Panama is one of the largest countries of Central America. It is located between North and South America and separated by its largest symbol – the Panama Canal. Thanks to this engineered wonder of the world, ships do not have to sail all of South America and pass through the Strait of Magellan to sail from West to East America. Panama has much more to offer than just the Panama Canal. This country is characterized by a varied landscape, tropical climate and well-preserved nature. You will find here fabulously paradise beaches, wild forests with very rich fauna and volcanoes. What is definitely worth knowing when going to such a diverse country? In the further part of the post, a handful of useful information and interesting facts that I discovered while visiting Panama.
Let’s start with the formalities. Most of the countries do not need visa to visit Panama. Upon arrival, we will be asked to complete the ‘Travelers sworn declaration’ form. We have to provide basic information there and whether we have something to declare. After leaving the queue for passport control, the clerk can ask you a few questions, such as the purpose or duration of your stay. What is important and what should be remembered that in Panama, as in most countries of South America already at the entrance, we may be asked for a return ticket. That is why it is worth having at least a return flight booking prepared, or when you are going to neighboring Costa Rica for example, a bus booking.
AIRPORTS AND TRANSPORT
The airport operating international flights in the capital of Panama is Tocumen Airport (PTY) located about 25 km from the center. It is not easy to get from the airport to the city center. There is no typical airport shuttle for tourists and the most difficult is to find any other transport except a taxi.
After leaving the airport, of course, there will be a large number of taxi drivers who will gladly take us to the door of our hotel. The price of a taxi is around 20-30 $. I flew on Sunday afternoon, so the price was even higher – $ 40. It’s worth going a little further behind the airport, towards the roundabout and ask for other options because there is possibility to take a bus or take a local, way cheaper taxi.
In Panama, if you have internet, Uber works very well.
This is a type of taxi typical to South America, but well known only by locals. A taxi leaves when a set of passengers gather and the amount is simply divided between them. We can go to the center, then the cost should not be higher than $ 15.
Usually, the cheapest option is a bus. In Panama, we have two types of buses. The more similar to buses we know from Europe, called Metrobus. They work very well, except that you pay for trips with a card on which you must have topped up money. This is a very convenient and cheap option because trips cost 0.25 cents. Two people can use the same card by tapping it twice. And it is worth buying this card when visiting Panama City. The problem is that it can not be bought at the airport. The only option is to ask someone to let us use his card and give him money. I tried this solution twice, being in the city and people were always happy to help me. Travel time to the center is about an hour.
Another type of bus very popular in Panama are old school buses like from American movies, called diablos rojos. The stop is a little farther than the one from Metrobus, there is also no exact timetable you just have to wait patiently. 🙂 I paid $ 1 for the ticket.
Other airports in Panama City are:
Marcos A Gelabert Airport (PAC), also known as Albrook Airport. Domestic and international flights operated by AirPanama usually depart from this airport. It’s easy to get to this airport because both the subway and bus station are in Albrook.
Panama Pacifico Airport (BLB), located on the other side of the Las Americas bridge, this airport is located in a quite large remote area. Access by public transport is quite complicated, so in this case I recommend using an Uber or a taxi.
Balboa’s local currency has been supplanted by the US dollar. Balboa and Dollar are treated the same, moreover, it is totally normal to pay with one currency, and get the exchange with the other currency. You can also mix them while paying. In Panama, we can pay by card in many places. The ATM network is also very well developed, however, fees for ATM withdrawals can be really large, even $ 9.
The official language is of course Spanish. Most residents also speak very well English.
There are no four seasons in Panama. As in other tropical countries, there is a dry and rainy season. From December to May is the dry season, and the rest of the months are the rainy season. My first two days in Panama it was raining as if someone had turned on the tap, but as it happens in a tropical country, there is a lot of sunshine all year round. In general, you can visit Panama all year round, because temperatures don’t usually fall below 25 degrees, except in mountainous areas. Another thing to keep in mind is that Panama is outside the Caribbean hurricane zone, so you don’t have to worry about that.
DIRECTIONS TO NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES
Panama borders with Costa Rica and Colombia. We can get to Costa Rica very quickly by bus, e.g. from Bocas del Toro the journey will take us less than 2 hours.
There are currently 3 open border crossings between the two countries:
Guabito: Located on the Caribbean side, is probably best known for the number of people who take a trip to Costa Rica to visit the famous Bocas del Toro archipelago.
Paso Canoas: Border crossing that we will meet if we follow the path that Panamericana crosses the continent.
Serene River: Border crossing near the city of Volcán. It is probably the least known of all. In the city of David you can catch a bus that will take us to the Serene River in a few hours.
As for Colombia, there is no land crossing. On this episode there is the huge and dense jungle Darién, which connects Panama with Colombia. These areas are also not the safest. So to get to Colombia remains a plane or a boat. Low cost airlines flying on this route are e.g. Wingo or Viva Colombia. Another option is a sea cruise through the islands of San Blas to Cartagena in Colombia. A more economical but slightly more complicated alternative is a trip from Puerto Obaldía (Panama) to Turbo (Colombia).
Electricity in Panama is 110 V / 60 Hz. The plugs have two flat pins, and sometimes a third round one. If you are not going to more distant mountainous regions, you won’t have a problem finding a place to charge your camera or phone.
In Panama, everyone will find a place that best suits their expectations, from hotels, guesthouses, airbnb to a large number of cheaper hostels. Prices vary depending on the location, but on average we will pay between $ 10-15 for a bed in a shared room at the hostel.
There is no compulsory vaccine to enter Panama, although yellow fever vaccine is recommended. There is a probability in some areas such as Darién, Guna Yala or Bocas del Toro of diseases transmitted by insect bites, such as Zika, malaria or dengue, although they are not very common but still a good measure against insects is a must when you go to these areas .
WHAT CLOTHES TO TAKE WITH YOU
Because of the warm climate, summer clothes, light and comfortable are enough for Panama. A hat, sunscreen and sunglasses will also be useful. For those who decide to go hiking, it is important to wear long pants, covered shoes, and carry a mosquito repellent with them. In the coldest parts of the country, located in the Chiriqui province, a warmer sweatshirt or jacket will be also useful.
In Panama, when it comes to food, the thing that most surprised me was the lack of fresh and exotic fruits, as it is usually in this region. For comparison, in northern Colombia or Cuba, I often could not decide which of these strange fruits to try. In Panama, the fruit market is much weaker. Most of the products in stores and supermarkets are from the USA. The basic ingredients of the dishes are rice, chicken, fish, patacones (fried banana) and yucca in various forms. If you sleep in a hostel, it is most likely that American premade pancakes will be served for breakfast. Plus maple syrup or chocolate / peanut butter plus coffee / tea.