What to Expect

Location

Panama is located between Central and South America.  It covers 75,517 square km (29,208 square miles). Panama is between 50 and 120 miles wide (89km and 192 km) and is bordered by 1,287.7 km (805 miles) of Caribbean coastline and 1,700.6 km (1,062.8 miles) of Pacific coastline.

Climate

Panama has a humid, tropical climate. Temperatures are around 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 25-30 degrees Celsius). Nights are always cooler. The average annual rainfall is 1,500 mm along the Pacific coast and 2,500 mm on the Caribbean side. The highlands enjoy spring-like climate with cool nights.

Seasons

In this country of lush rainforests, there are only two seasons: Summer (from December to April), when rain is less frequent, and Winter (from May to  November), when showers are common in the evening with occasional mid-day cloudbursts. Sunny days are the norm.

Time zone

Panama is on Eastern Standard Time (EST), five hours behind GMT.
Panama Time = GMT-5

Currency

The Panamanian currency is the US dollar. US coins are used alongside Panamanian coins, which look exactly like American coins except for the imprint. In Panama, all major credit cards are accepted. In the interior areas of the country, such as San Blas and Bocas del Toro, most transactions are in cash. ATM machines are available in all cities.

But if you come from the Eurozone, you’ll have to exchange currencies. You can exchange foreign currency at the Tocumen International Airport where you will find several currency exchange offices as well as in Panama City.

Debit Card and Credit Cards like Visa, Mastercard, and/or American Express are widely accepted in most places (Travelers’ Checks aren’t!). Moreover, from where you’re from, you’ll be able to withdraw $500 USD per day from ATMs.

Spending Guide

In Panama, the following items cost approximately:

  • Breakfast: $10-15
  • Lunch: $15-25
  • Dinner: $25 or more
  • Beer/glass of wine: A beer at the supermarket ($1), a beer at a bar ($2-5), a glass of wine ($10-12)
  • Bottle of wine: $20 or more
  • Soft drinks: $1 at the supermarket, $2-3 in restaurants

Electricity

120 volt, 60 cycles in all parts of the republic. US electrical items can be used without adapters.

Communication

Telephone/cell phone: in Panama City the coverage is good. You can get easily a local SIM card at any local store or pharmacy and its common for travelers to get one. It’s usually cost several “units” per minute of talking. If it says 100 minutes, it’s probably good for about 15 minutes of international talk time. At each site, there will be phones nearby. But in some places, the phones are not immediately accessible, so you may only be able to call home every other day at most.

At each site, there will be phones nearby. But in some places, the phones are not immediately accessible, so you may only be able to call home every other day at most.

Insects

Don’t let the thought of bugs get you down. The right kind of protection and common sense can make your trip worry-free. When entering the jungle or forests, wear lightweight cotton, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants. Cover all exposed skin surfaces with insect repellent.

Exit Requirements

There is a $40.00 departure tax (it may increase to $60.00 in 2016) on all passengers of international flights leaving Panama City. This tax is payable at the airline counter or included in the ticket. An immigration form must be filled out and returned to the immigration officials prior to boarding. The International Airport in Panama City has excellent duty free shops.

Safety Tips

Panama has no armed forces. A national police force, including special tourism police personnel, imposes the law.  For your safety and convenience, we recommend that you exercise caution by avoiding carrying large amounts of cash (ATMs are found throughout the country) or wearing expensive jewelry. Panama is truly a safe country and violent crime rates are low, however, be careful with pickpockets in the downtown areas of Panama City.

Health Tips

Panama City has excellent medical facilities, the larger towns have regional hospitals, and rural areas have clinics. Take a look at your immunization records before you go. No shots are required, we suggest contacting your physician about your specific health needs. The government of Panama does not require any vaccinations in order to enter the country. Most medicines are widely available in Panama City and at a similar rate to that in most western countries. Most medicines are sold by the same trademark names used in the U.S. For emergencies, there are many good private clinics and hospitals throughout the country, but the biggest and best equipped are located in Panama City.

There are several hospitals in Panama City and excellent medical facilities. For emergencies, there are many good private clinics and hospitals throughout the country, even if the best-equipped hospitals are located in Panama City. Some hospitals of the capital: Hospital Nacional (private hospital), Hospital Santa Fe (private hospital), Punta Pacifico (private hospital), Santo Tomas Hospital (public hospital). If you go to Veraguas Province, in Santiago de Veraguas, the hospitals are called Regional Hospital Dr. Luis “Chicho” Fabrega or Clinica Hospital San Juan De Dios.

We suggest you carry an international insurance.

Water

Panama has some of the cleanest drinking water in Latin America. Water is safe to drink from the faucet. We suggest you carry your bottle and refill it at the hotels.

Local Customs & Culture

In Panama, the food is very delicious and made with fresh local ingredients and flavors. You can enjoy mainly root vegetables, starchy fruits, livestock (cows and pigs), chicken, beans, and rice. Examples of Panamanians dishes.

For breakfast: Hojaldras (fried simple dough, not sweet), Tortillas de maíz con queso fresco (corn tortilla with bland locally-made white cheese on top), Bollos (corn dough, traditionally rolled in a banana leaf, and boiled), Tamale de maíz (corn dough sometimes with beef or chicken, and vegetables wrapped inside of a banana leaf and steamed).

For lunch and dinner: Arroz con pollo, arroz con guandú (often served at celebrations or holidays; rice with chicken, rice with guandu bean), (corn tortilla with bland locally-made white cheese on top),  Patacones (fried green plantain discs), Carne o salchicha guisada (beef strips or hotdog in a tomato sauce served with any of the above), Carimañola (fried meat pie of mashed yucca with meat and/or cheese inside), Typical plate: white rice, lentils / red beans, fried yellow plantain, potato salad, roasted chicken or in sauce / fried whole fish / chopped beefsteak / porkchop in pineapple sauce.

Drinks: Coffee, Seco (local gin), National beers (Panama, Atlas, Balboa), rum (Ron Abuelo), coconut water, smoothies.

Shopping

If you are looking for specifics items to purchase before going back home, Panama has a great number of handicrafts and souvenirs for travelers: Mola (square piecework of fabrics made by the Guna Indians in the San Blas Islands of Panama), Ron Abuelo (Panama’s national rum), Woven Embera Bowl Or Mask (woven handmade bowls and masks made by the Embera Indians in Panama. The bowls are made from natural fibers and dyes found in the forest and can take months to make depending on how intricate the weave is), Local Gourmet Coffee (there is some good gourmet coffee that is grown in Panama and it makes a great souvenir to take back home), Panama Hats (which are actually made in Ecuador, not Panama) are actually very famous and in style at the moment.

Tipping your Guide

The tour operators recommend the following guidelines for tipping their guides, drivers and staff in Panama:

  • Naturalist guide:  US$15.00 – US$20.00 per person per / day
  • Day tour guide:  US$10.00 per person per day
  • Transfer driver:  US$2.00 per person per day
  • Tour driver:  US$5.00 per person per day
  • Tour boat driver:  US$5.00 per person per day
  • Hotel bellman:  US$1.00 per person per piece of luggage
  • International airport bellmen:  US$1.00 per piece of luggage

Tipping

10% of the total amount of your meal is appropriate.  It is not necessary to tip taxi drivers; however, bellhops are usually tipped $3.00 per person, tour guides $10 – $25 per person per day, and tour van/bus drivers $5 to $10 per person per day.

   
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