Panama Travel Guide
What would Panama be without the canal? As a little-known tourist destination, Panama offers lots of natural beauty and few crowds, it’s also gifted it’s name to clothing brands and sun hats to cement it’s reputation.
Panama has hundreds of tiny islands to explore, many with beautiful beaches that you’ll have all to yourself. The diving and snorkeling sites are almost endless, with all the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Caribbean Sea to enjoy. The forests and mountains offer some great hiking and horseback riding as well as some of the best bird-watching around. Many tourists take a boat through the narrow waters of the Panama Canal, taking in crocodiles and virgin jungle alongside huge shipping freights; but the more adventurous may white water raft long the Chiriquí and Chiriquí Viejo rivers.
When to Go
Although Panama has a generally sunny, tropical climate year-round, the dry season from mid-December to mid-April is the best time to go, particularly if you want to do any hiking.
Getting There & Away
Although there are flights into Panama City’s international airport from all over Central and North America, Miami tends to be the main hub for most airlines. Cars can be rented in Panama City and in David, and there are a large number of internal flights. The roads are generally good and there are buses, albeit mostly slow ones, between most cities. A lot of travel in Panama is done by boat. It is recommended that you hire your own boat to avoid overcrowded and uncomfortable long rides.
Health & Safety
Panama is chlorinated and safe to drink; however, outside the main cities, it’s advisable to stick to bottled water. Dengue fever and to a lesser extent, malaria, are a risk in Panama. Take preventative measure so that you don’t become the mosquitoes dinner. If you do require medical attention, modern and reliable private healthcare is available, although you may have some trouble finding it in the more rural and remote areas.
Although Panama as a whole is fairly safe, there are some areas to be avoided. The El Chorrillo and Curundu suburbs of Panama City are dangerous. The city of Colon has a bad reputation and Darien Province near the border with Colombia frequently reports of incidents involving smugglers, bandits and Colombian paramilitary groups.
Food & Hospitality
Panama City has excellent international cuisine and good local food, which tends to be hot and spicy. There is an abundance of both seafood and liquor of all varieties in Panama. Panama City and popular resort towns have plenty of nightclubs and casinos as well as more traditional entertainment options such as ballet and folk dancing. The American community may have left town but some of the culture hasn’t.
- Two days at Panama City and the Canal.
- Two days at Bocas del Toro.
- Two days at Azuero Peninsula.
- Two days at Isla Grande.
- Two days at Boquete.
Panama City: the coastal capital includes the ruins of Panamá Viejo and part of the Panama Canal. Central avenue is a great place for shopping and the Casco Antiguo area is a good place to wander among the remnants of the colonial era.
Panama Canal: see the canal now, with huge boats sliding along the narrow passage through the dense jungle, before the restoration project completely changes this engineering masterpiece.
Isla Grande: Panama has several islands worth visiting, but Isla Grande, near Portobelo, is a remote and secluded Caribbean dream.
Boquete: enjoy cool mountain air and a number of outdoor activities such as climbing the Volcán Barú, bird-watching, hiking or horseback riding.
Bocas del Toro: although it can be reached from Panama City by air, Bocas del Toro is still a relatively unknown home to two national parks, excellent diving, seven large islands and hundreds of smaller ones.
Azuero Peninsula: if you’re looking to get away from it all, the quiet villages, secluded beaches and quaint colonial towns of this Pacific peninsula is where it’s at.
Bird-watching: believe it or not, there are 950 registered species of bird in Panama. The Gamboa Tropical Rainforest Reserve and the Soberania National Park are considered some of the best places in the world to watch birds.
Boat trips: whether you have an eye for the large vessels on the Panama Canal or the crocodiles and rare birds in the jungle on the shore, boat trips are one of the main tourist attractions in Panama. Go on, you can’t go home without saying you’ve ‘done the canal trip’.
Diving and snorkeling: there are plenty of reefs to explore among the hundreds of islands off the coast of Panama.
White water rafting: the Chiriquí and Chiriquí Viejo rivers are the most popular sites for this dry-season only activity.
Surfing: yikes! Waves on some of Panama’s beaches can reach nearly five meters, this certainly isn’t mentioned in any of the surfing magazines.
Horseback riding: is an excellent way to explore the wild landscape of Panama, particularly in Chiriquí Province and around the Baru volcano.