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Holidays in Panama

Understanding Panama

The ease of travel and wide array of experiences are making Panama one of the most attractive emerging tourism destinations in the world In just one week, visitors can enjoy two different oceans, experience the mountains and rainforest, learn about native cultures and take advantage of vibrant urban life The capital, Panama City, is a modern, sophisticated metropolis that resembles Miami and has established commerce, arts, fashion and dining Fodors, Frommers and National Geographic have all recently began publishing guides for Panama, only the second country in Central America, behind Costa Rica, to have such extensive travel coverage

Panama is known as the "Crossroads of the Americas" due to its privileged position between North and South America The indigenous meaning of the country's name, "abundance of fish", reflects Panama's reputation as a paradise for water sports enthusiasts and eco-tourists alike As the isthmus connecting two massive continents, Panama's flora and fauna is incredibly diverse For example, Panama was recently named the country with the most bird species in the world; over 900 Panama's many indigenous tribes are still thriving, living in the same ancient manner as their ancestors, making its cultural fabric exceptionally rich

Panama's government has strong ties to the United States and strongly supports business, development and tourism The International Monetary Fund applauds the country's diversified economy and predicts it to have one of the strongest GDP growth rates in the world for the next several years Panama is known for its highly developed international banking sector, with about 80 banks from several countries establishing local branches, including HSBC, BBVA and Citi Bank Currently undergoing expansion, the Canal continues to drive Panama's service-based economy and remains one of the most important transportation links in the world In addition to the country's strong economic base, Panama's physical infrastructure, including modern hospitals, airports and roads, is much more highly developed than its Central American neighbors

Panama boasts a large expat community; about 25,000 US citizens live in the country It is worth spending some time reading up on Panama and communicating with locals, expats and fellow travelers alike before arriving in the country Consider joining some local forums or blogs for expats or the Central America Forum Many of the local blogs can give you the most current info on: floods, earthquakes, trail closings, and the best restaurant reviews

What the travel experts are saying about Panama:

  • “One of the top 10 Budget Destinations for 2009”- Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine
  • “A secret the rest of the traveling world has yet to discover” -Lonely Planet's Central America
  • “Panama is far too attractive to be kept a secret for long” -Frommer's Panama
  • “Panama surpasses Costa Rica in biodiversity” -Fodor's Central America
  • “Long heralded as the Next Costa Rica, Panama is actually more culturally diverse” - Forbes Traveler


Less than 9 degrees north of the equator, most of Panama enjoys temperatures that are fairly consistent year round, with daytime temperatures in the 90s and nighttime around 70 Tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season, called winter or invierno May to November; short dry season, called summer or verano December to April The most popular time to travel to Panama is December through March, when lack of humidity and nearly zero percent chance of rain make it ideal for travelers

During most of the rainy season, mornings and early afternoons are usually sunny while late afternoons and evenings have intermittent rainfall Take an umbrella as officials have recently banned the canopies due to health and safety they are therefore not easily available apart from dodgy-dealers called Bob or "ninja", as he is called on the streets watch for out for that bad boy

Most areas are quite warm, but a few places, such as Boquete, Cerro Punta and El Valle can get a little chilly at night You definitely want a heavy rain-proof jacket if you're going to the top of Barú since you will be above 3000m for a little while

Natural hazards apart from the umbrella : Occasional severe storms and forest fires in the remote Darien area Hurricane-strong winds are only a very small possibility in Panama Because of its geographic position, it is very unlikely that Panama could be in the path of any hurricane, unlike the other Central American countries


Interior mostly steep, rugged mountains and dissected, upland plains; coastal areas largely plains and rolling hills Highest point : Volcan Barú, Chiriqui Province 3,475 m On a clear day they say you can see both oceans from the peak


3 November 1903 from Colombia; became independent from Spain 28 November 1821
National holiday 
Independence Day, 3 November 1903

With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure the Panama Canal Zone The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914

11 October 1972; major reforms adopted 1978, 1983 and 1994

On 7 September 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of 1999 Certain portions of the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal were turned over in the intervening years The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were turned over to Panama by or on 31 December 1999

Talking in Panama

Spanish official, English 14%
note: many Panamanians bilingual

Spanish Dialect

If you cross the border from Costa Rica into Panama, you will notice a large change in the dialect True to its Caribbean orientation, Panamanian Spanish sounds much closer to Puerto Rican than Tico or Nicaraguan Spanish For students of Mexican or European Spanish, it may take a little getting used to However, it is very easy to understand and it is by no means more difficult than other Spanish-speaking countries Panamanians tend to pronounce "h" instead of "s" and to not pronounce certain D's at the end of certain words It is part of their dialect but Panamanians are fully capable of speaking Spanish in a manner more intelligible to students of Mexican or Castillian Spanish, and they are aware of their regional idiosyncrasies

Panama City has a different dialect in which they mix English words with Spanish Although educated Panamanians try to speak proper Spanish, they are very proud of their dialect and would rather use it unless it is a formal conversation or public speaking

Indigenous Languages

Panama has a lot more indigenous culture than some neighboring countries In Kuna Yala you will hear the native Kuna language spoken In the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca, as well as in Chiriqui or Bocas del Toro, you might hear the native Ngöbe-Buglé Guaymí language, although the Ngöbe and the Buglé are very quiet around foreigners If you ask directions from one of them, you will probably just get a hand or lips pointed wordlessly in the right direction


Much of the Caribbean Coast of Panama was settled by people from Jamaica and Barbados More recently, the descendants of those settlers seem to be speaking more Spanish, but a lot of them still speak English, albeit a very Caribbean variety, called Guari Guari

Until only a few years ago, the canal was controlled by the USA The US has given the canal to Panama, but many people in Panama City and other areas near the canal still speak English as a first or second language Surprisingly, English is not as common as you would think for how long the Americans spent in the country It's not so common for people working in shops or people in the street to speak English There are a number of English News and Blog 6 sites to help with your travels

What to do in Panama

Palau is most famous for scuba diving One of the most famous dive sites - Blue Corner, with constant sharks and a high current - is located less than 1 hour's boat ride from most resorts Many live aboards like Ocean Hunter operate out of Palau There are also tours to WWII battle fields on Palau

The Blue Corner, German Channel, Ulong Channel and Blue Holes are all amazing dive sites You can dive the same site again and again and have completely different experiences each time

Palau is also famous for its jellyfish lakes These lakes contain jellyfish which have evolved away their stingers in the absence of predators There are many tours which will go to the jellyfish lake to snorkel SCUBA diving is not permitted, nor is necessary, in the jellyfish lake Palau Jellyfish Lake 4 is included in the category of natural phenomena and scientific mysteries

Expedition Fleet5, is the largest privately owned live-aboard fleet in the Philippines Their ships operate all over the Philippine Island and Palau Expedition Fleet is known for experienced and professional Dive Masters as well as excellent service on board

Splash6, the dive shop attached to the Palau Pacific Resort is recommended The equipment available for rental is of high quality, and either new or well maintained The dive masters are also very experienced, responsible and know the dive sites very well Angelo at Splash is highly recommended as a dive master especially if you have not dived in stronger currents It should be noted that Splash runs a rather large, wide diveboat, containing 20+ divers

Fish 'n Fins 7 is the oldest dive center in Palau They currently have two live-aboard vessels, as well as seven smaller and faster! dive boats, operating from the base in Koror The guides are very professional and are more than willing to share their extensive knowledge of the ocean and the life in it Divers can use Nitrox EAN 32 for the same price as air Gas mixtures for technical divers are also available

Sam's Tours8 is another dive shop in Palau that offers diving, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing and land tours They have some great guides that provide educational and environmental information about the locales Sam's Tours uses small, fast narrow boats which carry 4~8 divers

  • Palau Dive & Scuba http://wwwpalaudivecom Small, personable service that brings together all the information on dive sites, conditions and dive centers for Palau

Buying stuff in Panama

Panama is home to the hemisphere's largest free trade zone, the Colon Free Zone 7 There are also a number of large, American-style malls, such as Multicentro 8, Albrook Mall 9, and Multiplaza Pacific 10 However, prices vary widely from mall to mall - Albrook is quite cheap, while Multiplaza is home to designer boutiques and very high prices Generally Panama is a good place to buy consumer electronics, clothing and cosmetics

Traditional Panamanian crafts can be found most cheaply at artesania markets, such as the YMCA in Balboa and the market in Panama Viejo In Panama City, the best handicrafts can be found at REPROSA Panama's best-known craft is the mola, intricate reverse-applique handwork made by the Kuna Molas can also be bought from vendors on the seawall in Casco Viejo Other Panamanian crafts include carved tagua nuts, cocobolo carvings of animals, and woven palm-fiber baskets There is a smaller craft market in El Valle, which specializes in soapstone carvings and other central Panamanian crafts

  • REPROSA Treasures of Panama http://wwwreprosacom Since 1975 REPROSA has been dedicated to the promotion of Panama's history, cultural traditions, ecological beauty and ethnic diversity All their handicrafts are hand-made in Panama by Panamanian artisans, and there is something for every budget REPROSA has three locations: Costa del Este Industrial Park 271-0033, Ave A in Casco Viejo 228-4913, and Ave Samuel Lewis in Obarrio 269-0457 REPROSA also offers a tour of their award-winning workshop where visitors can see first-hand how the Treasures of Panama are made Their factory is in the Costa del Este Industrial Park just minutes from Panama Viejo Tour $10 per person, Monday thru Friday at 9:30AM and 2PM


Panama uses the Balboa and the US Dollar as its currencies The balboa is equivalent to the US dollar and has exactly the same value, but in reality the Balboas only exist as coins that are equivalent to the US coins There are no 1, 5, 10, 20, or 100 Balboa bills because the US Dollar bills are used freely in Panama in that role If you're traveling on US Dollars, which is a very good idea in Central America, it will be very easy to pay with US dollars in Panama The US Dollars may be called Balboas as a denomination, but the US Dollar has been the official currency since 1904

If you're from the US, one oddity about Panama will be change Panama mints its own coins in the same weights and sizes as US coinage, but with Panamanian stampings Because a legal treaty 1904 between US and Panama the Panamanian coinage is completely interchangeable with standard US coinage in Panama You may get a handful of change back with a conquistador on the quarter and an Indian on one of your pennies, but Lincoln on the other penny and Roosevelt on the dime Panama also still mints half dollars You may hear these half dollars called pesos, so don't think you've accidentally ended up in Mexico Some of Panama's coins are made by the US Mint

Incidentally, if you run short on change in the United States, Panamanian coins work in parking meters, payphones, vending machines, etc

You can typically use a credit card at all hotels in the capital, as well as medium-sized regional cities David, Las Tablas, Colon, Santiago, Bocas del Toro, etc Restaurants, grocery stores, and department stores in major cities will also usually take credit, or even debit cards However, outside the capital using your card could be difficult

US ATM cards worked in Panama up through the first part of this year, but some banks' cards are no longer functioning Though Panamanian ATMs function on the Cirrus/Plus system, they may not take cards with the Interlink symbol Make sure you're carrying a lot of cash especially small bills and understand how to take cash advances out on your credit card Traveller's checks are not widely used

Many businesses do not accept US$50 or US$100 bills at all Most of those that do will ask for your passport and store your data/serial numbers of your notes in a special book The reason is that many US$50 and US$100 bills have been counterfeited

There are 75 banks in Panama 11 Opening hours vary widely from bank to bank On weekdays, all banks are open until at least 3PM, and some until 7PM On Saturdays many banks are open until noon, and some branches located in shopping centers are also open on Sundays

Food and eating in Panama

In the larger cities you can find all types of food ranging from the French haute cuisine to the freshest sushi There are Arabic restaurants, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican whatever you're in the mood for

Outside of the cities, the selection is largely Panamánian with bountiful seafood and beef due to the abundance of cattle farms and the fantastic fishing in the area Panamanian cuisine is a mix of several cultures Reminiscent of the country's Afro-Caribbean, French and Spanish influences, the dishes take on a complete character of their own If you get tired of eating beans or gallo pinto in the rest of Central America, you might want to head towards Panama Since Panama has a little more Caribbean influence than other Central American countries, you'll see a lot more plaintain than beans here Most dishes are served with coconut rice and a type of squash or other native vegetable If Panamanian food has to be summed up in one word, that word would be culantro, which is a local plant that tastes like cilantro, except that it has a much stronger flavor

A typical plate in a humble, family restaurant can range from $125 up to 500, including your choice of meat: mondongo beef intestines, fried or baked chicken, pork, beef and sometimes fried fish; rice, beans, salad: cabbage, carrot & mayonnaise; beet salad; green salad; potato or macaroni salad; and patacones fried green plantains The Panamanians also enjoy their "chichas" fruit, water & sugar, of which there is always a selection, ranging from tamarindo, maracuyapassionfruit, mango, papaya, jugo de canasugar cane juice, or agua de pipajuice from young green coconuts If you like your food picante, Panama may not be the place for you They definitely have several hot sauces, but the emphasis is not on the heat

You can get excellent food really cheap if you look around The equivalent of a 5-star meal with drinks can be US$8-30 in some places

Drinking in Panama

National beers are produced Balboa, Atlas, Soberana, Warsteiner, Panamá, but don't measure up to a good import Balboa is probably the best of the domestic brands, however, Atlas is the most commonly purchased; many women favor Soberana Beer can cost as low as 30/cents per 12 oz can in a supermarket or anywhere from $ 50 in a local town bar up to $250 in upscale bars

Carta Vieja and Ron Abuelo 12 are the main domestically produced rum Seco 13, a very raw white rum, is the national liquor Seco con leche with milk is a common drink in the countryside


Music is definitely one of the highlights of Panama Salsa music seems to permeate everything in the Latin parts of the country Reggaeton originated in Panama and is also very popular and is known by the name Plena There are over 100 radio stations in Panama broadcasting online, some in English 14 In Bocas del Toro, you will hear a lot of Reggae with Spanish lyrics Check out the summer music festival in Las Tablas


How the Panamanians love their "fiestas"! They know how to let loose and have a genuinely good time, dancing, conversing and drinking

Carnaval is the main celebration in the country It is held 40 days before the Christian Holy Week, running through the weekend and ending on Ash Wednesday February 21-24 in 2009 The largest celebration being held in the province of Azuero, in the town of Las Tablas, where two streets compete with separate queens, activities, parades and musical performances

The party begins on Friday with a presentation, parade and crowning of the queens, a fireworks show; with drinking in the streets legal, the party begins and doesn't stop until 5AM

Every carnival day has a theme: Friday is the Opening, Saturday is International Day, Sunday is Pollera day, Monday is costume day, Tuesday is the Queens day and on Wednesday is the "entierro de la sardina"the sardine burial before 5AM

Many discos and bars fill the Capital City The area known as "Calle Uruguay" has probably a dozen or so nice discos and bars within a 2 block radius, and is the best place for partying

Calle Uruguay bar area is a very trendy scene You will find here many restaurants such as La Posta, Peperoncini, Habibis, Tomate y Amor, Madame Chang, Burgues or Lima Limon, which make up a great pre-party event After diner you can cross over to Prive, Pure, Loft, Guru or People for a more fashionable club scene If you want a more relax bar, Sahara or The Londoner both offer retro music and pool tables

Another great spot for "bar hopping" is Zona Viva in the Amador Causeway Zona Viva is a closed off area so it is very easy for you to find everything in one place You will find here clubs such as Jet Set Club, the Building, the Chill Out Zone, X Space, etc

Casco Viejo is a more cultural zone of Panama Art galleries in the area coordinate Art Block parties once a month and there are always exhibits The National Theater offers ballets, opera, and concerts weekly Restaurants in this area are highly recommended After dinner you can cross over to Relic, La Casona, Mojitos sin Mojitos, Platea, Havana Cafe or Republica Havana

Accommodation in Panama

Panama’s hotel accommodations are as diverse as its geography Panama City has as much glamour and glitz as New York City, without the high price tag You can find 5 star high rise hotels in the heart of downtown; or you can venture out to the smaller neighborhoods, where old Canal military barracks have been converted into B&B’s Bocas del Toro has your typical island cabanass and small hotels, some literally right on the water similar to the cabanas in Bali The Chiriqui Province, in the western lowlands, has small hotels on some of the outer islands, and an Eco-Preserve in Chorcha where you can spend the night in Jungle Hammocks with the monkeys In the western highlands, around Boquete, there are hostels for $5 a night, and 5 star hotels for $300+ a night No high rises here, but small very artsy boutique hotels and casitas Recently, David Panama, Capitol of the Chiriqui Province has become a destination as well as a hub for backpackers criss-crossing from Panama City to Bocas Del Toro and Costa Rica David, Panama which is ideally located near beach, hot springs, rain forest, Boquete and Vulcan mountain villages, has two backpacker hostels, Purple House Hostel 15 and the newer Bambu Hostel & Tours16 which has a pool There are also higher range hotels like the brand new boutique Hotel Ciudad De David 17, as well as more modest hotels that ring the Central Park or 'Parque Cervantes'

Cities in Panama

achutupo  agua buena  aguadulce  ailigandi  alanje  almirante  alto de la estancia  alto del espino  ancon  anton  arraijan  aserrio de gariche  atalaya  bagala  balboa  barranco  bejuco  bella vista  bisira  boca de parita  bocas del toro  boqueron  boquete  buena vista  bugaba  burica  cabra  caimitillo  caimito  caimito  calobre  calzada larga  canaveral  canazas  canita  canoa  capellania  capira  cativa  celmira  cermeno  cerro azul  cerro cama  cerro punta  chame  changuinola  chepo  chichica  chigore  chiguiri arriba  chilibre  chiman  chiriqui  chiriqui grande  chitre  churuquita chiquita  churuquita grande  cocle  coetupo  coloncito  colon  david  divala  dolega  el cano  el coco  el coco  el cope  el cortezo  el cristo  el ejido  el espino de santa rosa  el espino  el giral  el porvenir  el progreso  el real de santa maria  el rincon  el roble  el silencio  el uvito  el valle de la union  escobal  finca blanco  finca cincuenta y uno  finca corredor  garachine  gariche  gatun  gomez  guabito  guadalupe  gualaca  guarare  guarumal  horconcitos  icanti  ipeti  jaque  juan diaz  la cabima  la candelaria  la chorrera  la colorada  la concepcion  la esperanza  la espigadilla  la estrella  la herradura  la loma  la mata  la mesa  la mesa  la mitra  la palma  la palma  la pena  la pintada  la raya de santa maria  las colinas  las cumbres  las lomas  las lomas  las palmas  las tablas  la tiza  la victoria  lidice  llano de piedra  llano largo  llano marin  los algarrobos  los algarrobos  los anastacios  los boquerones  los lotes  los pozos  los santos  macaracas  margarita  maria chiquita  mata del nance  meteti  monte lirio  montijo  morti  mulatupo  nargana  nata  nueva gorgona  nuevo arraijan  nuevo emperador  nuevo guarare  nuevo san juan  nuevo vigia  ocu  ola  pacora  palmas bellas  palmira  panama  paraiso  parita  paso blanco  pedasi  pedregal  penonome  pese  plaza de caisan  pocri  pocri  portobelo  potrerillos abajo  potrerillos arriba  potrero grande  progreso  pueblo nuevo  pueblo viejo  puerto armuelles  puerto caimito  puerto escondido  puerto pilon  quebrada bonita adentro  quiteno  remedios  rio alejandro  rio de jesus  rio duque  rio grande  rio hato  rio rita  rio sereno  sabanitas  sajalices  salamanca  san andres  san antonio  san carlos  san felix  san francisco  san miguelito  san miguel  santa ana arriba  santa clara  santa fe  santa fe  santa maria  santa marta  santa rita arriba  santa rita  santiago  santo domingo  santo domingo  san vicente de bique  siogui abajo  siogui arriba  sona  sortova  taboga  tigre  tijeras  tocumen  tole  tubuala  ustupo  veracruz  villa carmen  villa rosario  vista alegre  vista hermosa  volcan  wala  yaviza  

What do you think about Panama?

How expensive is Panama?
Meal in inexpensive restaurant5.55 USD
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)30.56 USD
McDonalds meal5.17 USD
Local beer (0.5 draft)1.1 USD
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 2.97 USD
Cappuccino2.32 USD
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)1.18 USD
Water (0.33 bottle)1.08 USD
Milk (1l)1.33 USD
Fresh bread (500g)2.31 USD
White Rice (1kg)1.38 USD
Eggs (12) 2.4 USD
Local Cheese (1kg) 7.59 USD
Chicken Breast (1kg) 8.16 USD
Apples (1kg) 3.88 USD
Oranges (1kg) 1.26 USD
Tomato (1kg) 2.95 USD
Potato (1kg) 1.95 USD
Lettuce (1 head) 1.37 USD
Water (1.5l)1.53 USD
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 11.1 USD
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)0.68 USD
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 1.42 USD
Cigarettes4.95 USD
One way local bus ticket0.28 USD
Monthly pass for bus19.53 USD
Taxi start2.08 USD
Taxi 1km1.39 USD
Taxi 1hour waiting24.25 USD
Gasoline (1 liter) 0.91 USD
Utilities for a "normal" apartment68.5 USD
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 9.41 USD
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 572.87 USD
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre 889.34 USD, your travel companion

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