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Panama - one of the 368 San Blas islands (islets) - d.d. photo


The first thing to bear in mind is that without sunscreen, even a a leisurely stroll in Panama will be enough to burn you to a crisp. There is often a thin layer of cloud in the sky, which may lull you into thinking that there’s no danger, but don’t let it fool you. On sidewalks, there are occasionally ‘solarforos’ which shows the sunburn danger on a five-point scale. Of these, only the lowest, ‘bajo’ is truly safe. Time to finally invest in a good Panama hat. What’s worth knowing, of course, is that the real Panama hat is not quite the same as the one the world knows. The real one is green and round, while the white Panama hat of international fame is actually Ecuadorian.


  • Transport – the metro connects together four transport nodes.

  • Shopping mall – Albrook – is a huge, middle-class shopping mall which can be reached by the metro. It sells everything you can find in the USA, and at lower prices – with the possible exception of Apple products.

  • Pedestrian streets are lacking in Panama City

  • What they do have, though, is every European and American café and restaurant chain. There are Juan Valdez cafés, for example, which are as good here as elsewhere

  • There’s no social security in Panama and healthcare is expensive. Get insurance before visiting Panama!!!

  • All major international banks are represented here and have all the western mod-cons. But they’re not cheap!

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    "Why travel to Panama?

    • Panama City is a surprisingly developed metropolis with modern, sophisticated skyscrapers and a Latin feel.
    • Here you can find one of the world’s largest engineering works, the Panama Canal, the recent expansion of which is finishing in 2015.
    • Public safety is good, excellent in the countryside, while Panama City is no worse than any big city.
    • The currency is the dollar, which makes shopping easier and relieves you of conversion problems.
    • Tap water is drinkable – a unique advantage in Latin America.
    • Panama has wonderful rainforests, with plenty of animals to see at every step. These are mainly smaller animals, such as monkeys, sloths, guinea pigs, toucans, hummingbirds, and smaller crocodiles. Walking in the rainforest is not dangerous – you’re always accompanied.
    • There are many Native American tribes that are very interesting to us. Most of them live in an autonomous area and are not above employing certain 21st-century technologies (e.g. solar panels), but they mostly live in traditional clothing, in a traditional way. It is extremely interesting to get a glimpse into their lives.
    • The shores of Panama are washed by two oceans. To the north is the Atlantic Ocean, or more specifically the Caribbean Sea, with its azure waters and white sandy beaches, while to the south is the Pacific Ocean, which shows a completely different picture. Firstly, because it really is much quieter than the other coastline, and also because its shores show a more volcanic origin, which makes the sand extremely interesting and varied, from snow white to black. The water temperature on both shores is around 28-30 degrees.
    • The weather is reliably warm all year round, always around 30 degrees.
    • Prices are similar to those in Central Europe, and everything is available, which is a stimulus to the eye and the mouth. The largest brands are present in almost every mall. There are huge shopping malls: Panama is a real shopping mecca for Latin Americans.
    • Nature is untouched in many places, so the network of tourist centers and hotels is not as developed as in neighboring Costa Rica. Nevertheless, all price categories are catered for here. Tourism is still in its infancy here, and it pays to look at things twice. That’s why it’s good to go there with a travel agency that speaks your language.
    • There are plenty of incredibly juicy fruits, very good quality and widespread beef, and lots of delicious fish and shellfish. The seasoning follows Spanish cuisine.
    • Panamanians are kind and hospitable, are used to the presence of foreigners, and most of them speak English.
    • There is double-digit economic growth, with huge infrastructure investment, and in April 2014 the subway was launched, which is also unique in Central America.
    • Health care is excellent, and hospital care is of a very high standard. A huge investment has been launched to build a hospital sector that will put the country at the forefront of health services in the world.
    • Beggars, scroungers, and homeless people are generally not a visible presence

    (H. J., 2015)

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    "I will miss the rice with chicken, the yellow taxis, the buses, the crazy drivers, the unbearably bad roads, the canal, the friendly people, the Caribbean, the trash on the streets, the cables hanging off of the electricity poles, the school uniforms, teachers, classmates, cold water (actually, that one not so much :) ), the unique flowers, the palm trees, the jungle, the hummingbirds, the skyscrapers, the scorching heat, hammocks, talking parrots, tropical fruits and I could go on and on.

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    "Panamanian hostels are not exactly famous for cleanliness. Nor are their paying guests. Thousands and thousands of people are staying in places like this, as we are in the capital of Panama, in the middle of the city, and everyone from Colombian drug couriers to American backpackers is here. The idea of security start’s to feel like a distant dream. We are touring Panama, to see what the country is like. We also spend a week in Bocas del Toro. This small island is about 600 kilometers from Panama City. It’s around midnight when we rattle down in the middle of the jungle to a port, where a not-exactly-new boat that takes us to the island, with all the suitcases on board, which at the time is all of our possessions. At first glance, Bocas del Toro is not exactly a place for Europeans. That’s not to say that it isn’t beautiful: The sea, the fauna, and the flora are truly dazzling, but unfortunately, it’s also covered in trash. The people of Panama don’t care about their environment, don’t appreciate it, and have no idea how lucky they are.”



Practicals

Transport

Public bus

Long-distance bus transportation works well in Panama. You can get to almost anywhere by bus.

Taxi

In Panama, taxis do not use taximeters, so agree on the fare before starting the trip. Even better, use Uber or Easy Taxi applications instead of taxis.

Driving

Roads are definitely in order by Central American standards. However, between May and October, there are often floods that make it challenging to drive on the roads.

Biking

We don't recommend riding a bike on the street. Car drivers don't have the slightest respect for bikers.  If you still want to cycle, you can do that in Panama City, on Ciclovía (a section of the motorway temporarily closed to traffic) every Sunday from 6 am to noon.






Panama City - public bus - b.n. ma photo

Panama - Panama City - public bus

Panama - colorful long-distance bus - b.n. ma photo

Panama - The Bridge of the Americas with the Pan-American Highway over the Panama Canal - b.n. ma photo

Food


In Panama, the food is relatively similar to that in Colombia. Beef and pork predominate, but there is also plenty of chicken and fish on offer. Dishes are almost always served with rice and/or some legumes, mainly beans or lentils. Yucca is also a typical garnish (similar to potatoes, but a little more fibrous). Plantains (or cooking banana) is also popular as a side dish.

Many foods are fried in hot fat.

In restaurants and supermarkets, you can't find an extensive selection of vegetables, as Panamanians don't eat a wide variety of vegetables.

Most foods are not spicy, often only a little salt is added.

Tropical fruits are divine in Panama.  Drinks based on them are highly popular. These are called batidos (a milky drink or smoothie).

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"Those who live a Latin lifestyle don’t eat their last meal of the day at six o'clock – instead they like to eat street food, especially after dark. This is when the stalls open, grilling, baking, and making lots of delicacies, which are a very good alternative to a traditional dinner any time and seem positively heavenly on the way home from a party. These include tacos, which can be especially life-saving, of course, when the ingredients are freshly prepared and a serious selection of sauces are offered, that can be added by the customer as he or she likes. My personal favorite was picante, which means spicy, but also salsa and guacamole. Many come with a lot of coriander (the bottom two in the picture.) Service is uniformly bored and indifferent – special requests, if they aren’t minded to give them, are generally ignored, or else the customer is told they don’t have that. But this is part of the character of the place – nobody does anything different here, but rather adapts to the possibilities. So I did the same.”






Panama - beef liver with onions and fried tortillas - v.a. photo

Panama - Rice, shrimps and avocado - m.a. photo

Panama - tamales - flavorful corn meal cooked in plantain and bijao leaves - d.t. photo

Panama - cocadas - Panamian coconut cookies - r.e. photo

Panama - Balboa - a popular local beer - j.k. photo

Shopping

If you bring cash to Panama, prefer the US dollar. Euro is changed at an unfavorable rate.

Most stores are reluctant to accept  50 or 100 USD banknotes as they are afraid to get counterfeits.  Even if they take, it happens only after a lengthy examination. Bring 20 USD banknotes or smaller.  

Currency exchange is not typical in hotels.

Credit card payment is widely accepted. Many locations accept  MasterCard or Visa credit cards only. If you’re traveling to smaller, rural places, take cash with you.


Panama - souvenirs created by Kuna Indians - b.n. ma photo

Panama - ron ponche (rum punch), a Panamanian version of Egg Nog - c.f. photo

Fun

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Panama - Chitré - festival - b.n. ma photo

Public safety

Public safety is not bad by Latin American standards. In Central America, Panama is the second-safest country after Costa Rica. 

According to official crime statistics, robberies, murders, and attacks have increased in the districts of San Miguelito, El Chorillo, and Juan Diaz in Panama City. Most of these crimes are part of the showdown between members of rival drug gangs, so tourists are not targets.

It is risky to take a yellow taxi after dark, especially if the cab already has other passengers. Do not sit in taxis that already carry passengers, neither in the daytime.

2020: Areas close to the Colombian border (from Punta Carreto on the Atlantic coast to Comarca de San Blas, to Yaviza in the eastern Darien province to Punta Piña on the Pacific coast) are particularly dangerous. The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a peace agreement in 2016. However, the threat of intrusion by breakaway Colombian guerrillas and other armed groups still exist.  Foreign and Panamanian citizens have also been victims of violent crimes, kidnappings, and murders in this area. If you want to travel to the places mentioned above at all costs, you should join a group organized by a reliable tour operator.

Panama - police officers with a languid look - Krista photo

Health

COVID update:

Panama’s international air traffic resumed on October 12, 2020. Upon arrival, passengers must present a negative PCR test or must undergo a quick test at the airport (price $ 50). The curfew lasts from 23:00 to 05:00, mask-wearing is mandatory on the street. The gradual restart of the economy has begun.

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Tap water is drinkable in Panama City and other major cities, not recommended elsewhere.

We strongly recommend that you thoroughly wash the soft drink and beer cans before opening them to avoid viral infections. The cans may become contaminated during storage and transport (animal urine, feces, etc.).

If you include in your Panama visit a rainforest or the coast, prepare yourself for intensive use of mosquito repellents.

Panama City - On the Metro everyone wearing masks. Two seats left open between each one allowed to be used. Social distancing stickers for standing- - d.j. photo (2020 September)

Others

1. Panamanian legislation on drugs is strict. In this regard, controls are intensive at the airports, ports, and border stations. Even the possession of a small amount of drugs can result in several years in prison. In possession of a larger amount, the offender may be punished by up to 15 years. Authorities may arrest even the person in the company of the drug trafficker.

Panama City beach - b.s. photo

Panama - Azuero Peninsula - Chitré - typical residential house - b.n. ma photo

Background

Panama - national flag

Destination in brief

Panama in brief

Panama is a Central American country located in the southernmost part of this region. Neighbors: Colombia (southeast), Costa Rica (northwest). Panama has both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea coast.
While some historians believe that the word “Panama” was an indigenous name for a particular tree or an abundance of butterflies, the majority consensus is that it means “abundance of fish.”

Size: 75,517 km² (29,157 mi²) - Panama is the only place in the world where you can watch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean and set on the Atlantic Ocean from the same spot. At the country’s narrowest point, the two oceans are separated by 80 kilometers (50 miles).

Population: 4.2 million (2020) – 65% mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white), 12,3% Native American, 9,2% black, 6.8% mulatto, 6.7% white

Capital city: Panama City (1.8 million)

Official language: Spanish – English is widely spoken, especially in Panama City and on the Caribbean coast.

Religion: 84% Roman Catholics

Most frequent surname: Rodriguez

Official currency: Balboa (PAB), along with USD

Average net monthly salary: 570 USD (2019)

Public safety: Panama is a safe county for tourists, the safest in Central America. It is a stable country, both politically and economically — with no serious hygiene-related issues or hazards.

Optimal timing for a tourist visit:
The best climate is between December and March (little rain, less humidity) – May-November is the rainy period – Located south of the hurricane alley, Panama is rarely affected by tropical storms.

Most famous tourist attractions:

Old Town of Panama City (Casco Viejo), Panama Canal (the Canal alone generates one-third of Panama’s entire economy), Isla Bastimentos, Bocas del Toro, Taboga Island, Coiba National Park, Darién NP, Baru Volcano, Pearl Islands, Embera Village
Panama is less popular with tourists than Costa Rica, although it can offer just as much. The best places to visit are both coasts, the mountains, and the rain forests. Meeting the indigenous populations and witnessing their way of life can be a beautiful, memorable experience. Panama City is a modern city with some Miami-like vibes. Eco-tours are getting more and more popular. Panama is a heaven for bird watchers. 
Panama has the most diversified wildlife of all the countries in Central America as it's home to species native to both North and South America.


Geography

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Panama - Gamboa rainforest - a white-nosed coati - b.n. ma photo

Panama - Geoffroy's tamarin - the smallest Central-American monkey species - It is 22-25 cm long and weighs only around 50 dkg - b.n. ma photo

Climate

Panama’s climate is tropical equatorial with little temperature fluctuations. There are two seasons: dry and rainy. The dry season lasts from late December to early May. The rest of the year is the rainy season. From a tourist point of view, the dry season is more pleasant.

History

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Panama - Panama City - ruins of Panama la Vieja - Krista photo

Panama - Plaza de Francia - A monument erected in 1923 in honor of the 20,000 workers who died during the canal's construction. At the top of the obelisk is a rooster, the national symbol of France, and below is a bust of Ferdinand de Lesseps (the builder of the Canal).b.n. ma photo

Nowadays

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Panama City - modern

Panama - City - Old Town - lg. photo

Panama City - skyscrapers - b.n. ma photo

Panama City - housings - b.n. ma photo

People

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Panama - children - h.l. photo

Panama - girl - n.t. photo

Panama - little girl in festive dress - b.n. ma photo

Panama - lady - b.n. ma photo

Panama - Kuna Indian lady with typical beaded leg wrappings - b.n. ma photo

Tourist etiquette

1. Expect that indigenous women (indigenas) will ask for money if you want to take a photo of them.

2. The vast majority of the population is deeply religious Catholic.  Don't wear a provocative dress, don't walk on a city street in beach clothes.

3. Unlike in other Latin American countries, bargaining is not customary in Panama.

4. In private conversations with locals we don't know much, preferably avoid talking about personal income issues,  racism, religion, politics, and drug trafficking. These are risky, potentially sensitive topics. 


Gastronomy

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Panama - Carimañolas panameñas - meat and cheese stuffed yucas - l.k. photo

Panama - hojaldras (fried doughs) - m.o. photo

Panama - patacones (fried green plantains) - j.k. photo

Attractions

Panama City

Panama - Panama City - Metropolitan Cathedral - Elter photo

Panama City - Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi from the 17th century - b.n. ma photo

Panama City - City Hall (built in 1907) - b.n. ma photo

Panama City - Bolivar Palace, for a while home of Simon Bolivar who led independence wars and battles against Spain and the US in the 19th century - b.n. ma photo

Panama City - skyline - b.n. ma photo

Panama City - Biomuseo designed by Frank Gehry, opened in 2014 - the museum illustrates how the creation of the Strait changed the world - b.n. ma photo

Panama City's Old Town

Panama City

Panama City - Old Town - b.n. ma photo

Panama City - Old Town - b.n. ma photo

Panama City - Old Town - colonial buildings - b.n. ma photo

Panama Canal

Panama Canal - b.n. ma photo

Panama Canal - With the help of 305 meters long and 33.5 meters wide lock chambers, every day, 48 ​​boats are transferred through the canal - b.n. ma photo

Panama Canal - one of the locks: Miraflores, close to the Pacific Ocean - b.n. ma photo

Panama Canal - b.n. ma photo

Embera Village

"Visiting this Indian village is a great one-day tour, starting from and returning to Panama City. The journey to the village from the capital is about an hour. There were not many extraordinary sights on the way, but our Hungarian guide living in Panama had valuable things to say about the country, the people, and the local lifestyle. Upon arrival, we boarded a motorized wooden boat and immersed ourselves in the world of beautiful waterways in a nature park. The visible fauna was represented only by beautiful little birds, but the vegetation and landscape were also pretty impressive. We moored in one place and, after a somewhat tiring but not too uncomfortable walk, we came to a waterfall. We would have liked to have immersed ourselves in the water if we hadn't been stupid and left our swimwear at home – our local Hungarian guides had said in advance that there would be a possibility of swimming.

We visited a village of the local Embera Native Americans, which includes a tourist show ("barbecue party") with dances, souvenir sales, food. The dance show was cute, mostly because of the little kids. The Indians are nicely dressed in traditional outfits, which are obviously only worn for the show. The food was especially good. The fish was very delicious and we stuffed our bellies with the tropical fruits we brought with us. We walked around the village, which is really very interesting. The natural environment is wonderful. Even the souvenir production was of surprisingly high quality. It is a pity that because of our world tour we are no longer motivated to take some memories from everywhere. All in all, a pleasant, light, interesting program throughout. Of course, one should be aware that this is a tourist show and not an actual glimpse into the ordinary lived experience of these Native Americans. Their real lives are much more Western, but this is precise because they can make a nice income from visiting tourists and this is well distributed among the families of the village. This tour was significantly cheaper, more flexible, and more interesting thanks to the organizational skills of a local guide!” (Jani, 2015)


Bocas del Toro

"Bocas del Toro is, I swear, a paradise on earth! It’s in the northern part of Panama, close to the Costa Rican border, and the name covers an archipelago, plus its 'capital'. These are fairly small islands, no bigger than a regular city district, but they are also very beautiful. Everywhere are green plants, flowers, palm trees, and around the smaller islands are mangrove forests. It is fitting, then, that Bocas – I’m talking about the city now – consists of cute, colorful wooden houses, some of which are actually built over the water. It is possible to come here only by boat or by plane. As soon as I stepped off the boat I knew I would love this place. We had already seen the houses built on the water from the speedboat, and then several tidy streets. It was not difficult to find accommodation either, and it turned out to be the best of the trip so far! We rested a bit, then we walked and took photos.

We met Mike the boatman at ten this morning, but in the end, it wasn't him who came with us, but another boatman who yelled all the way and of course spat a lot – a real Asia feeling :-) We first went to a bay surrounded by mangrove trees where we saw dolphins! They swam so adorably through the foam – oh if only I could be a dolphin for a day! Afterward, we snorkeled on a very cool coral reef – imagine the light playing on corals in all sorts of colors, it was like nothing I’d seen before. Purple, burgundy, blue, yellow, orange, usually oblong in shape, and some wrapped around one another. There were also fish, less colorful but beautiful. Too bad it started to cloud over at that point, so the sun didn’t shine through the water to make it even prettier, but we were still very pleased. Oh, I forgot, we docked at a restaurant before snorkeling, where we ordered food, and it was ready by the time we got back! I ate an octopus in some excellent sauce, and then got rice that was cooked in coconut milk – it was very delicious. "




San Blas Islands

Panama - San Blas Islands - San Blas Island - s.e. photo

Whale Watching

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