As people search the globe for travel destinations, more people are enjoying Panama tourism than ever before. The country is a very easy trip, especially for people from the United States and Canada and it has an amazing amount to offer even the most seasoned tourist. Panama tourism can take you to the mountains, to the beach, to a rainforest or even to the past. Because of its long-term affiliation with the US, many things about Panama are familiar to Americans, but the beauty of Panama tourism is that no matter from where you come, you can find something exciting and new.
- Government: Elected Democracy
- Current Head of State: President Ricardo Martinelli
- Currency: US dollar (called Balboa) No national paper currency is printed, but there is coinage of the same size and denominations as American coins.
- Sales Tax: VAT is 5% (10% for imports)
- Area: 75,990 sq. kilometers
- Population: 3,360,000, 2009 est.
- Capital: Panamá City
The Infrastructure Panama
- Time Zone: GMT-5
- Telegram: Available in hotels and main post offices of major cities.
- Press: La Prensa, El Siglo and El Panamá América are among the largest daily newspapers.
- Mail: Mail to North America takes about a week. Post office hours are Mon-Fri 8:00am – 4:00 pm, Sat 8:00 am – 1:00 pm. For express services, FedEx and DHL are available in most areas. Mail forwarding services are available from locations such as Miami, FL for approx. $25 per month. These services provide an address and regularly forward mail based on a weight charge.
- Police: If you are a victim of a crime, report it immediately to the local police, especially if you will be making an insurance claim. The tourist police, or policia de turismo, are better prepared to deal with foreigners and more likely to speak English. Typically they wear white armbands and ride bicycles.
- Electricity: 120 volts AC, 60Hz
- Emergency Numbers: Police 104, Fire 103, Tourist Police 269 8011), 911 is for medical emergencies only!
- Language: Spanish (official), English 14%, and is the official second language
- Religion: 85% Catholic, 15% Protestant
- Cellular Phone: Roaming agreements exist but most folks buy their minutes on a phone card
- Fax: Available at most post offices and hotels
- Directory Assistance: Dial 102
- National Dialing Code: 507
- Telephone: IDD is available. International calling cards are available and widely used. Many Internet cafes also offer VoIP calling as well.
- Siesta Time: There is no siesta, or midday break in the city. In some areas of the interior in makes sense and is still the custom.
- Internet: Internet cafes are common and inexpensive. (usually less $1 per hour) Some restaurants and coffee shops now offer wireless hot spots.
- Pets: Have your veterinarian prepare a standard International Health Certificate no more than 10 days prior to travel to Panama. The certificate should include the pet’s name, breed, owner’s name and current country of residency. It should state that the pet is healthy and free of parasites. It should also contain a list of inoculations including type, manufacturer and batch number.
- Tipping: 10 to 15 per cent is customary in hotels and restaurants. Taxi drivers do not expect tips, but it is wise to arrange the rate before the trip.
- Smoking: Panama is now a no smoking city. You can smoke out of doors if no one is near and in your home is no one else is present.
With the continuing growth of Panama’s Tocumen International Airport, Panama tourism has become an easy adventure. With direct flights from both Miami, FL and Houston, TX, Panama is little more than two hours away from the US. Other countries, including several in Europe offer direct flights to Panama as well, connecting Panama tourism with the rest of the world. The US government is very favorable about travel to Panama, listing only a small portion of the border area with Columbia as hazardous for travel.
When you arrive in Panama City (virtually all international flights to Panama come to Panama City), the first thing you will do is purchase a tourist card. This $5 document gives you permission to travel within the country for up to 90 days. Once you leave the airport, there is a variety of travel options to use: city buses, intercontinental buses, taxis, rental cars, airplanes and boats.
- City buses – The brightly painted buses of Panama City are nearly tourist attractions by themselves. This is the lowest-priced form of transportation and an interesting cultural experience as well. They are called Diablo Rojos, red devils. Expect them to be crowded and loud.
- Intercity buses – The country has a well developed bus system, similar to the Greyhound system in the US. For $30 you can travel from Panama City to San Jose, Costa Rica. If you show them that you are over 55 (with an (ID) you will go for $24. This is a great way to see the geographic beauty of Panama. In addition, buses are typical forms of transportation to remote areas such as Boquete.
- Taxis – These distant relatives of the US taxi system are now all yellow and will beep their horns to alert possible passengers that they available. Taxis are very reasonably priced and can even be rented hourly or for trips to specific destinations.
- Rental cars – Many of the same companies that service the US are in Panama as well. Prices for rentals cars can be reasonable via the Internet but very high in office. The style of driving in the country suggests that Panama tourists be careful when renting cars and strongly consider purchasing the insurance.
- Airplanes – The country has a good regional service for Panama tourism. Fees are reasonable and service connects the major destinations within the country such as David, Bocas del Toro, the Pearl Islands and Colon.
- Boats – Along the coasts, there is some use of boats for Panama tourism but this is not a widespread. Boats are also not recommended for tourists traveling from Panama to Columbia due to safety concerns at the border; only airplane travel is viable between these two countries.
Panama is a country filled with activities. Starting in Panama City with the ruins of the ancient city, the rainforest, the Panama Canal are all an interesting visit. Throughout the country, the Carnival (held near the end of February), numerous fairs, concerts and traditional events dot the country. The country is fanatical about their national baseball league and the Panamanians such as Mariano Rivera who play in the major leagues. Soccer and basketball games are always available to be enjoyed and activities such as swimming, surfing, and fishing add to Panama tourism’s appeal to the sportsman. If you are a truly avid fisherman take a charter out to the “Tuna Coast,” the Panama Pacific where a large number of world records have been set in sport fishing.