This small, tropical, Central American republic is the kind of melting pot of tradition, culture and diversity that you’d expect from a country linking two continents and two oceans. Panama’s long coastlines offer exquisite marine playgrounds, and an array of natural delights and historical treasures in between. Visitors can discover world-class surfing at Santa Catalina, take a cruise to the Pearl Islands in the Pacific Ocean, relax along stretches of sandy white beaches, explore the ruins of Spanish forts on the Caribbean coast or paddle deep into indigenous territories in a dugout canoe. Visits to the Volcán Barú National Park Coiba and National Marine Park are an itinerary must.
Language: The official language is Spanish. However, many Panamanians speak both Spanish and English
Entry Requirements: All American and Canadian citizens must have a passport which is valid for at least 3 months after your return date, all necessary documents for next destination and funds of $500 per person for the duration of their stay. No visa is required for stays up to 90 days. Be aware that it can take as long as 30 days to obtain a visa, if it is required. Panamanian entry requirements change frequently so it is wise to check with your nearest embassy or consulate fefore travelling to Panama. It is highly recommended that passports have 6 months validity remaining after your intended day of departure from your travel destination.
Currency: Panama’s official currency is the balboa. The rate of exchange for the balboa has always been tied to the US dollar—one dollar equals one balboa. Panama does not, however, print its own paper currency and instead uses the US dollar as legal tender. Panamanian coins come in 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50-cent pieces. They are the same size, color, and weight as U.S. coins and both are used frequently. While shopping or eating out, you may see prices with either a “$” or a “B/” before them, corresponding the dollars or balboas. They mean the same thing and have the same value.
Banking: There are banks located throughout the country that are open Monday through Saturday. During the workweek, banks are usually open from 8 AM to 3 PM, although they tend to have shorter hours on Saturdays. ATMs are ubiquitous and are definitely the easiest way to get cash – just look for the red signs that say Sistema Clave. ATMs generally accept most types of credit and debit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Cirrus, Plus) and will charge a service fee, usually around $5. The amount that you can withdraw at one time depends on the bank, though it’s typically around $500.
If you’re coming from the United States, you won’t need to exchange money—the dollar is legal tender in Panama. Changing other foreign currencies can be difficult in Panama. You can exchange money at the Banco Nacional de Panamá in the airport. However, outside of the airport the only place you can exchange foreign currency is at a casa de cambio (exchange house). These can be difficult to find outside of Panama City.
Credit cards are often accepted in the cities, especially at nicer hotels, restaurants and stores. Smaller hotels and restaurants, however, will generally only take cash, as will taxis. The farther one gets from a city, the more difficult it is to use a credit card. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards, although other cards can often be used in upscale establishments. There are some remote parts of Panama where it’s impossible to use credit cards so it is important to bring cash to these places and to have small bills, as larger denominations are hard to break. Some of these destinations won’t have banks or ATMs either. Traveler’s checks are rarely accepted by businesses in Panama.
Electricity: Panama's electrical system is compatible with that of North America, 110 volts, so you will not need a converter. Three-hole grounded plug-ins are uncommon in some hotels though.
General Guidance: Time Zone: Panama is on Eastern Standard Time (-5 GMT) year round. Daylight Saving Time is not observed.
HEALTH AND MEDICAL INFORMATION
While no immunizations are required you should consult your medical provider for most current advice.
Montezuma’s revenge can be common on this adventure although we go to great lengths to choose clean, healthy restaurants, train staff, and select sanitary food items for picnics.
FOOD, DRINK AND CUISINE ADVICE
Panama has such a diverse culture that no matter where you are from you will be able to find a dish to suit you. The food in Panama has been heavily influenced by Spanish, American and Caribbean cuisines.
Most Panamanian main meals consist of meat, coconut rice and beans. This is often accompanied by vegetables such as squash and yucca. This type of dish is known as ‘casado’. Fresh seafood is very popular and mango and coconut are served with many dishes. Typical dishes include ‘sancocho’, which is a stew that is usually made from chicken and vegetables.
Panama has the purest potable water in the world and can be drunk directly from the tap. However, in the smaller towns (especially Bocas del Toro) it’s best to stick to bottled water, which is provided throughout your time in Panama.
CLIMATE AND WEATHER
In Panama the Days are hot and nights are much cooler. Temperatures usually range from 32 degrees Celsius (90° Fahrenheit) during the daytime to 21 degrees Celsius (70° Fahrenheit) in the evening. These temperatures are found practically year-round. However, temperatures can vary according to geography. The climate is less tropical at higher ground. In mountain areas the average annual temperature ranges from 10ºC to 19ºC (50-66ºF). In Panama humidity is very high at about 80 percent. The rainy season takes place between October and November, and the best months to visit are December until March.
CLOTHING AND DRESS RECOMMENDATIONS
Whatever time of year you visit it will be hot and humid. During the day it's hot, so you advised to pack lightweight, loose-fitting clothes in natural fabrics. It can get chilly in the highlands and at night so pack some layers as well. Comfortable walking shoes are a must!