations, you will always head back to Panama City and fly out of Tocumen International Airport (PTY).
My Experience: Travelling Panama solo
I have had an amazing time in Panama! Therefore, I can highly recommend solo female travel in Panama to all of your female travellers. I have always felt safe and never had any bad experiences. I did feel a little uncomfortable on my first day in Panama City as I experienced a lot of cat calling.
That obviously is annoying, but I just learned to ignore it! Other than that, the people in Panama are really friendly. On my first day, someone on the street just stopped and welcomed me to Panama and wished me a great time. That was really nice! I just wish I would have known some more Spanish by then to be able to better communicate. (I only started learning Spanish two months before I went to Panama after I had booked my flights).
Originally I wanted to travel to Colombia, but I was not comfortable enough as I had never been to Latin America before. I had combined my Panama trip with Costa Rica and one city in Nicaragua, and two years later I finally travelled to Colombia.
It was amazing, but I was really glad that I had travelled to Panama before as it was the perfect introduction to Latin America. I loved that I had met so many solo travellers and that most of the hostels felt super social. Would love to return some day!
Why Solo Female Travel in Panama is Great!
- A lot of other solo travellers: My experience was that there were a lot more other solo travellers in Panama than I have met in most other countries. And also fewer groups. That made it a lot easier to connect with other travellers and find friends more quickly.
- It is safe: It is safer than most Latin American countries, so with a bit of common sense you will be completely fine. A good thing is you don’t have to worry about safety all the time, so you can fully enjoy your trip and focus on what is important.
- A lot of beautiful places to discover: You can enjoy time at the beach, hike to a volcano or visit the impressive Panama Canal. There are a lot of beautiful places to discover in Panama.
- A lot of great hostels: There are a bunch of awesome hostels in Panama, and in most of them it is pretty easy to meet fellow travellers. Most of them have great common areas to socialise.
Skyscanner: Find the cheapest flight to and from Panama
Hostelworld: All the very best hostel deals
italki.com: Brush up on some Spanish and speak with some native speakers. Sign up now and get $10 of italki credit if you ever spend $20 on lessons
If you have any other questions about solo female travel in Panama, please let me know! I would love to answer all of your questions. Also, would love to know your experiences if you have travelled to Panama by yourself before.
Talk to you later x
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Great guide with everything I need to plan my travels! Thanks..
Hey Lehka! Glad you liked it 🙂
This is such an informative and comforting guide! I was due to travel to Central America and was feeling a bit nervous but this has given me a new confidence to visit Panama and Costa Rica ?
Thank you! Glad to hear that 🙂
I find most places are safer than a lot of people imagine. Good to know this about Panama. And I totally expect there to be areas that are unwise to go. That’s true in any big city. Glad you had such a great, easygoing time.
Hi Becky! Is it safe to hike alone? Aren’t you afraid? I don’t know what frightens me more: meeting a local with ugly intentions or a bear!
Hi Juliet! I mostly went hiking with people I had met in the hostel to be honest since that was a lot more fun. I only went hiking by myself once but it was fine. As long as you stay on the hiking path it should be okay. At one hike there was a stop where you had to pay a small entry fee to even get to the hiking track so that felt quite safe. But I prefer hiking with other people or going on a tour 🙂