The Republic of Panama is situated between North and South America in Central America. Stretching over 75,000 km square this state is bordered by Costa Rica to the West, the Caribbean in the North, Colombia to the southeast and the Pacific Ocean in the south. Over half of the people reside in the capital, Panama City.
The main source of revenue for the country is through the Panama Canal which the United States transferred to Panama by 31st December 1991. Canal tolls generate revenue which represents a significant portion of Panama’s GPD. A good amount is also generated from banking, tourism and commerce. It possess the 2nd largest economy in Central America as well as the second most competitive economy in Latin America as given by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. A significant portion of the country is covered by jungle which house an abundance of animals, birds and tropical plants, some of which are unique to just these jungles and found nowhere else in the world.
Panama is a great place to visit it has everything: jungles for the adventurer to explore and tons of beautiful beaches for a traditional relaxing holiday. And best of all it is very economical. Get the most out of Panama with this Panama Travel Guide. Most travelers do not go beyond the well-known tourist trail of Bocas del Toro, the San Bas Islands, Boquete and Panama City, however the advantage of venturing into the lesser known places is that you’ll get better food, amazing views and cheaper prices.
This Panama Travel guide will cover destinations, budget tips, typical costs incurred, activities that one can partake in and other tips.
The main destinations that tourists visit are Panama City and Boquete, here we’ll quickly go through important stuff relating to each of them.
The capital of Panama, Panama City has amazing food, immersive night life and an engaging history. Panama City is a good place to spend a few days enjoying the aforementioned stuff especially in the old part of the city – Casco Viejo.
The Panamanian Balboa (PAB) is exactly equivalent to a US dollar so you won’t have trouble with keeping track of exchange rates while staying.
You can either stay in a hostel at 15 PAB for a dorm room and 30-40 PAB for a private room. The rates are, of course, per night. Another option is a Budget Hotel which will cost you 35-90 PAB per night for a double room equipped with hot water, an air conditioner and a private bathroom.
For meals the cost depends on what you eat. If you eat at the local food stalls you’ll get a plate of chicken, beans and rice – a staple dish – for around 4 PAB. However if you crave western food such as pizza or something else, expect to pay 10 PAB or above. For the finer restaurants, meals including fine wine will cost you around 40 PAB.
Traveling within the city is cheap, and to get from one side to the other costs around 5 PAB. Buses go as low as 0.50 PAB for a ride.
The things to do in Panama City are numerous. This Panama Travel Guide recommends the following:
This 300-year old Spanish colonial sector was built in 1671. It was a showcase of Panama’s colonial history. Today most of the buildings stand empty and in ruin, however efforts are being made for their renovation. The area has an impeccable Spanish tinge and charm to it. You can visit the Canal Museum, Presidential Palace and the History Museum. There is also some mouth-watering food to be found in the area, the Plaza de la Independencia is recommended for its amazing and economically priced meals.
This is the original part of the city and was founded back in the 16th century, in 1519 to be precise. The entire gold of the Inca Empire went through this area and it was once a great city with a thriving population. The ruins that one can see today were the result of a pirate’s attack in 1671, the pirate was English, named Henry Morgan. There is also a visitor center complete with an in-depth museum – however most of the exhibits are in Spanish. Still it is worth going just to appreciate the artistic mastery. The church which was reconstructed offers excellent panoramic views of the entire area. The ruins should only take a few hours to explore in their entirety and are mostly peaceful.
This causeway offers stunning views of Panama City’s skyline and of the famous Panama Canal. It’s totally worth renting a bike and exploring the complete causeway which conjoins 4 small islands. These islands were former bases of the US forces but since then have been turned to spots where the local population spends their weekends relaxing.
Part of the jungle watershed preserve for the Canal Zone, this gigantic part that is housed right within the city is home to numerous rainforest animals, plants and birds. While the park itself is huge, the hiking trails are not so long stretching for only 8 kilometers, so you explore them in less than a day. From the top of the trail, you’ll get nice vistas of the whole city as well as the Canal Zone.
The major tourist attraction and the highlight of the city (if not the country) is the Panama Canal. The city can be viewed from the MIraflores Locks – one of three locks in the canal. The welcome center has a good museum which contains a lot of information (in both audio and visual displays) about how Panama got the canal back from the US. In order to see a ship pass through the lock, be sure to go either in the morning or the afternoon.
A lovely mountain town which is located in the western portion of the country, this is the second most popular destination, and first if you love hiking. Besides that it’s a calm quiet place full of good coffee and restaurants. The food is some of the best you’ll find in the whole of Panama. There are multiple things to do here which will keep you interested for a long while. You could go spot wildlife in the Paradise Gardens – a wildlife sanctuary great for those who love flora and fauna. These gardens also feature howler monkeys, tamarins, white-faced capuchins, a margay, macaws and many more species. Another option is the private garden (free to enter) Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin. Another thing you’ll enjoy in Boquete is taking a coffee plantation tour. Most of the coffee in Panama is grown in Boquete hence you will find a multitude of these plantations. Tour costs between 10 PAB to 25 PAB and last half a day. And if you like adventure there is plenty to be found here. Hike the Sendero Los Quetzales Trail or Climb Volcan Baru.
This Panama Travel Guide discussed the typical costs of what it would take to stay in Panama City in the above section. The rest of the country is a bit cheaper and some far flung areas are really cheap but if you plan to restrict your visit to Panama City and Boquete the above costs would be suitable. Otherwise you’ll spend less.
Carrying small change will be helpful as taxi drivers and shop keepers do not accept large bills such as a 20PAB note for inexpensive items. Eating at local stands will save you a great deal, and they are super cheap costing 3-4 PAB. The taxis are mostly a rip off, so avoid them, the drivers always try to take more from the passengers especially foreigners, and mostly are immune to negotiation. The water from the tap in most of the country is clean and drinkable so no need to repeatedly by bottled water when you run out of water – just refill it from a tap. Try to get rooms with cold water showers only, if the option of hot water is available avoid it since those rooms cost extra. Its hot in Panama most of the time that you won’t even need the hot water option.
This Panama Travel Guide already discussed the two main destinations – Panama City and Boquete. There are other good places you can visit as well. Hang out in Bocas del Toro, one of the most popular places in Panama. Its natural jungles and Caribbean attitude are great to see. You could also Canoe to Embera Indian Village, you reach the village after a walk through the rainforest which will make you come face to face with local wildlife and plant life. And then you’ll finally see the Embere tribe who still live as they did in their primitive past. Also visit Portobelo and sail the San Blas Islands.